Judges, lawyers and magic realism

This piece was first published on December 2, 2015. Today being an election day, I decided to reproduce it as an escape route to avoid saying anything about the exercise so as not to run foul of the law. In the build-up to the polls, friends and colleagues have asked me to foretell the outcome of today’s presidential race as I used to predict the results of football matches when I was on the sports desk of The Nigeria Standard newspaper in the 80s. Well, I won’t… because this is politics and not sports. Besides, soccer prophecy, for me, is as easy as foretelling that tomorrow will be Sunday! Enjoy:  

Some years ago, in the late 80s to be precise, a colleague laboured to talk me into reading law at the University of Jos. We had worked together and progressed to become editors of two titles on the stables of the Jos-based Nigeria Standard Group of Newspapers. My reaction was so simple. I told him that although it was not a bad idea to seek knowledge in other fields, the idea of crossing over from the Fourth Estate of the Realm to the realm of law like politicians without borders would be a disservice to the profession that we held so dearly after so many years of penmanship, which brought us fame and friendship.

I reminded him that journalism was our first love which I did not plan to ditch after over two decades of romance. And that as journalists, we were/are more learned than lawyers because journalists are trained to know something about everything, including law. I knew many journalists like him that had sheathed their pens and ended up jaw-jawing in the court after reading law. There were also those who read law but ended up as pen men or pen women. Space would not permit me to reel out the names of those I have come in contact with because the list is very long.

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My friend eventually realised his dream of becoming a learned man and has over 20 years of post-bar practice. But he is not as visible as he was as a journalist, and he is not among the prominent men at the bar that dominate the Nigerian media space every now and then, defending corrupt elements/criminals in our midst and practising magic realism. I will explain that later.

Looking back now, I believe that my reluctance or refusal to jump into the realm of law was rooted in the kind of upbringing I had. My father had zero tolerance for lying. His mantra was “tell the truth and shame the devil”. He had always drummed it into our skulls that whoever tells lies would steal and that the female liars among us would flirt. The day I sneaked out with his Bible to read the tragic fall of Samson from the laps of Delilah, he called me a Bible thief.

He loved the idea of his kids reading the Bible but he warned that I should not be sneaking around with it and promised to get me a children’s version. I must obtain his authorisation first.  And that is one habit (telling the truth) that is immiscible with law practice. Most lawyers would know the truth but would turn it on its head in order to save the filthy arse of their clients or send the innocent ones to jail with the active connivance of those at the bench. That is the reason why you see most of them, dressed in SAN’s robes, swarming around high profile cases involving billions of naira like ants on sugar.

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Last Wednesday, a colleague drew my attention to a story in the Daily Trust, which he thought I had not seen, that would be of interest to this column. The story was entitled “Most judges would miss heaven”, credited to a prominent legal luminary, Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN). Ali was speaking at the National Conference of Islamic Welfare Foundation held at Fountain University in Osogbo.

He premised his submission on the declaration made by Prophet Mohammed (SAW) that there are three types of judges and that only one of the categories would make Aljanat (heaven) i.e. the one that has knowledge and deploys it justly. In other words, the other two categories are learned but they do not deploy it justly. Ali accused most of the judges of unwholesome practices. Common as the accusation may be, I make bold to say that Ali’s constituency, the bar, is also guilty of the same offence. Most corrupt judges operate hand in glove with lawyers who also fall within the two categories the Prophet swore would not make heaven.

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Ali reached for the Quran to warn judges about missing Aljanat, but the fire spitting cleric and Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah missed the opportunity provided by the same occasion to underscore the Prophet’s declaration with the assertion the Lord Jesus made in Luke 11:46 when He said: “Woe unto you lawyers… For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers”. I will leave the full interpretation of this quotation to sacerdotalists. But it is very clear that lawyers, without any exception, are in the Lord’s bad books.

Now, back to magic realism. The simple definition of this branch of magic (practised by the bar and the bench men) is the art of presenting what is real as though they were not and what is not real as though they were. Most judges (and lawyers) are corrupt. And to minister in the temple of corruption, they connive among themselves to paint the truth of a case as though they were a lie and a lie as though they were the truth. And the innocent people suffer all manner of undeserved punishments, even death.

But I have my worries. Most judges and lawyers do not fear God or Allah. They are two sides of the same coin. As it is said, there can be no fowl without an egg. It is the lawyer that eventually metamorphoses into a judge. When I was growing up, we were told that a judge must belong to a cult to arm himself with spiritual powers or he would not survive attacks from diabolical litigants and their lawyers.

In the light of these scenarios, I wonder if the Prophet’s declaration and the Lord’s assertion would make any meaning to these bench men and bar men that are careering down the path of perdition.

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