Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Often, the Law defeats itself

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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!

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.

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.

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


  1. Hahahahahaha. I truly enjoyed this. From the perspective of your junior colleague at the bar, I see the issues here. Pretty serious issues but you've made them hilarious. New here but now following

    1. Thanks Cherry. U are most welcome to the Unstarched Collar