Why should the EFCC chief call most lawyers rogues and vultures? The other question is, why not? The role of lawyers in a democracy just came to the fore, and what many are interested in are the insults rather than facts.
It all began with the new NBA helmsman when he called for the stripping of EFCC powers. He wants it to stop suing people. It should only investigate. The new NBA chief, Abubakar Mahmud, knew he had rasped like a wasp, and somebody was going to buzz back.
Magu rolled down his tanks and he fired salvos through his media man. He said most members of the bar are rogues and vultures. We were in the terrain of metaphor. Lawyers fought back with professional hubris. No, they were not rogues and they were not vultures. They are patriots and custodians of the law. They tell us what the law says in order to attain a just and egalitarian society.
I am sure they were laughing inside their kidneys when they said that, including the NBA chief. Lawyers are important in every society, especially in a liberal and democratic society. But I am with Magu on the vulture metaphor. Vultures sniff rottenness. They are morticians of sorts. But the lawyers are also saviours and avenging angels. They are doves now, vultures now. Peace and death are in the loins of the lawyer.
That is the problem with lawyers. They are on both sides to save us, a sort of redemptive schizophrenia. The problem is not with lawyers, according to some analysts. It is with the law. The law gives the interpreters too much room to pursue justice and injustice simultaneously. That inspired the lines from Arthur Baer: “It is impossible to tell where the law stops and justice begins.”
When President Buhari addressed the NBA last year, he asked the law exponents to key into the anti-corruption scheme. Clearly they are an asset to fight filth. But the story gained traction because we all know that lawyers have fattened on corruption. How can a dirty hand, clean up the dinner fork?
One example is that lawyers have stood between the EFCC and conviction of many cases, especially high-profile cases. They adjourn and adjourn, and frustrate the cases. By that they glamorise public robbery, and encourage the governors, civil servants, ministers to come to their lairs, drink of their legal shenanigans, be free and sin again.
Some of the culprits are the senior lawyers, the Senior Advocates of Nigeria. They go about charging billions to these ex-office holders who pay handily. So, the lawyers think: you stole, and you want me to defend you. Well, shall I have a piece of the action? Of course, the ex-office holder obliges and we witness a long-winded merry-go-round in the courts.
Other than that, they cling to technicalities. That is their way of frustrating the courts and the search for justice in society. In its response, the EFCC chief accused the new NBA man of serving his interest. Magu accused Mahmud of defending former Delta State Governor James Ibori in a case that landed him conviction in London. We must add though that even Ibori prosecutors are in some boiling soup right now in London. I would like to know what Mahmud wants to say for himself on that score.
More ashamedly, I have seen in the past few years SANs defend a client on a certain premise and oppose another client on the antipodal premise, and win both cases. Is that not intellectual fraud? Is it not the way of the vulture?
I must note though that Magu’s EFCC has had to contend with the charge of impunity, but who advised the EFCC and who defended the EFCC? Of course, the lawyers. So, we cannot pretend that the lawyers -not all, but many prominent ones – are in the kitchen sink of corruption.
In any society, nothing works without the law. You set up a social club, or a software firm, or political party, with two important staff-members: a lawyer and accountant. You steal with the accountant, and the lawyer waits to defend. The concept of the vulture comes out in times of recession. Companies go under and they become cadavers. Lawyers become undertakers, and they write the legal documents to certify their deaths. In the last recession, especially in Obama’s early presidency, lawyers rallied in major US cities presiding over the graveyards of firms. They flourished on the corpses. The tragedy is that we need them.
Nigeria had so many stories of corruption under Jonathan. Who are the defendants running to for defence? The EFCC has its weaknesses in the fight for financial sanity. It has looked for the law to keep some people in detention without due process, including former NSA Dasuki. It had to find the law – and lawyers – to justify its position. It reminds me of a conversation I had with the late Gani Fawehinmi. He said if there was a case between a rich man and poor man, “I will find the law for the poor man.” Our SANs have been doing the opposite. In his poem, The Vultures, David Diop wrote: “You knew all the books you did not know love. “
Corruption is rottenness, and anyone that allows it to fester is a vulture. Our SANs have not excelled for integrity. In fact, to be a SAN you don’t have to be a man or woman of integrity. You just have to excel in the technical virtues of the law. You don’t have to be a good man, you just have to be a good lawyer. After all, are we not witnesses to the case of two SANs who allegedly bribed somebody, and about a dozen of them (SANs) backed them like the solidarity of Baal! It echoes the words of Will Rogers: “Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.”
It’s this frustration that drove Shakespeare to cry: “The first thing we do, let’s kill the lawyers.” I won’t go that far. I want our lawyers to ape the Progressive Era in the U.S., when men like Theodore Roosevelt turned the law into a platform for reform. We have a few in Nigeria who have taken the law as instruments of justice. I bow to them. But for others, I shed my tears.
In his novel, The Great expectation, Charles Dickens paints the picture of London’s best-known lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, who is cynical, wealthy, contemptuous, manipulative, but inevitably iconic and successful. Mr. Jaggers is about the most colourful brute fiction has painted for the law profession.
I accept with thanks Mahmud’s suggestion that EFCC should not prosecute and investigate. That is scratching the surface, though. It works in England with the Serious Fraud Office. It is the battle between rational choice and institutionalism at play. When we have the right values, you don’t need to bicker over conflict of interest because the larger morality of the society will work the law to check excesses. In the United States, the attorney-general can prosecute anybody, including the president. Hence Janet Reno appointed Kenneth Starr, a Republican, to investigate Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes. In Nigeria, the EFCC prosecutorial powers can be checked by the attorney-general. Aondoakaa did it to Ribadu under Yar-Adua.
Mahmud put the cart before the horse. It’s like the call for a distinction between attorney-general of the federation and attorney-general of the government. It’s a meretricious colouring. If we have the right values, no one can abuse his powers without drawing umbrage and penalty.
What we need is a good society. Law and lawyers will have no choice but fall in line.