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(Please send in your articles to theunstarchedcollar@gmail.com. Maximum of 1000 words please)



Monday, January 14, 2013

In Pursuit of the Legal Dream...

contributed by Mbah Emeka Bond


Credit: Google Images

In my line of work I spend a lot of time talking to lawyers, not just my fellow young wigs but also those at the senior end. I garner from these interactions that the profession is largely perceived to be nearing a saturation point; as the Nigerian Law School keeps churning out virgin wigs in their tens of thousands.


Also the chief concerns at the outermost Bar appear to be the future of a profession where many a frantic Associate, sick of being an apprentice-for-peanuts, prematurely flies solo. The competition swells. But does quality? Moreso, as the shadows of recession hangs over the legal market. It becomes farcical to observe the combat for fallen crumbs of the dwindling legal cake. The lawyer’s dignity wears out in the face of a jungle-like food chain.  


Oh sure, that legal practitioners are fast losing their prestige is stale news. The legal dream has become a herculean task coupled with the fact that the market is very competitive and clients now believe the profession is indeed over-rated. (Wetin Lawyers dey do sef?).  As a result, we now have the half-formed paralegal preying on our spare spoils. But the dogged spirit of the average learned brother who doesn’t know what it means to retreat or understand what it takes to surrender perseveres. He recognizes that the very reason why victories are worn is because battles are fought.


On one hand, juniors want early access to clients and resent the boss who rules otherwise. However, the idea of actually going out to the streets to win those clients for the Firm becomes daunting. Aspiration towards partner-status is strongly connected with the belief that the role comes with rain-making prowess. A considerable number of aspiring lawyers know that the higher you get, the harder it becomes to break out. Moreso, when you have risen to the role of Senior Associate and still find yourself ill-equipped to independently hunt what you eat. Notwithstanding; what must be done must be done and is better done now than later.

Viewed from the outside; our peers in other professions seem to be advancing in speedier steps in rank and file. This makes the young wig to wallow in despair wondering if at all there is light at the end of the tunnel. Well, this piece is neither aimed at convincing you there is light at the end of the weary tunnel (I haven’t been to the end of the tunnel myself) nor to encourage you to be your own boss and principal partner.

However what I have found out in my short stay within the Law’s hallowed walls is that excellence is always rewarded and no one discriminates against excellence, successfully. It is both a universal donor and recipient and thus, in high demand. Make a name, become a brand in a specialist area because in this profession only those who have made a name are entitled to wealth and fame. An author once said, one machine can do the work of a hundred ordinary people but no machine can do the work of one extra-ordinary person. Savour the experiences now and develop your capacity for you never can tell what the future holds. “Time and Chance happens to them all” chimes the Holy Writ.

And therein lies my question: when your time and chance come in the form of an opportunity, will you be able to deliver and maximise the moment? Only those who have borne the yoke in the place of preparation can take advantage of opportunity when it comes knocking. If you are not feeling it, if you are not resonating with the current path, if it’s not challenging or bringing out the best in you, why die a conformist? Challenge the status quo. It is time to revisit the plan. Remember, an arrow has to go backward to go forward. Smart work aptitude cannot be found in our thick volumes. They are self-built.

 Stay sure and stand strong in your pursuit of the legal dream. See you at the top.



Bond is a Legal practitioner, capacity development consultant, writer and poet. He is MD/CEO of Bondlinks PSL.
www.poeticpowers.blogspot.com 
emekambah2@yahoo.com



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Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear Dot-com: Please log Lawyers on...
(An early Christmas request of a Baby Lawyer who has finally discovered a short-route past Math!)

Guest written by Martin Ogbodo



Credit: Google Images



At the dawn of the Y2Ks, mankind, again, found this world, infinite as it first seemed. Only this time, reducible to the decimal points of handheld devices powered by lithium cells and solar energy; potentially poised to yield us glories equivalent to Christopher Columbus’ and the Lander Brothers’.

Voila! It was absolute connectivity of all peoples, remote and civilized. Technology magically flung us from vista, to vista. We worshipped the dotcom –the infinite glory of the World Wide Web. And like morning on that creation day, it seemed that we became gods chanting the “Let-there-be-s”…and there was, Google, there was, eBay …there was, Amazon, AND oh dear! THERE WAS FACEBOOK, SKYPE Even TWITTER!!!

