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Tuesday, 25 December 2012
The Law is full of crap. I can get around any Law you may write. The Law can get twisted out of shape to serve a wicked civilization. The rich can escape the law and sometimes even the poor get lucky. Some Lawyers treat the law they way pimps treat their women. Judges sell the Law, Courts betray it.
All true. But remember this. We have nothing better that works. There is no better way we can make a social contract with our fellow human beings.
- Mario Puzo: The Fourth K
It is Christmas Eve. The excitement is doubled this year because the world did not end after all. Of course, I maintained an intellectual front through it all, publicly. All day you would hear me volubly dismissing the global concerns as the sensation-cloaked ignorance of modern-day media. But when I got home, I would take fearful peeks into the NASA website and pray with a racing heart.
So here we are, sharing that traditional bottle of wine. We, being the small group of boisterous lawyer-friends that I am usually stuck with this season. As always, we joked and bantered about the professional hazards of the fading year: The psyche battles with clients; the ego tussle with seniors, the pending coup against all SANs; time and wine dulling the edges off the less savoury stories.
Eventually, the conversation naturally steered to the government, the shoddy efforts so far and the remoteness of possible solutions. Of course, it sobered us all up. Beneath the merry laughter and demonstrated fellow-feeling; the guards-down mood of Christmas merely represented another easy channel for man to steal, even more easily from his neighbour.
Prices soar, illogically. Ok, maybe it is nothing personal, just cold economics. But it sure rings a contradictory note in the face of much touted goodwill and love-fuelled giving. Fuel queues stretch for miles, housing agonized travellers. And the station attendant smiles warm greetings to the sweating driver who pays the extra fee for expedited service. But we love it all, the mad rush homewards; to show off, to gloat, to indulge; at the next man’s fiscal or mental expense.
In line with the changed mood of the table; I decided to share a story I had kept to myself all this while. It happened in my first few years of Law practice. The Firm’s client had bought a piece of land and paid in full. Upon moves to take possession, it was revealed that the vendor had availed false papers. Somebody else had better title, and my client was hung out to dry. Of course, the vendor’s phones had long become unreachable.
I had more energy in those days, and I moved, fast. I recall it was Christmas season. We tracked and traced the vendor through every dinghy nook of Lagos. Precisely on December 22nd, we discovered his hide-out. Oh well, if you can describe a detached duplex flanked by glittering wheels as a hide-out.
We pounced mercilessly. Yes, one of those rare times when Police is really your friend. The young wife and chubby infants wailed themselves hoarse. The gentleman begged, knelt and cajoled. I insisted. There were frenetic phone-calls, an undertaking, a criminal charge, accelerated recovery. The process triggered off a chain reaction and the dude was ruined for keeps.
My principal roundly commended me. But I could not shake off the wretched feeling. The Client’s insisted pay-off tasted like blood money. This was the best Christmas gift a Lawyer could possibly give: cruelty.
I have since grown used to the reputation: The furtive glances of tenants whenever I came visiting at Christmas. The message in the greeting cards I bore surely contradicted the Client’s instructions- a reviewed rent. We are singled out as spoilsports. In a bubble of sparkling wine; the world will rather smile and sing through the sham and pain of it all. They need no nagging reminders to toe the straight and narrow line. Christmas preaches forgiveness; but the lawyer seeks justice (read; revenge). Christmas is colourful and sprightly. The lawyer is dour and sober.
But the Lawyer is losing the battle, no doubt. The concept of Law as a distinct Discipline fast fades away. These days, the lawyer must specialize in the specific business areas of his client. And since he cannot exactly measure up to the expertise of the business owner; he plays second fiddle. Very soon, big corporate decisions will happen without any bit of legal intervention. I overhear already that soon, in Nigeria, Companies would be incorporated by lay persons. Already, every agreement impliedly ousts the courts. They prefer mediation. Even arbitration is dying off. The world hates the judicial flavour.
Lands will be sold, Wills drafted and read, with at best, passive intervention of lawyers. Citizens may negotiate directly with law enforcement without some nosy prude insisting on procedural conformity. Surely, everyday will soon become Christmas.
Emasculated, the Law will take the rear-seat and gape impotently at the unchecked and untamed celebrations. The Government will also rest easier. They will take up glossy pages in Newspapers announcing a joyous partnership with the citizenry. Absence of lawyers means an absence of petitions and litigation. And absence of litigation is in itself prima facie proof of a satisfied populace. Leadership ratings will soar. Santa has hearkened to the most sublime wishes.
Even these may all come to pass. And the world will still not end. We will continue the wait, heeding or defying rumours and prophecies. We will always look forward to that eventual end of the globe. And therein lies the irony. From whence the globe came, or where it is headed; no one knows yet. But of man’s transitory passage through it, we have had centuries of knowledge. Yet man still waits for the world to end.
...But it is already ended the day the Law dies.
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
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1. BUYING THE RIGHT TO STEAL…?
“Should anyone by craft of any device whatever, abstract this book from this place, may his soul suffer in retribution for what he has done, and may his name be erased from the book of the living and not recorded among the Blessed.”
