Saheed M. Toyin*
It needs not be debatable that Lawyers are trained and known for, among others, upholding the rule of law and being of impeccable character. In fact, the emblem of Law (if you don’t mind) is integrity. In recent times, however, Lawyers venturing into politics have, in some quarters of the polity, been held to be making attempt to paint the ‘whitish profession’ with blackish colour, for politics itself is an offspring of blackish father, nursed by dirty mother. On another end, Lawyers are seen as the Merlin, to save the mauled populace from the notorious political goblins.
The experience we are having tends to lay a parochial ambush on Lawyers in the political arena, as if we are not all fallible. When any ‘wrong’ act or omission is done by a Lawyer, the castigation is usually quadruple, as opposed to that of other field/profession. Is that to say that there are no other professionals in politics? The special interest for Lawyers, which in most cases, robs the personality of the Lawyer in question of any legal defence and attacks the integrity of the profession is now on an alarming rate, just as more Lawyers venture into politics.
When, in the year 2011, the Governorship aspirant under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Kwara state, Dele Belgore, SAN, promised the electorates free education, if elected into the office, the opposition party namely The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), through several means, both printed and electronic, attacked him with missiles of words and disparaging remarks, tending to lower his (Mr Dele’s) personality, not only as a Politician, but as a Lawyer. One of the remarks reads: “How will a Senior Advocate of Nigeria be unaware that there is free education in the State, despite the enactment of a law to that effect?”(sic.). Before the April, 2011 gubernatorial polls, the Learned silk also made a comment in relation to the controversial Shonga Farm, whether it’s owned by the state government or private investment or both, and called for a sincere clarity from the government. Not too surprising, the opposition party, again, replied him by saying: “How can a Senior Advocate of Nigeria make some comments about what he is not well-acquainted with? A Lawyer should know the position of the law as regards unsubstantiated allegations. He should have sought for clarity before making a position as to the ownership of the Shonga Farm.” (sic.). The pertinent question is: what if the person concerned is not a Lawyer?
On the 2nd of May, 2012, the Chief Whip of the Kwara House of Assembly, Iliasu Ibrahim authored a strong-worded petition against the Speaker of the House, Razak Atunwa, accusing him of being under a fiefdom and unilateral award of contracts. The Chief Whip alleged that the Speaker re-awarded a contract for a functional website to the tune of #33, 888,700 (Thirty three million, eight hundred and eighty eight thousand, seven hundred naira). A sum of #81, 500,000 (Eighty one million, five hundred thousand naira) was also alleged to have been unilaterally collected by the Speaker for some ‘projects’. It was also alleged that the #135, 000,000 (N135m) approved for the overseas trip was not judiciously spent. The petition did not fail to include the questioning of the #15m released for the hosting of the North Central Speakers Forum. This is fair and normal you may say, but the personality of the Speaker, who is a Lawyer, is not without being murdered. Again, the Chief Whip lampooned Mr Atunwa for his “arrogance and corruption”.
As if that’s not enough, the seeming fair criticism pulled the trigger and fired a shot at the legal profession. Is that not personal? In buttressing our earlier stand of how Political Lawyers are treated, the Chief Whip remarked: “As a foremost lawmaker and a lawyer by profession, you cannot claim to be unaware of the deleterious effects of financial mismanagement and other abuses on the integrity and reputation of the Assembly. With this recklessness of yours, how can the House carry out its oversight functions when you are so corrupt and utterly insensitive?” In fact, in the second week of May, 2012, the Lagos State Governor, Raji Fashola, SAN was described as a ‘Dictatorial Governor’ after the government sacked 1,000 Doctors, despite being aware that he is a Senior Advocate in politics. The ‘dictatorial’ quality therefore, is anathema to the legal training and a sheer attempt to victimise the legal profession by the allusion to dictatorship in the personality of a Lawyer.
From all indications, these ‘attacks’ against the personality of these Lawyers and by extension, the legal profession, wouldn’t have been made as authored, or made directly to a politician, if the persons concerned are not Lawyers. Are these Lawyers not the ones responsible for the mighty maims? If Lawyers enter the political market, do they take the ‘law’ in them along? Can a Politician be a Lawyer concurrently or consecutively? Recently, after the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN made his intention known to vie for the office of the Governor of Ondo State, it was held in some quarters that Aketi has lowered his integrity. Why? It is believed that politics is incongruous with law and hardly would the game of politics be played without illegal acts and omissions. Is this always true? Should Lawyers run away from politics?
At any rate, the fact still remains that politics, in the way we see it played, is far apart from the legal training. It’s therefore, inherently impossible for a Lawyer to imbibe the spirit of law into the pitch of politics in the strict sense. Also, running away from the seeming Aladdin’s cave will not be an option. After all, if a lawyer is trained to defend the rule of law, he cannot do that successfully by being politicsphobic. Let’s see the actors play their role on the stage of politics. Not all the politicians are corrupt! Not all the lawyers do what the law says, just like any other citizen. Fair criticism of lawyers’ act is necessary to save the integrity of the noblest profession on earth and probably in heaven.