For far less efforts than Graham Bell ever dreamt of, the procreation of data led us to the very brink of total conquest of nature. Down Silicon Valley, it was one App after another, after yet another, till we fell into an unchecked array of robots who virtually swore to love us better than our spouses. And they actually did!

Even in our churches, theological arguments on the propriety of materialism started to shift to weekday services and cell fellowships, until they ended up on blogs and other free-thinking communities where the priests, under the anonymities of User-ID voiced their sensual cravings for jets and floated live streams for the millions of faithfuls who could follow and make their offerings via a conveniently installed POS. In a recent nightmare: I was in church, and there was an altar-call for those who got the iPad mini within the first month of its release. I woke up panting, and to douse my racing pulse, reached for my bedside tablet: you guessed right; the Galaxy tab.
I think I heard Steve Jobs’ soft laughter “Had we not also mentioned the evolution of the iChurch; just before God called me to the clouds?”

I still recall my first ever PC. A rarity then; and it still is now…fit for the museums. And this is how I feel when I view the growth of technology in comparison to lawyers.  I see the Lawyer’s confusion as the unlearned folks are the ones that now know IT all. He builds his Firm and fills it with typewriters, and reserves a sole position for the magnified grandeur of a specialist computer operator. The said operator could type out a document (quite fast, I must admit), but is helplessly unable to locate a saved document or save a completed work. But in fairness, they dusty PCs help the Firm galvanize its credible invoices. A necessity triggered by the ridicule of having senior lawyers scurry to a Business Cafe across the road to get a process or a one-page letter typed (Oh, our letters are NEVER one-paged actually).

Hence, clearly, whilst we were passively occupied with word processing, our counterparts in Silicon Valley and Santa Clara were franking Deeds of Assignment IRO billion-dollar worth intellectual properties and hosting their practice data bases on the world wide web where anyone anywhere could get real time specialist Legal and company secretarial resource.
Yeah, for many and many really, who were almost always open to innovation, the development of office machines which made processes not only more robust, but self-sufficing, things moved quite fast. I recall delightful conversations with many of my friends back then as we gushed fantasies of the Law firms in Lagos and Abuja that were rapidly gaining the sophistication of Banks and other 21st century work-stations.

Then, along came Facebook: The beginning of the end, or what two of my hilarious seniors once loosely referred to as foreplay for the bottom-line of IT. Facebook was not the first social media, no it wasn’t. And if you have seen the movie “The Social Media” (plus a dozen other articles on the subject), you could be swayed by the argument that it was a stolen idea. But that argument is irrelevant in the face of the miracles it works for all mankind. Whether Facebook was of the devil and came straight from hell, the conversation literally became derelict of source: for Facebook has become the way, the truth, our lives!

So, was it then trite that IP had to progressively stay away from the meeting rooms of innovation, at a time when names like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckeberg, Larry Page, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Beezos etc., started to appear in the skies? Well, my concern did not initially relate to the remote contentions of a profession: I just worried that that the world, this world, is outgrowing the whims of an individual and this is far too simple to ignore.

The human community is becoming so finely intertwined into a web of minds and resources (innately intellectual, of course), and a million options to every complex need. For IP disciples, this is veritable cause for worry. Very recently, an American presidential candidate summed up the thriving prosperity of a nation into a “currency manipulation”! And his vehement displeasure for the innovativeness of China would, surely, remain indelible, in our minds, although our experience remains different down here. I don’t know all the figures but, but perhaps, even Apple’s total shipment would be far less, but for China.

In Nigeria, we are still familiarizing with The Trademarks Registry, NOTAP, NAFDAC, CAC, SEC etc. which by global standards are at best typical Nigerian Public offices where revenue receipts are issued. I hear musings on a daily basis around Technology reforms across NCC, Ministry of Information Technology which you can be almost sure, would only end up frustrating the enjoyment of our huge appetite for tech luxury especially the mobile. I hope I am proven wrong though.

Nigeria still accounts for a significant portion of the world’s shipments of luxury mobile devices. Sadly, we rate their importance largely on aesthetics and cost (Yes, we prefer them expensive); while reckoning with progressive patterns for familiar models: Bold 5, 6 or 7, or 8 Torch 9 or 12 (lest I  annoy my dear audience, I will refrain from any mention of the forbidden word: Porsche). Our prayer point is simply that God should never let his word be made manifest by merchants who ask for no more than our money.