This was a typical horror-warning on many copyrighted materials of the Middle Ages. Surely, the urge to steal another’s content is not a 21st century development and the efforts to curb it have evolved accordingly. Sometime within ascertainable history of France, the King had monopolised ownership of design patterns on certain fabric and made unauthorized copying of these patterns an offence punishable by violent death. Today however, technology has steadily ridiculed the Law in the quest for controlled use of content through fast paced devices that transmit intangible copies at the speed of light.
But wait! Nigeria, the land of answers has suddenly thought up a viable way to end it all: by imposing a Copyright Levy. (I am still mad at myself for never having spotted this provision in our Laws. Or maybe I had, but my mind jettisoned it in disbelief). Well, the gist of the levy is that users shall pay specified amounts for every device that they own which is capable of being used to violate copyrighted content. In a nutshell, our phones, our laptops, printers, photocopiers, TVs, Hard Drives, Memory Sticks, etc. will henceforth be subject to this levy.
What’s the idea? The proponents say it is meant to create a Fund for copyright owners and ensure that they enjoy the fruits of their labour. It is a pre-emptive approach to enforcement, deserving of our collective applause.
But have we played the disturbing scenarios it raises? Of hulking thugs (the typical template of our enforcers) randomly snatching our phones and iPads on grounds that their levies are not up to date? Is the levy a sort of license for users to thereafter engage in illicit transmission having already done penance in advance? Also, supposing I am not a fan of hip-hop music, will my own contribution to the Fund be specifically channelled to just Highlife and Juju beneficiaries if these were my preferred categories? Before payment, will I make representations on the nature of music I listen to, or the authors I read, and compare the quantum of levies with the potential impact of my possible reproductions as observable from a credible Report Document availed by the enforcers? Why do I not also pay a levy for the knives in my kitchen as a pre-emptive safeguard for victims of violence? Why do I not also pay for my ears, my mouth and my natural memory as these can actually store and reproduce content without recourse to the stipulated Devices?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate of copyright integrity. Which lawyer isn’t, really? But which Lawyer also preaches unjustified proprietary invasion? Truly, the owner of a property has all the rights to deal with it as he wishes, as long as he does not put it to illegal use. And until such illegality is proven or is subject to investigation; the owner is entitled to quiet enjoyment.
The list of logical-disconnects can go on and on, but I suspect that what eats at me the most is the fact that, considering my love for musical Devices, persons like Tonto Dikeh now fall under foreseeable beneficiaries of my hard earned income!
2. WILLS: A GRAVE MISTAKE?
Draft your Will! Lawyers routinely preach this. Whether or not our ultimate goal is the fee attaching thereto is a different matter. Truly, the man without a Will is like the man who casts his life earnings into the sea before his exit. It is only on board games that it should be a gamble to die. In real life, you want to reasonably predict that your dependents are well-off in your absence. Sadly, even the most strong-willed are bent at death; and their best wishes become subject to the whims of the living. Friends become foes and households get locked in the sort of battles that suggest that life all along was a long and patient wait for the benefactor’s exit.
My neighbour, an Estate Surveyor, is violently opposed to Wills. And whenever we argue, he has ready statistics of Will-driven-strife to beat me hands down. He often says that at best, he would present his family and friends with deeds of gift which would only become effective upon his death. His “Will” would then contain only a list of the beneficiaries and the corresponding gifts he had given them, such that anyone who does not produce proof of his gift is automatically disinherited. Thus, that way he would limit allegations of falsehood and counter positioning, and the harmony of his household will be preserved.
As simplistic as this sounded, I see some sense in it. The only troubling issue being that once you give people such gifts in advance; you would steadily lose your hold on them. It is best to drag the suspense to the last possible moment. I still marvel at the ingenuity of the old man, Okorie in James Ene-Henshaw’s Play, Jewels of the Shrine. I would want something like that. Get the family worshipful of me while dropping subtle hints that they would be richly rewarded. It will be a clear case of “let thy will be done, sir”. And at the end, I would do my wish; far beyond the reach of their wrath.
Having said this, I hope the great Ikemba continues to rest in peace!
3. THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA…ARE ITS CIVIL SERVANTS
“Ours is a nation of waste and duplicity in Governance!” The private sector scoffs. The next minute however; they fall over themselves trying to gamble on candidates likely to guarantee favourable policies. They organise dinners and Fund raising events with monstrous Table tags. But whenever the ugliness of government rears up, they scoff and distance themselves from it all. They beat their chests in tales of their long, consistent toils before attaining Eldorado; as opposed to these overnight millionaires who never put in an honest day’s work.
It is quite laughable how self-righteous we all become in condemning the government structure: The heavy handed CEO; The Principal who pushes stale crumbs to junior lawyers; the Marketing supervisor who slave-drives Nigerian graduates, etc. etc. They unite in condemning the unbalanced wealth distribution and luxurious lifestyles of our rulers.
I once read somewhere that one should be cautious with politicians, but terrified of business-men. Funny, but remotely true. Politicians attempt a show of patriotism; but business-men do not hide their projected outcomes: money, and more money.
Meanwhile, the poor clerical staff who watches it all helplessly, is singled out; and must be sacrificed before the proper balance is struck. The nation’s growth is stifled because of his salaries and entitlements. If he is sacked, the country will save more money and add to the growing projects which will in turn generate mass employment and he will be reabsorbed; preferably into the private sector (to be vigorously squeezed in creating more entrepreneurial billionaires); thus, freeing more funds for the top-level public officials to deal with in moving the country forward.
