• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Why the judiciary must urgently restore the prestige of the legal profession in Nigeria – Ebimoh

Why the judiciary must urgently restore the prestige of the legal profession in Nigeria – Ebimoh

Kingsley Ebimoh is a practising lawyer, providing legal services in litigation and advisory by representing various individual and corporate clients across commercial, corporate, real estate, fundamental rights, privacy and data protection, employment areas of law. In this interview with Zebulon  Agomuo, he spoke on his new book, the motivation behind it, the target groups, among other issues around the drifting functions of the judiciary and implication for Nigeria’s socio-political developments. Excerpts:

You just authored a professional book titled ‘The Lawyer in Embryo’. What really is the message in the book?

The message in the book is simply that of mentorship, determination, dedication, diligence, resilience, integrity, and hard work which every aspiring lawyer needs to nurture and sustain his aspiration of becoming a lawyer to realisation.

We understand that the book is due for public presentation next week. May we know a little about the launch?

Fantastic! The book launch is slated for the 20th of April, 2024 at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), 1, Idowu Taylor Street, Victoria Island, Lagos State at 10.00am and it will also be streamed live via my social media handles like Facebook and Youtube @kingsley.ebimoh. The theme of the book launch is ‘Transformational Mentorship Amidst Economic Challenges: The Lawyers’ Perspectives,’ to be chaired by a senior lawyer, Chukwuka Ikwuazom, SAN with Collins Okeke as the Keynote Speaker. The public presentation would go beyond just celebrating a new literary work on legal education. But it shall provide opportunity for mentoring young professionals as it is going to be an exciting moment attracting law students, young lawyers, and seasoned lawyers including Senior Advocates of Nigeria, professors of law, technocrats, and accomplished leaders in various fields of endeavours in attendance. You are all invited.

What was your motivation for authoring the book, knowing that in this part of the world, the reading culture is not all that strong. People no longer take reading seriously?

Yes, interestingly, my motivation to authoring The Lawyer In Embryo started back in my undergraduate days when I noticed a gap between the incubation period and after the birth of a lawyer. The period when a student is admitted to studying law and what happens throughout the time till after call to the Bar are critical stages in his/her professional adventure. This period is characterised by mounting challenges and many aspiring lawyers with beautiful dreams and laudable goals often get drown at this juncture for lack of proper information and guidance. However, it is rather unfortunate that the reading culture has dwindled dangerously not just in this part of the world, but I think globally due largely to misapplication of technological evolution and what I may term generational misplacement of priority. Notwithstanding the challenges of poor reading culture in our part of the world today, it is still my very strong belief that written works – books still remain one of the most effective and reliable means of influencing and molding public opinions and to a greater extent, building the nation.

The book is on law and about law, which means it is a targeted book for certain people. Now the question may be, why should non-lawyers bother about the book?

Very well. Non-lawyers ought to bother about The Lawyer In Embryo primarily because the Book also leverages mentorship to providing foundational blueprints for aspiring professionals from other works of life who are desirous to rising through the ranks and files of their chosen careers. In the Book, I deploy the tool of incorporating beautiful anecdotes with handy nuggets as well as happenings and illustrations around relevant contemporary social issues to the advantage and benefit of the general reading public. The necessity for mentorship is not law bias. It is a concept that cuts across all other professions as every forward-looking professional desires mentorship. And The Lawyer In Embryo provides the bridge.

You have practised the profession for many years now, what are some of the things you see in the judiciary that you would want to change if you had the opportunity?

As a lawyer who has practised law in Nigeria for many years now, anytime I take a critical look at the Nigerian judiciary, a few things strike my mind about reforms and repositioning our judiciary for effectiveness and a fulfilling service delivery, if I am afforded the opportunity. Topmost on my list of what I see in the judiciary which I would want to change is the mode of appointment of Judges and Justices – judicial officers. Today, under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the heads of the executive arm of the government – the President at the federal level and the Governor at the State level appoint judicial officers who are the members of the judiciary (another arm of the government) though on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

However, we know that sometimes, the President or the Governor could sideline, refuse and/or delay to send this nomination from NJC to the Senate for confirmation. The question that keeps ringing in my mind is why are members of the executive and legislative arms of the government always being chosen by the people – the citizen via polls and yet, members of the judiciary arm of the same government which ought to be the last hope of the common man – checkmating both the executive and the legislature are rather appointed by the same executive? This is one of the reasons most judicial officers are rather loyal to their appointor or would dare not go contrary to their appointor’s directives and instructions because, who pays the piper detects the tune. If I were to have the opportunity, I would ensure that the executive arm of the government does not have anything to do with the appointment of judicial officers. Appointment of judicial officers should be left to the members of the legal profession who shall nominate and vote for judicial officers who would in turn elect their heads.