Personally, I really look forward to a world where we can put an end to these claims to ownership of Wi-Fi systems, servers and other interconnectivity platforms. At the risk of persecution, I look forward to the failure of all privacy policies. I really think that it would be a contradiction to share information (photos, updates, or video files), then turn around and sue an Apps developer for allowing it reach an unintended consumer. Anyway, there are statistics to show less indiscriminate sharing of private information as opposed to earlier times when people  to give progressive updates of their whereabouts from dawn to dusk, complete with pictures and phone numbers! 

The inventions of the cloud technology all affirm a future poised on this. I really think that we underlie a remoteness covered by the same blue sky touching the ground at the same point. And trust me; these boundaries will fail, at least commercially. (Ask anyone who closely followed the Facebook IPO drama –the paradox that chronicled it all).

Hence my dear Bar brethren, we must rise to the occasion of the times to embrace technology, not just the social multi-media; and align our thoughts to the words of the celebrated retail giant Jeff Beezos, that “this is day 1 for the internet…we still have so much to learn”. We must open our minds to learn more: a lot more in terms of our outlook on the profession at a time when the law of tenancy is dramatically extending to virtual tenants and several intangible landlords. Mind, the laws have not changed and technology is not trying to change it. 

The demand of 21st century competitiveness lends itself to no form complacency: to remain in the system, you must integrate with the operating system, and this is no less, a worthy venture for all enterprise.

Preparatory to the merry-making of Yuletide, I urge us all to join in this earnest plea to the Dotcom, to log us on, before it bursts, yet again.

Unless, you vehemently, disagree, let us take this as an affirmation of our readiness, to accept its emancipating Sync request: to debunk the view that the only way to love a lawyer, is to shove him in the direction of a court.

Thank you.




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Tuesday, September 18 , 2012


Law beyond the School Walls
(musings of a Nigerian Law Student)

Guest written by Ebube Agboanike



                                                               


No other professional is as vilified and at the same time as glorified as the lawyer. The consummate professional, he is looked upon with awe bordering upon veneration by his fellows who buy the well-worn fiction that the LL.B alone triggers a superlative intellect.  He is deemed learned; a cut above any other. Even university professors of several years and numerous publications pale in comparison. 

Indeed, no man is truly learned, as long as he has never stepped into a law class, survived the awkwardness of baleful Dinners and quoted Latin before a judge. Such a man is only educated; a mere mortal in the presence of this divine priest of the temple of justice. Priests (preferably of the Roman Catholic order) he looks upon as an equal while grudgingly permitting the doctor to be called “expert”, but only for purposes of corroborating his evidence in court. This deification is not limited to only those who have received as a mark of their priesthood the wig and gown but is extended also to the wide-eyed postulants.

Many a time have people formed a favourable opinion of me at first meeting upon learning that “I’m a Law student at the University of Nigeria”. You can see the respect meter on their face go up as if connected to a power source. People my father’s age who were formerly content with either nodding their head or mumbling a reply to my greetings now answer it with shouts of “my Lord”, “The Bar”, Young Barrister” and such other  fitting exclamations of my impending priesthood. The adulation however is poor recompense for the rigours of getting a Law degree. Graduation is not in itself guaranteed, for as my Equity lecturer is fond of reminding us while painting any future scenario relating to Law practice: “...that is assuming you are able to graduate from here and pass your Bar exams”. 

However as graduation draws near, it becomes clear that the pomp and ceremony of the profession will not be enough to pay the bills. With the Call To Bar ceremony now being held twice a year and the faculties of Law all over the country pouring out graduates in their tens of thousands, the competition a new wig has to deal with is enough to make the 100 meters final at the Olympics look like an after-dinner game of cards at an English gentleman’s club. 

The sight of lawyers trudging in their well-worn shoes and over-ironed ‘coats’ serves as a constant warning that the legal profession does not pay enough to new entrants to maintain the status expected of one. And there is the paradox of a profession which has at one extreme the highest paid professionals in Nigeria complete with private jets and high rise office buildings and at the other end of the spectrum, the lowest paid professionals in the country fighting alongside mere mortals for public transport quite unsuited to the nobility of the profession. And then there is the ethics of the professional which forbids lawyers from engaging in otherwise profitable ventures like trading which is considered beneath the dignity of the profession.