It is that logical, really. How come nobody thought of this earlier?
Also published on Thisday Newspaper, Tuesday December 11, 2012
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
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Birthdays are reflection events for me. The man in the mirror stares back, with a face gradually getting lined with slow but sure marks of mid-adulthood. Today, I want to let you guys in a bit on the little tales of this not-so young Lawyer.
My start was not different from those of many other lawyers in the sense that: I was forced to study Law. No; not by my parents. I was forced into it by recording unprintable grades in physics and chemistry and a woeful outing at that torture rack: Further maths. High School was a messy blur, really.
Having been consigned to the disgrace of the Arts; one had to reckon with JAMB of course. JAMB: that bitter pill that ensures that aptitude does not always guarantee altitude. For me, it was a slow journey to hell. Held back by JAMB while other dudes in the sciences crept in with staggeringly lower scores! Even if they missed Med/Surg. and the Engineering’s, they still had other glamorous options: Industrial Chemistry; Optometry, Polymer & Textile, etc. Those of us in the Arts faced the bleak clouds of Archaeology and Library Science. I really held “Library Science” in the greatest disdain. What complex scientific processes lay in dusting books off shelves and arranging them? Well, that was me, an ignorant teen, never yet heard of catalogues, indexing and the mix.
Law was therefore the only Arts left, every other thing was Science. Even Fine Arts; was “Applied”; and thus scientific. Faced with the derision of my more intelligent peers, I should have argued that giving evidence in court is a logical procedure leading to a possibly empirical conclusion. Plus, there is a whole lot of experimenting; with junior lawyers. (But I did not know all these then)
Well, JAMB held me back, not once; twice! All this while, I endured mum’s scathing tongue at every careless move. By the end of the 2nd idle year, I jumped into English and Literary Studies. Oh, no. I told my friends it was English and Literary Sciences. And I wasn’t lying. Linguistics has series of theories and hypotheses to cloak it with a science hue. I was finally living the dream: Budding Scientist. Armed with the skills to analyse things and go all abstract; I was ready to conquer the world. But that nagging feeling that ‘mere analyses' of other people’s works may not sustain a credible livelihood, pushed me to yet another dalliance with JAMB. And bingo! This time, I passed!
No celebratory parties though! My (much younger) sister was also getting into school...at her first try! Plus, she was a pure science student. So my celebration was rightly muted. I was going to be “papa” with a bunch of underage folks. Or so I thought. Until I got into my new Law Class and also found that there was a concept called evening law; reserved solely for my grandmother’s contemporaries.
That first year; I was easily top of my class. Buoyed by past experience in a higher institution, and there was only one Law course that year. Subsequently, my grades pegged me to my rightful place- eons behind the myriad sharp-brains in my Class. There is always a smarter lawyer: Lesson Number One.
They were everywhere, sharp young dudes, and girls! Large books, painstakingly crafted lecture Notes and unimpeachable Study Groups. This was it. It was either you studied or you faced the music. And I chose the latter, literally. It is a sore reflection in my credentials as a lawyer that after Five years in the Law Faculty, I am mostly remembered for having faced the music. Fortunately my employers have consistently skipped this disturbing fact; so far.
Lesson Two: Girls will not sway and drool when you emerge with your well starched black and white “”with tie”. Lawyers experience as much heartbreak as other mortals. And your persuasive skills would not avail an iota of advantage in court-ship.
Now I am here...
After an uneventful Law school experience, made more gruelling by the fact that talking with girls in the night was outlawed. Faced with evil janitors, every heterosexual conversation had to be carried out under shadowy premises. Innocent conversations, largely; typically from a girl who needed clarifications on that question you had asked at Company Law Class. But you would emerge with a knowing smirk. It was for the benefit of the lads. Once you sighted them, you would throw a casual hand over the shoulders of your companion. Enugu climate cooperated too. Chances being that, in the blistering cold, she would snuggle close. And your reputation was built: Silent Sniper.
Lesson Three: A lawyer can lie to everyone else successfully, but he must still face the truth alone. The midnight cravings never waned. And many young Law students despite exhortations to the contrary were known to...er... take matters into their own hands.
After Law School, employment (or its lack) loomed. Oh, not forgetting that brazen patch of NYSC. There we lay in a desolate Camp; at the mercy of half-literate soldiers who never failed to rub home the fact that might is always right. The prettiest girls were drawn to their rugged machismo leaving us with a sickening realization that all one left school with was ‘big grammar’ and little else: Lesson Number 4.
Employed as a corper, you discovered that you were the lowest of the low. Even the casual and informal workers made you subservient. Added to this, you tried to impress your first boss with Latin maxims (which she had totally forgotten) and she cruelly pegged you down so many notches that you started believing your Certificate was a fluke. Gradually, you were being prepared for the real world: The world of a Lawyer. You slowly learn that a Lawyer is not randomly talkative but measured, deliberate and discerning.
I learnt even more. Stranded in an organisation with dwindling business; I was forced to join the Sales Team to hawk unwanted telephone sets to unwilling buyers. Initially the shocking impact threw me off the mighty high horse of legal knowledge. But slowly, I started feeling the breath of the street in me. I merged soullessly with the hum of Lagos traffic, learning the nooks, the lingo and the dark tastes. Slowly, I was building even more formidable capacity.