One other thing I would shape is Judges’ avowal to obedience to the principle of the rule of law and fundamental rights of citizens. Most Judges nowadays pay lip service to rule of law. Worst still, when it comes to demanding obedience to the rule of law from the government, they speak from both sides of their mouth, or would rather excuse the government. That is why you see a Judge by a judgment or an Order retraining an agency of government from doing one thing, but the same agency of government would move to another Court for the same relief as was decided in earlier case or without first obeying the order of the first Court, but return to the same court to ask for another relief(s) and the Court would oblige them. This is dangerous. How about judicial autonomy, corruption, lack of transparency, nepotism? There ought to be a change.

Some years back, many parents would want their children to study Law in the university because of its prestige, that is not exactly the case nowadays; what do you think may be responsible for the shift?

It is correct that the prestige that used to accompany the mention of a lawyer’s name in society then has long gone. The pride, with which parents would brag about having children who were studying law in the university, is critically injured now. This is not unconnected to the terribly battered image of the law profession and the judiciary as it relates to recent happenings within the profession. Corruption, nepotism, absence of transparency, perversion of justice, double standards, conflicting decision, unholy matrimony with the executive. Etc. These have emasculated the prestige of the law profession and its pride of place in the country.

For instance, what do you expect from an average Nigerian on the street when statements from the Nigerian Bar Association on critical national issues no longer send shivers into the spine of political leaders with serious record of human right abuse like before? When the judiciary chooses to sacrifice substantial justice on the altar of technicality, what do you think would happen to the prestige of the profession? When an arm of government that was supposed to be neutral in politics now goes to town to rapport with the same executive it ought to checkmate against tyranny and arbitrariness, then expect nothing but cowed and conquered set of people with inglorious reputation. The situation is actually saddened. But I personally believe there would be a change someday and the law profession in Nigeria would rise again and take back its place as that noble profession which attracted people like us into seeking to become lawyers.

There are a number of successful lawyers in Nigeria who have gone ahead to own their Chambers. Over the years, these things have turned into a family business and something like a cult sort of, to the point that if you don’t belong, you can’t get a good job and you can’t amount to anything. What do you think is responsible for this?

The law profession is a noble profession which historically was like a highly classified and monopolised one for the privileged few in the society. This sentiment grew and held sway until recently when the profession became likely liberalised to also seeing children of peasants with “unknown background” having the privilege of studying to become lawyers like children born with silver spoons. With the privileged backgrounds, those who had the earlier opportunity to be exposed to the advantage of being admitted into the Bar took the advantage to build empires for themselves and their progenitors and the vicious circle continues. Another factor I think is responsible for the dichotomy is the ability of those “privileged” lawyers to practice law as a business with better grasps and concentration on specialised areas of practice. They zoom-in on this and attract national, multinational and transnational clients and briefs that fetch them not just the money but the fame, exposure, visibility and access to great wealth and opportunities.

However, in recent times, becoming a successful lawyer or attracting good briefs is no longer just a function of belonging to a click of special-privileged-lawyers or a cult like sort of niche because, determination, hard work and possessing relevant skills is now an added advantage and it is moving lawyers from zero to the pinnacle of the profession. And above all, for those who know their God the Scripture says, they shall do exploit.

The role of the judiciary in Nigeria’s politics has become so worrisome that people now see that arm of government as destroying the country. Many Nigerians are dissatisfied with the role the judiciary played in the recent past. What future do you see for the nation’s future with that kind of negative perception?

The issue with the present negative perception of the public about our judiciary today, is that as a lawyer, such negative publicity suggests betrayal of trust and abdication of responsibility. The judiciary was designed originally to represent the symbol of hope for the common man on the street. It was meant to be that paragon of courage, forthrightness and fearlessness in the face of injustice and corruption. But unfortunately, in recent times, the reverse has been the case. I agree the judiciary has willfully succumbed to political manipulations and lewdness and has sold out its enviable place and power in the nation building enterprise. With this kind of negative perception toward the judiciary by the citizenry, the future for Nigeria would be that of aggravated anarchy, self-help, the rule of might against the rule of law except something is done urgently.

Authoring a book is not a tea party with the lots of stress people go through in the country and the high cost of publishing these days. How does it feel being an author?

It feels exciting and fulfilling. Actually, for me, it is dream come true.

After the launch of the book, where can interested buyers find the copies; and apart from the physical copies, what other forms are available that people can access?

After the book launch, copies of the book would be available for purchase by interested buyers at various bookshops across Nigeria and faculties of Law of the various universities in Nigeria including University of Lagos, Lagos State University, University of Uyo, University of Abuja, etc. Apart from the physical copies, copies of the book are also available on amazon.com via https://a.co/d/cMBJMxk and selar.co via https://sela.co/m/kingsley-ebimoh