Put all these together and a Law student should seriously reconsider the wisdom in his choice of Career, and smartly think up ways to preserve the dignity of the profession while still living the life we see on the pages of the Sunday pull-outs. And nobody taught us this in Class.

Now, the most natural course would be litigation. The aspect of law practise with which the uninitiated are most familiar thanks largely to American court-room drama on TV (the lawyer making the court hang on his every word, jumping to his feet to object in a voice more suited to a drill sergeant on a parade ground and leaving everyone quite impressed with his skill and expertise). That is the glamorous part. What you don’t see are the hours of laborious painstaking (and often frustrating) research that go into those few minutes of performance. Just as you don’t know how tough movie production is until you see the behind-the-scenes shoots and begin to wonder if the actors derived any fun from the whole ordeal.

Moreover my participation in mooting has turned me off litigation. It is a week of feverish activity complete with missed lectures for three hours of examination-in-chief, cross-examination and address while you wait for a verbose student judge who may not like the cut of your suit to decide if you progress to the next stage or not. Add to that the fact that while the Olanipekuns of this world can charge in excess of N50 million for a court appearance, the majority of litigators are ambulance chasers who can hardly afford to pay for a decent cab to get them to court.


But there is an upside to litigation. If you stick to it long enough and earn a godfather who is skilled at all the requisite political manoeuvrings; you may get to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria complete with all the perks and privileges, the most important of which is the right to charge outrageous fees and look down on members of the outer Bar as poor relations. If I do decide to embark on a career in litigation, the clincher would be the fact that a year after I’m called to the Bar, the 2015 elections will be held and if the PDP stays true to form, we can expect an avalanche of election petitions. Now if I’m able to land one of them –even if it’s a mere local government Councillor galled at haven been out-rigged by his opponent, my path would be clear to a lifetime of fat fees dependent on the inability of people to resolve their differences amicably.

Now, another aspect of litigation which strikes me as a virgin area is divorce proceedings. As one of my colleagues pointed out not too long ago, at the rate which divorce is becoming fashionable in our country it will not be too long before it becomes commonplace to hold divorce parties and to inquire of people “Are you divorced yet?” Now while some of you will decry this appalling trend, lawyers wouldn’t be lawyers if we were not trained to see  opportunities where others see disaster. While the rest of you would shed tears at an accident scene we would be assessing liability and computing damages recoverable. 

Now, my potential clientele would be the ever-increasing sorority of ‘runs girls’ which our universities are turning out faster than Apple churns out iPhones. No sooner do they get their hooks into an unsuspecting Alhaji than we will proceed to court claiming incompatibility and demanding the moon in alimonies. As Bond so succinctly puts it, “The world is not enough”.
Maybe, I am in the perfect profession after all.




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Monday, July 30, 2012

The Super-Brilliant Advocate 

Guest written by Uchenna Njoku



Credits: Google Images

His limbs were numb and his eyes swam in the delirious wave of multi-coloured images crowding his fevered brain: It was a crowded court. The awe of advocacy was visible from the reverent murmurs of the audience and the lawyers wore their best wits. The clock chimed the ninth hour and the day’s armory was summoned. The narrow Chambers was instantly abuzz with weighty evidence of learned folk. Papers shuffled as the clerk rallied them to duty. The young Advocate looked unruffled despite news that just filtered in from his whistle-blowing partner: All the big wigs in the enemy’s camp were in town, all six of them! Today’s fight was going to be long drawn. The seven egg-heads peered glumly through uniformly thick lenses, perched mightily on the presiding rostrum.

Somewhere outside the big theatre, another drama brewed. The only big wig which the young Advocate’s camp could afford, stomped and yelled.  A delayed Arik flight from Lagos had just disqualified him from the big moment. And second-choice Aero was long gone.

The case must be heard nonetheless. The 7 Lord Justices had clearly warned at the last date: no further delays; and like penitent felons before the long beards of Angel Gabriel, the advocates had nodded their assent. The clerks hurriedly scribbled those barely legible words of war known to seasoned advocate: “for definite adoption of briefs”.