I left Lagos eventually and got into Abuja where I learnt firsthand, the width of the gap between the very rich and the rest. Settled to specialist Law practice (or at least, as apprentice to a Specialist). Everyday: the files, the briefs the clients. The transactions; the travels; the network. The overwhelming urge to throw off the restricting baggage of jacket and ties, and get all grimy and dirty in the mindless pursuit of the nation’s wealth.
My Lawyer life has not been that horrible though. Definitely not boring! A few rascals, namely- Oduenyi, KK, Rep and E-Brown guarantee that. Also, Beer remains the favoured past-time and in these days of insecurity, one remains compulsorily sober; so the girlfriends (and eventual wives) do not mind, much.
It is a beautiful life: and today; the celebration of another year.
I have learnt to cling closely to each new day like a perishable treasure. It is a time to recount God’s blessings to me and to my family. A time to appreciate the sublime gift of friends. A time to enjoy the incisive camaraderie of the Unstarched Collar bloggers. A time to revel in the dreams of possible projects and future milestones to be conquered. A time to say a necessary prayer for strength to overcome the challenges of the future...
Somehow, I have fallen into a comfortable routine with my bosses, and life may just get a bit too normal. Maybe one day, the Muse will inspire me to stir the hornet’s nests; and face the music one final time.
Happy Birthday Barrister Massai!
Friday, 21 September 2012
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I stared out idly from the creaky taxi-cab, watching the stretch of tired cars strewn carelessly within miles of any fuel station. I gave a resigned sigh at this recurrent image in our national kaleidoscope, and reached for my headphones to escape into the therapy of the Cranberries. The driver’s angry grumbles halted me.
He was demonstrating wildly as we sauntered three blocks past the junction I had told him I would stop at. “Why you tell me say na for ICPC u go stop! I no dey go again! Listen oga, after this junction, i swear I go park here and u must pay me my moni!”. Ordinarily, I would flare, but his reddened eyes testified to the agonizing hours he had spent waiting for the smug fuel sellers to rouse themselves for pre-dawn sales. Eventually, when it got to his turn, he would only be able to afford half-tank, and now, the half tank is dwindling, and the day’s bottom-line has not been nearly met. Plus, it’s a Friday!
I calmed him, and agreed to give an extra 200 bucks for the excess journey. His expression changed instantly “haba oga no be say i wicked o, na this country dey cause am o...” and he went into an animated comparative ramble on democracy and military rule. I tuned off. When I alighted, I watched him struggle with more guilt-ridden half apologies. I waved them off with a smile, it wasn’t his fault.
That was when it struck me that the Fuel crisis creates a perfect metaphor for our country, and its citizens. It demarcates us all into the typical classes we struggle in, everyday. Here goes:
1. The Black Market Sellers:
In our everyday life, these represent the Contract chasers; those half-schooled charlatans that benefit from loopholes in the system. They are products of illegality and expertly navigate past every statutory/regulatory structure to win deals. Of course, lacking the abilities to do anything with the technical contracts, they outsource them via auction-type arrangements. Once they espy another poor consultant frustrated by the dearth of due process, they swoop on him, wielding their siphons, then rush off to another victim, gloating at the huge payoff, while the consultant is tortured to merely meet the project deliverables, all hopes of possible profit having died after the 70% compulsory fee demanded by the jobbers.
2. The Fuel Attendants:
These represent the junior officers in public service. They mill around the offices idly, and their workday fritters to a regular uneventful end. Visitors walk past them every day without the least recognition of their presence. They could be naked, or dressed in rags, nobody notices. They are that insignificant. But in times of crisis, when the gates are closed on all callers and the big oga doesn’t want to see anybody that is not on appointment; they suddenly become relevant. You then find their hitherto humble demeanours give way to grandiose scowls. They take forever to produce the visitors’ form; shuffle into the building and emerge hours later to inform you that oga cannot see you now. Desperate, you beg and supplicate; you remember to line their palms with currency notes which they take without thanks, casting a quick eye to measure the quantum. Beautiful girls happily avail them their phone numbers, and smartly dressed gents obsequiously croon “mummy” “big daddy”. And they are ruthless. You are briskly marched out by the security if you try to claim right. They know that when the system reverses itself, they would be forced back into the ignominy of anonymity. But, in the meantime, they rule.
3. The Motorists who don’t queue but bribe their way in:
These are the VIPs. No, they are not the politicians. They are the private-sector rich. They don’t have time to queue for due process; time is money. In fact, they appear to enjoy a crisis, because it is only in such deteriorated situations that the fine line that distinguishes them from the proletariats is made evident. Willingly, they pay more for less, and emerge, looking busy and snorting at these other fools who don’t understand the value of time. Their wealth isolates them from the ugliness of the country, and they lead merry, cheery lives in the midst of the rot. A unique breed of ostriches, they bury their heads in gold. They are the biggest suckers, because they have the means to drive change, but do not see it.
