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Learned Rookies And The Crooked System By Idowu Awopeju

July 9, 2018

But the video of the criminal assault on the rookie lawyer in the airspace and airwaves, is more of a pressing concern to me than the uncommoness of the love story. My own perspective on the issue will be slightly different from other commentators and I promise not to bore you with verbose epistle.


I had wanted to share in detail the interesting story of an uncommon spousal camaraderie between a tyre fitter who was admitted at the orthopaedic ward at UCH, Ibadan, and his petty liquor (paraga) seller wife, as shared with me by my brother who was in the same ward as a co-patient with the said tyre fitter some years ago. 

But the video of the  criminal assault on the rookie lawyer in the airspace and airwaves, is more of a pressing concern to me than the uncommoness of the love story. 

My own perspective on the issue will be slightly different from other commentators and I promise not to bore you with verbose epistle.

I resumed a little bit late to Law school, orientation exercise, groupings, hostel allocations, and introductory lectures have all come and gone by the time I joined them. In fact, I almost missed the first leg of the three - prone mandatory  dinners. Few of my allies within and outside Lagos campus where I was, were a little bit apprehensive whether or not I would catch up with them, but I kept telling them that I had had  more than enough robust pre - Law school orientations  and socializations. 

And it's on this  foreground  that I shall base my thoughts. 

From the time immemorial, rookie lawyers have always been treated with pleasant discomfort,  pleasant in the sense that pupilage was  not a matter of choice or volition but near compulsion  those days, so,  whatever that comes with it, so be it. Unlike now that you can damn the consequences and open your shop from the word go. If you look at it holistically truly, there was every reason for principals in the hey days to see themselves as God's associates  thus deserved of deification from their learned pupil lawyers. Many instruments needed for proper legal fortifications to confront and  navigate the labyrinth of legal issues and cases in court were not within reach. It was like searching for a needle in the haystack. So much mystification!  

It is on record that  were it not for the gadfly Chief Gani Fawehinimi of the most blessed memory, Law Reports (Compendium of decided cases) would have still remained the exclusive preserve of the aristocratic few.

That was how the early sojourners in the wig and gown profession rolled. 

Many of them who were later successful endured lots of servitude, subservience, and in some extreme cases, slavery, because their masters were slave drivers. This mindset of you must - serve - me - before - you - go even though  the profession has been demystifed with the aid of modern technology still dominates the minds and brains of most senior colleagues who have refused to rapture with the global reality. 

Take it or leave it, most seniors keep juniors at their firm just to fill in the space, and in some cases for mere ego nourishments. When you see their letterheads with the long list of in-house counsel, you will doff your hat in trepidation for them in absential, unbeknown to you that many of them are staying on sufference in that firm to fulfil part of the requirements  for the conferment of SANship that says; there must be at least five full time junior legal practitioners and other para - legal or support staff on full time salaried employment in the office.  

In essence, therefore, it is not strictly really out of necessity but sheer expediency that you see pool of staff in most of these law firms. 

Just three months ago, an Ibadan based rookie lawyer told me that he was sacked by his principal because he sent him a subtle text message reminding  him of the outstanding salary. Before he could proceed to tell me more tales of his woes, I asked him to forward the text to me. Apparently, nothing was harmful, disrespectful, and or audacious in the text.  

But Oga at the top would not have any of that.  

How can a greenhorn be so daring to ask for his salary when he was not the only one in that firm that had not been paid? 

In the same Ibadan, about four years ago, a man who had spent 5 years at the bar at the material time and on a paltry salary of 35,000 naira was disengaged for the most flimsiest excuse. 

Just last week, in the line of duty,  I met a colleague with whom I was and still exchanging  a Spanish inquisition in a civil matter. He is 8 years at the bar, but his principal would not pay him salary as and when due, a technique craftily  deviced to prolong his stay in that firm.  

Come to think of it, if the rookie that was physically  assaulted in Lagos was not videoed, it would not have generated the outcry. Many rookies are enduring all manners of verbal assault of ignominious proportions in silence from their low - income principals. 

To be fair and candid, it would be grossly unfair to over generalize the menace. Not all seniors are guilty. There are seniors who are genuinely interested in the career growth and advancement  of their junior colleagues and there are rookies who are only interested in their  take - home and nothing more. 

Before I make my dochandoris, It is important to stress this point, if you do not have what it takes to keep juniors at your firm, you do not have to employ them out of pity. And if you have the financial wherewithal and juicy briefs to accommodate juniors, do not let ego, ambitions, and archaic mindsets rubbish you of  your hard earned professional reputation. We are in social media age, every misstep can mestacize spontaneously to a scandal. 

Based on the foregoing, I appeal to the incoming leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association to stop the criminal vicious cycle of seeing the privileged positions as avenue to enrich themselves. What is your wealth without an enduring legacy? 

Their job Is already cut out for them; prioritize nothing over and above the welfare of the members and make Human Rights issue a cardinal cornerstone . 

Like play, like play, repeated events have shown that Nigerian Police Force have shifted its appetite for human right abuse to their supposed partners in the administration of criminal justice. If this trend is not radically drastically addressed,  anarchy will loom, and it will be the funeral of our once vibrant umbrella body. 

Rookies are salaried  mentees not domestic servants.   

Idowu Awopeju is a Lagos based attorney.