Cardiac arrest loomed; the young Advocate must appear alone at the highest Court against a formidable sextet of law veterans. The battle gong has sounded and the young warrior must arise to duty, no matter how ill-adorned his armament was. Within the quarter-hour separating nightmare from certainty, the young Advocate moved fast.  A taxi-cab was flagged down and the heavy files thrown hastily into the backseat. Pilgrims’ progress! He stepped down minutes later in a near-black jacket; the best from a scanty wardrobe, creased beyond salvage by virtue of long term interface with B-29 and OMO water. The accompanying brown shoes maintained a steady glare to the heavens, perennially defiant to the irony of its sad sojourn into a profession of polished gentlemen.

The Courtroom opened and the young Advocate crouched behind the first row where the Goliaths sat in dignified splendour.

A loud bang and the clerk’s horsy whine: “Court!” Everyone stood. Another tragedy:  the young Advocate’s wig was missing and as customary with the lawful-oppression called bar-seniority, an unwilling elder grudgingly offered his, after a sufficient dose of tirades against this new crop of shoddy lawyers.

The borrowed wig spoke loudly of its origin as it dangled on the young Advocate’s head. The case was called. It bordered on a huge constitutional question that could redefine Nigerian federalism.

The Plaintiffs’ Lead Counsel (a Silky big-wig) took all of ten minutes to announce his team, all of them, routine headliners. The Defendant’s list was a litany of legal neophytes, mostly Corps Members; an untrained militia without riffles, marching doggedly to the slaughter slab. The Presiding Justices’ made a perfunctory query as to the sole big-wig’s whereabouts and the stage was set.

The Silky ones commenced their arguments. Led by a boring professor and master of abstraction! Even a member of his team appeared to snore. It was like a pig’s guffaw, and the audience tittered at the sound. ‘Order’ roared the clerk and quietude returned. The Prof. rambled for another 48 minutes and assumed his seat.

The young Advocate sprang up, doing an involuntary Azonto in a flurry of dancing fingers and wobbly legs.  His voice eventually found crescendo and the court listened. A few minutes into the argument, he made a swift switch to dramatic legalism: “My Lords, while this Honourable Court has the powers to expound its jurisdiction, it lacks the powers to expand same. The Plaintiffs’ invitation to the Court is for the latter and My Lords must refuse the allure. Constitutional interpretation does not include constitutional amendment. The interpretative role of the judiciary is cast in sedimentary iron and no amount of judicial activism will form the wicket for altering the clear and unequivocal language of the Constitution. The frontiers of the law must be advanced, howbeit in accordance with law….”

The atmosphere became charged. Many eyes popped, and more heads nodded. The 7 wise ones furiously scribbled, and conferred animatedly. Our nascent Advocate was the master of the day. He swayed the court back and forth and summed his treatise at the clock of an hour. A hero was born!

The Silk’s reply on points of law was worse than the main address. All of a sudden, the audience could sense the signs of old age and near-senility. The Court rose for an hour. Senior lawyers crowded the young Advocate and gushed encomiums. The handshakes of praises kept pouring, and his flared ears lavishly took it all in like Hulk Hogan of the Wrestlemania. An hour later, the seven wise men returned with the verdict. The young Advocate had won on all fronts in a masterful show of super-brilliance.

As the court rose, the Press thronged and there was a word for everyone. Even the Justices sent their Personal Assistants to congratulate the Advocate, and he very nearly autographed their neck-ties. His vision of a lucrative law practice had taken shape and he had worn the heart of all.  Waving triumphantly, he stepped forward to climb down the stairs, but stumbled, and his left leg hit a wall, badly. The crushing impact awakened him…

He stared wildly into the familiar face – the Campus Doctor stared back with a gentle look: “You were rushed to the law school clinic about 4 hours ago. You slumped while reading for the Bar exams.”

THE END






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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Attachments & Weaves (the hurdles that lie before the Bar)

Guest written by Eketi Amani Ette


Credit: Google Images

Now, for three months, every student of the law school is supposed to put to practice all the theories that have been stuffed into his willing (?) brains for five months. This period of hands-on training is known as attachment and is undertaken both in courts and law offices around the country.


So, this lawyer-hopeful packs up and reports at a court for the first part of the programme. She arrives, eager to leave a mark. Alas, the only mark she leaves is that of her butt, on the wooden chairs where she meekly sits and observes the obsequious bows to the judge, the humourless banter of many a not so learned wig; and if she is in luck, there could be a few smart insults couched in wicked adjectives from the bench. And when judgements are delivered; counsel may not like it, but must fight down the urge to say a few choice words to the judge, and instead, respectfully intones, “As the court pleases” while giving his opponent the evil eye.