4. The Motorists who queue and grumble:
This is the VON. (Very Ordinary Nigerian). Pummelled on all sides by bad policy; he suffers all the consequent impact, and bears the highest stress levels. They shove and snap at themselves, irritated by the unsavoury mirror images they represent for each other. They stare wistfully at the VIPs and dream of rising to a level where they can pay their way past ‘minor inconveniences.’ They despise other members of their large community and yell: “if body dey pain you; why u no go pay 500 Naira to avoid queue!” They foster a sense of abject powerlessness, and offer their willing backs to the buffets of the big system..
5. The Pipeline Vandals/Hoarders of Fuel:
Perennially faceless. You hear of them and their actions generate a harsh domino effect on the rest of society, but they are never caught. They run the system...they are the government.
Friday, 3 August 2012
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When women post gleeful smileys of TGIF, I wonder where their excitements lie. Surely, the prospect of merely retiring to a lengthy warm bath and heavy dinner is not that groundbreaking; especially, when their significant dudes are happily away to some remote joint, drinking beer and making merry. Slowly, I have come to decipher TGIF as what it really is in a girl’s eyes: a message of hope that someday, the dudes will finally realize that the thrills of the day are best shared in the home. Unfortunately, they wish in vain: Boys will always be boys. And many more tender hearts are broken, weekly.
Women will certainly agree that it has become necessary to introduce a stricter position to this scenario, by imposing the Law on these errant males. Given the platform, their draft-argument will run a bit like this:
For the purposes of this discussion, we shall view every household, whether enabled by mere consent, traditional law or divine approval as a self-sufficient, sovereign unit. In this regard, it shall be empowered to run its internal administration under a strict body of regulated rules. First, since the progress of every household is determined by how well it applies its budget to such necessaries as food, shelter and clothing (Please Note that this third item extends to jewelry, Brazilian hair and such other accessories as may be in vogue); it shall be criminal for the leadership of the household to misappropriate same in nurturing trivial habits.
Further, our collective Rights to Life as women are consistently endangered by this habit. Yes, we may not have minded so much in view of the correlation which alcohol has with the male libido, but in the circumstances, robbed of their full mental comportment, there is an application of excessive force, enough to result in grievous bodily harm. Therefore, whenever the man becomes inebriated to the level of insanity, we propose a temporary appointment of legal guardians (chosen to fit our secret fantasies) to act on their behalf during the period of mental incapacity.
Also, since our society deems it unseemly for a woman to go out at night unaccompanied by her spouse or partner, the absence of our men on Fridays constitutes a violation to our Rights to Free Movement. We are forced to stay indoors and watch the night exhaust its excitements, while we suffer the tortures of Channel 114. That is when we are lucky! Because, in most cases, the generator-fuel allowance is compromised to feed the man’s evil Friday habit, and we are consigned to the humid darkness all night, in manifest contravention of the Dignity of the Human Person.
The woman’s roles as a home-maker depend solely on her right to Free Speech. Thus, in whatever manner she prefers to act, by nagging or fretting, she should be given a platform to exercise this, and be fairly heard too (at least within a few miles of the neighborhood). But with the man’s fixation on alcohol, she is denied this essential right. At that precise hour of the Friday night when she best deploys this tool to assess the ending week, the man snores away, drunk! He claims Freedom of Assembly when he embarks on his unholy sojourns with a questionable entourage of noisy friends, but we shall heed that no longer. By Law, Free Assembly must not precipitate uprising or war. And since most of the clashes in the household are remotely triggered by the excesses of Friday night, it cannot be lawful to congregate over such an explosive subject matter as- drinking beer.
We continually suffer discrimination on the basis of sex, when the men state that they are hanging out with the boys. We shall no longer be silent. Most importantly, our Right to own Property (which is set in motion by that blissful act of Shopping) is constantly breached by Friday nights, because the cars keep getting smashed in as the men speed drunkenly, and all the resources that could have enabled our purchases are channeled to repairs.
Worst of all, Friday night beer encourages our men’s association with that unwholesome sub-genre of womanhood that walk the nights and we must fight vigorously to reclaim our rightful places.
Therefore, we propose that Friday Beer be pronounced illegal by Law; seeing that it is contrary to the healthy development of family life and consequently corrupts our collective morals as a society. The only exception to the law should be that: any man that takes his wife, girlfriend, or partner along during Friday night hangouts for three consecutive weekends shall become entitled to one unsupervised hangout in a month. This concession shall however be subject to a written representation that the hangout shall not jeopardize steady supply of treats and gifts to the said spouse.
Defaulting men shall be ordered to pay for an exclusive 2-week holiday (inclusive of comprehensive vouchers covering shopping and Spa) for the aggrieved spouse to facilitate her recuperation from the emotional trauma.
In severe cases of default, the aggrieved woman may apply and obtain a younger male escort to temporarily carry out the usual activities of her partner for up to six months, at the end of which period she may elect to make the transfer absolute. And if she so elects, a larger percentage of the man’s estate shall be assigned to her on the grounds that habitual intoxication has rendered him incapable of administering same. It shall not be a defence that the man is sober during the rest of the week: strong beginnings should not fritter out to weak-ends. Moreso, no good relationship survives in the face of bottled up desires.
