Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Tis One Long, Happy Christmas without the Law...? (How the Lawyer stole Christmas)

Credit: Google Images

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

The Copyright Levy and other absurdities

Credit: Google Images


“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!


 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!


“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