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
The Law envisages an ideal world, and as long as ours is imperfect, the Law will keep making a fool of itself. A few recent experiences drove this point home, and I have captured them under different story lines. Here goes:
I was in court the other day during the final ruling in an action for Nuisance. The defendant’s generator was robbing the plaintiff of his nightly sleep. The judgment favoured the plaintiff and the defendant was ordered to pay a few hundreds of thousands in compensation. A no-brainer; it happens every day. But think again! Place the litigants in a dinghy, overcrowded section of Lagos where the electricity transformers have all crumbled from over-use, potable water lies in subterranean idleness waiting for elusive electricity to draw it up, and ventilation is nil, as even air cannot move freely amidst the logjam of buildings and humans. In a place like this, a generator becomes a basic tool for self-preservation. Anything less compromises the right to life. It is our world, our country, but the poor defendant pays. Maybe that is the hidden meaning of separation of powers. Yes, separated from the governed in favour of the governors. Now, you will agree that the judge erred. Not just because he placed liability unjustly, but also because he did not lay a proper sequence. The proper test should be: Has the plaintiff been able to establish specifically that it was the exact sound of the defendant’s generator that denied him sleep at the precise hour of the night in question? Has he eliminated the possibility that in a street continuously buzzing with generators, it could be any of those (beyond that of his immediate neighbour) that remotely or directly resulted in his forced insomnia? Evidently, the judge looked at proximity. Yes, he may be right. But it then means that our neighbours will keep paying for the sins of our far-away leaders. Long arms of the law; my foot. As the court pleases!
2. EMPLOYMENT, PRIVACY & FACEBOOK
Regularly, I read of how some bosses in Europe and America get into trouble for requesting the passwords to employees’ social accounts. In many of these countries, there are strong arguments that use of the Internet is a fundamental right. How do you reconcile this then with the overbearing practice of most organizations: forbidding Facebook at work. These days, they do not merely disable the service (they have since been defeated by Smart phones and tablets) they publish Employment Guidelines warning of immediate sack of “anybody found on Facebook during work hours”. The question is; when you do ‘catch’ a defaulter, how do you prove the frequency of his visits, and how has this frequency affected his productivity? So, bosses merely set themselves up for wrongful termination lawsuits. Knowing this, they merely fume and rave, while the defaulting staff continues putting up smileys, and work piles up. But there’s a solution bosses can try! And it’s simple: First, create a profile of a very beautiful girl whose personal information conspicuously announces “an unexplainable weakness for lawyers”. Secure in the feeling that you can’t sack him, it won’t be too hard obtaining the Profile name of defaulting staff. The next steps are easy: Miss Charming adds Staff as friend. No man ever turns down a girl’s friend request. Of course as the boss you don’t have that much time to waste, and so should recruit any available awaiting-Jamb-result niece of yours for the task. The chats begin. ‘Hi lawyer; spare a moment for your admirer?’ Unsuspecting, he gleefully tumbles headlong. More shoddy jobs, more missed deadlines. But thanks to the massive memory of the Facebook chat history, within a week you will have enough evidence to nail him. Not to worry, illegally obtained evidence is acceptable in our courts. And most importantly, the sacked dude retains his ‘right to browse’…only this time, for job openings.
3. DEATH FOR THE CORRUPT
Everyday, the self-righteous chants ring: “the only way out of corruption in Nigeria is to make it a capital offence!.” I agree. But I notice that the proponents say it with their eyes on the public sector alone. Yes, they are the sole custodians of our wealth and should exercise a higher level of restraint! Really? But most critical wealth infrastructures are in the private sector. For instance, if the banks decide to wrongly channel our deposits for just 24 hours, it’s a state of emergency! So the penalty should extend to both sectors: public and private. Now, instead of the glorious image of a bloated agbada-decked senator being riddled with the executioner’s bullets, more gory visions play out before my eyes: the University lecturer who hands out false grades, the hireling that ‘pushes files’ at the Government Ministry, the contractor with a hefty brown envelope, the hapless banker ‘borrowing’ depositors’ funds for the weekend, the peddler of fake drugs with the Regulator’s mark of approval, etc. lining up tearfully to face the executioner’s axe. Yea, you asked for ‘capital’ offence, and its literally handed down. Corruption is capital-based. Oh, are we having a rethink! And come to think of it, who will effect the arrests of these offenders? The police? (LOL!). See why the subject is not even worth debating? On to the next one, please.
4. SENDING YOUR HUSBAND TO PRISON
The wedding day is a cocktail of sweet smiles and kisses. How does life manage to get sour afterwards? The nags, the whines, the sulks, the fights. But the line must be drawn. Do not strike the woman! Yes, any man that beats a woman is a beast. Anger and provocation are no defence! We all agree. But these words do not stop the scourge. Every now and again, a woman rushes out to the media and bares all. The rest gasp in shock and outrage, meanwhile, gritting their teeth over their own private experiences and uploading more fairy-tale photos of marriage on Facebook. That is until some dude goes overboard and the woman loses limb or life. The Law is reluctantly brought in then, but usually, it’s already late. The remedy? A dedicated care-line for victims of spousal abuse. Once he deals you the lightest of slaps, call in the police quick! Also, a Law should be passed covering ‘the least touching in anger” as battery; and a minimum of 15 years behind bars for the brute. But therein lies the snag. Without a divorce, what is the legal status of a woman who sends her husband to jail, in our country? Oh sure, the courts can order support for the wife and kids, but that is if the gentleman has an estate in the first place? If he doesn’t, how much more can you punish him for abdicating responsibility? He is already in jail! And we the outraged onlookers, how willing are we to pay a special kind of tax: Support for Battered Wives (SBW). More so, if the woman decides to divorce him, does our culture readily send out our brothers and our sons to marry a woman reputed to have locked up her husband? This is a question even the Law cannot answer.
I rest my thesis.
Also published in THISDAY Newspapers, Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Also published in THISDAY Newspapers, Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Friday, 6 July 2012
Maybe Lawyers are largely grumpy, because their pleasures are brief. With expertise at little else, they live at the mercy of their clients. Ironically, in his bid to impress and sustain the client, the Lawyer gets so busy learning the Law and misses a vital fact: Successful businessmen learn little of the business, and more of the customer.
A friend of mine complains that his client uses him as an errand boy “I book his flights and schedule his meetings, surely not what I went to Law School for…!” he fumed. I had to interrupt him- “No, you are wrong, THAT IS what you went to Law school for; only that your tutors failed to teach you so. Read and learn your client, serve his purpose and his quirks. Earn his loyalty and earn your fees.” Of course, the logic is too simple; and the lawyer is suspicious of anything that is not complex. They would rather stay on their high-horse, where no one will take them for a ride. And on the high horse many lawyers still sit, while the rest of the world has evolved cars.
Surprisingly though, my friend paid me heed, and I went on to show him the various species of clients and how best to respond to their demands:
1. THE TIGER
This Client is tough, aggressive and demanding. He is curt and impatient, yells and cuts the phone on both you and your staff. He is a man of power and knows it too well. He owns big businesses and is a stakeholder of the Big System. He has a horde of loyalists and expects you to swell their numbers. He is a masterful hunter, never fails to bring in spoils. He only needs you to hide the spoils and blood from the public’s prying eyes. He does not want you to grovel, just be effective and don’t ask questions. He hates excuses and cannot stand failure. He believes nothing else is as important as his work. When you draw up your Retainer, do not attempt to ensnare him with a stringent clause. He pays no heed to contracts, he relies on his claws. He is derisive of your pretensions, and bored with your intellect. You merely play a practical role; just another necessary piece of his empire’s jigsaw. He pays generously, but don’t take him for a fool. Chances are he has your meetings taped and keeps a dossier on you.
Typical Signs: Brooding and silent during meetings (His assistants do the talking); Doesn’t take notes, but stares straight at you; Often cuts into your sentences without apologizing; Comes late for meetings and asks ‘can we start now?’; Chews you to shreds if you are late yourself; Always chauffer driven; Never discusses his family.
2. THE HORSE
This is the Client on a race against time. A no no for the lazy lawyer. He is always on the move, last-minute flight tickets and late night marathon meetings. His impossible deadlines will keep you gasping for breath. His speed doesn’t make him any less thorough. He skims through a 200-page document five minutes before a meeting and is able to comment on every little detail. He reviews your letters spotting typos and inelegant constructs, you want to scream at him for being so damned smart. He doesn’t outwardly undermine you, but you often leave his presence feeling small. He is extremely impatient and keeps to time fanatically. He calls you up by 3.00 am to discuss emerging opportunities for cyber-insurance, apologizes for keeping you awake, but talks till 6.00am, ending with a reminder that a meeting is scheduled for 8. He pays fees promptly, noting when Retainers are due for renewal, but insists you send in a detailed invoice showing the structure of your billing system.
Typical Signs: Keeps rolls of writing pads and never stops scribbling; nods vigorously when points are being made at meetings; Calls his wife a hundred times a day (shows they don’t see much of each other); Offers you coffee instead of soft drinks.
3. THE DOG
This is the social animal. He rarely meets you at offices, he prefers hotels and bars. His favourite sign-out phrase is “Lets meet up for a few beers sometime”. When you eventually take him up on that, you find that he easily gets tipsy and talks freely about his personal life. In sympathy, you feel obliged to reveal a few private things as well. What you don’t notice is that his ears immediately flare wide, taking in every detail, analyzing your psyche and measuring it for weaknesses. He flatters you regularly, praising your work. You wonder why he never loses his cool, and you work harder to keep him smiling. He doesn’t need to remind you of deadlines; unconsciously, you feel compelled to meet them. This earns you more praise, and you wag your tail accordingly. He takes you into confidence on his business challenges. You feel genuinely needed, until you start noticing that he delays your payments, and this usually coincides with earlier negative business forecasts he had made at your last beer hangout (it is now a regular weekend affair). Just when you are about to blow up, he surprises you with a bonus pay. You learn to be more patient, and willingly oblige when he calls you from abroad- to assist in booking a ticket or paying his casual staff. He is such an enthusiastic friend, you figure he will be equally enthusiastic as a foe, and you don’t want to rock the boat, yet.
Typical Signs: Booming laughter; taps your shoulders when making a point; buys you gifts whenever he travels; never comes for meetings alone (Some pal always tags along).
4. THE HARE
While the Horse is speedy but stable; this Client is always on the fast lane. He is in endless trouble with the Law, and when he is not, it is one friend or associate instead. You are friends with the police largely because of him. He doesn’t bring you briefs; he brings deals, and patiently listens as you enumerate legal requirements for his transactions before asking whether there is a way around them. He is full of street cred and rarely converses in English. He prefers pidgin. He only hires lawyers because he believes they share his disdain for the straight and narrow. So, whenever you talk of ‘legal implications’ his face turns ugly. He reminds you that lawyers make the laws and should be able to break them easily: unless you are a dulling lawyer. He often disappears for months on end and his numbers are switched off. Then he suddenly appears looking even more dapper and offers no explanations for his absence. He adamantly refuses to get into a Retainer agreement and only pays you on a case-by-case basis.
Typical Signs: I haven’t figured out any yet.
5. THE SHEEP
Docile and quietly cooperative, chances are you met him during a long flight, started a conversation and awed him with extensive knowledge of your Practice specialty. He calls you ‘sir’ and takes your word as law. His emails are polite and he never complains when you delay his jobs. He dutifully pays your fees and likes to flaunt you to his friends and family. You churn out template-replicas for him and save your best for the Tiger and the Horse, but he is effusive in his thanks for your insightful opinions. He is very easy to impress; and there lies the problem! Someday soon, he will be in another flight, and run into a more eloquent lawyer. He will be unable to stare at you during the next meeting (which you will take as typical timidity); until he sends an email with those dreadful words: ‘we are unable to continue retaining your services…’ and he won’t take your calls again, having crossed over to where grasses are greener.
Typical signs: Calls you ‘sir’
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
1. To save the king, sacrifice the far Rook.
No doubts I am not the only one who ever thought Farouk and his Integrity Group were rather insufferably self-righteous. My view was not helped by the measured, deliberate gait and knowing smirk that always plays around the diminutive Rep’s lips. So, ordinarily, I should laugh and scoff at another reminder that in the “fallible realm”, we are all casualties (apologies JP Clark). But I’m not laughing. I am merely shaking my head at the absolute lack of subtlety employed in a bid to bury yet another revealing Report. The intended logic is crisp: no noble end can be achieved through a flawed process. And typical of Nigerians, we are already falling over ourselves in condemnation and counter-positioning; relegating the very grave implications of the ‘subsidy fraud’ to the trenches. A chess-man’s master-stroke, this: play the far Rook in for the king. However this ends, I will not be bothered anymore. But we should take home a lesson to guide future Probes. A temporary cloak of immunity should be vested on every quasi-judicial panel, to curtail distracting allegations, true or not, at least for the duration of their assignments. If all the judges in the country routinely answer imputations to their character, we will not move a step forward in justice delivery. And the Probe Report should stand as it is, on the facts available. Let every indicted party escape on the strength of his evidence, not on the morals of the arbiter. I rest.
2. Rochas & the 4-tier National Cake
Irrespective of what his adversaries say, I think the affable Imo state leader is interestingly progressive. He doesn’t just think outside the box, he thinks beyond the room as well. How else can you describe his dynamic interpretation of “growth in governance” expressed by birthing a younger sibling for the much maligned 3rd tier of government. He named this 4th tier, “Community Government”. By the time this gentleman is through with a possible 2nd term, Imo state will become a city of leaders, literally. There will be no ‘followers’’ left. The next steps should include town-hall and kindred governments vested with the noble mandate of settling family disputes and drawing budgetary allocations accordingly. Pure genius!
3. Death to Paedophiles!
Sickening story; but a perfect ending! A man in Texas caught a grown man fondling his 4 year old daughter and delivered lethal punches to the paedo’s head and neck. The man died. I double-dare the Law to as much as raise a single charge against this father, and it will expose itself as a blubbering ass after all. The dude should be awarded a hero’s medal and we do not even need to wade into fine legal lines of his duty under law to defend another from assault, or extreme provocation as the case may be. Child sexual abuse is the lowest of the low, and death is even too easy a way out! The torture-experts in China fashioned a perfect legal regime to curb the evil tendency: Chemical castration. Yes, a bottle of bad fluids is injected into the abuser, and his cookie crumbles for life. And this, from a country with a record of the most, well, modest lower-chambers. Now you talk of Texas where everything is big! There’s no way that man was surviving the father’s ire. No frigging way!
4. The Customer is always right (here to be played)
I ran into a friend the other day and he showed me an SMS alert stating that his Bank had deducted N3, 500 from his account in order to conduct a legal search on his company. He had just opened a corporate account for the said company. I stormed into the bank and let loose wildly. My position: At the time of opening the account, the customer tendered all requisite documents and references which the bank demanded, and the account was opened on the basis that the documents were presumed regular. Any extra act of due diligence should be borne by the bank! It is like telling the vendor of a piece of land to bankroll the buyer’s investigative search at the land registry. I was making headway in my tirade, but oh dear! Trust Nigerians, the murmurs of an impatient queue met me headlong. “Oga, na because of common 3, 5 you dey take our time?’’ This emboldened the hitherto cowering Bank Manager and he superciliously crooned “it is standard banking policy, sir. And if you don’t mind, please make way on the queue”. Standard Banking policy? To sneakily pilfer a customer’s money without advance notice? It is theft, theft! Theft!
Promising fire and brimstone, I turned to storm out of the building with my ‘client’...he was flirting with the Customer Care desk-lady, all smiles.
Good luck Nigeria!
Also published in THISDAY Newspapers, Tuesday June 19, 2012
Also published in THISDAY Newspapers, Tuesday June 19, 2012