The hapless students, who from hereon we shall refer to as attachés,  soon find that they choke to near death from absolute boredom, especially if they are stuck like yours truly, in Courts that entertain only civil commercial cases. To survive in the tedium-coated temple, the attachés invent diversionary pastime. Oh yes! Blackberries!  The slogan here is POD: Ping or die! Also, whispered critiques of each lawyer’s performance. Entertainment surely does not lack here; it’s a profession where ludicrous mannerisms are rife.  Occasionally, the attaches get careless and erupt in outright giggles. A liberal judge may smile and indulge them. Not so with a stern arbiter, glowering down the ridge of his nose; a grave warning is issued to respect the sanctity of the court.


At some rare periods however, the attachés are lucky and an interesting case comes before the court. A litigant sometimes emerges, grown weary of hiring the services of these pocket-draining clowns, and decides to represent himself. Here, real drama unfolds. Blissfully ignorant of the fine details of filing processes and serving them, this upstanding defendant adjudges the courtroom an extension of the village square where elders preside as judges. (Our culture of a grey wig does not help to dispel this notion). After several painful minutes of trying to ascertain that this defendant understands the gravity of the task he is about to take on, the court permits the prosecution to go ahead with the cross examination. Our laughter can be heard from miles yonder as he constantly interrupts his cross and yells at the prosecution, calling them liars who would not let him speak the truth; while peppering his speech with injunctions like “The God I serve will vindicate me!” By this time we have all choked, eyes shedding bucketfuls as we fall over ourselves writhing in helpless merriment.  The judge tries unsuccessfully to keep the gentleman in line, but buoyed by our cheers, the dude sails merrily on his voyage of discovery.

As a student on attachment, I hereby posit that the name of this learning period be changed from attachments to weaves. During weaves, the job of lawyers would be made easier by allowing litigants to represent themselves, or be represented by the attachés- under their principal’s supervision. Counsel would only do the research, file and serve court processes, while the parties themselves are left to handle the courtroom work. As they slug it out, counsel would sit around jaw-jawing about the different recent amendments in statutes, yearly vacations and their mean bosses while occasionally throwing in a helpful pointer to their erring litigant. The judge would have a recorder on instead of the agonising process of taking notes in longhand.  Maybe these will un-crease his brows and make him smile after all.  More so, without the formality of the court and frequent interference of counsel, parties would arrive at settlement quicker.


If attachés are the representation, things will not be much different. They would announce their presence in court like other wigs, their voices squeaky at the realization that this is not a moot court. The case for which the attaché and his principal appear would then be called. Maybe, a chronically absent defendant and his counsel have put the court in a bad mood and the judge is ready to hand the plaintiff favourable judgment on a platter. The principal gives the attaché a little nudge to indicate that he is the one to move the motion. Honoured at this opportunity and confident that he can move a simple motion, our attaché gets up and glances at the principal who gives him a nod of encouragement. He then boldly looks the judge in the eye and says, “My Lord, I move!” The puzzled judge, wondering if he has heard correctly, looks at the attaché and asks what he seeks to move. Ignoring the frantic nudges of his principal and the snickering of his colleagues, attaché raises his voice higher and clearly enunciates his words, “My Lord, I move!”


On law office attachment, there is more stimulation. The attaché gets to draft, write and run errands in the office. If one is lucky, he is posted to an office where one can study for the bar finals while learning the mundane tricks of law practice. The accursed ones are those who get stuck in offices of slave drivers. These bosses can’t believe their luck: Cheap labour! And the attaché is put to work round the clock, mastering the skills of the profession, only to fail the entrance exam (not our portion, surely).  I am especially amused by those zealots who were assigned to easygoing offices but got themselves reassigned to busy chambers where they also hope to get paid. They forget that no one gets paid by a lawyer for doing nothing (I leave you to figure out the irony in that).  


Alas, attachment soon blows over and everyone heads back to the various campuses; equally scared and ill-prepared to take the bull by its horns.





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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2011

Nigeria’s New Pot of Gold 
(The Employees’ Compensation Scheme)

Guest written by Odu Enyi

Google Images

One of the more tragic consequences of the serial policy failure in Nigeria is the reflexive cynicism with which we greet ordinarily good ideas coming from government.  The Employee’s Compensation Act (the “ECA” or the “Act”) signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan on 17 December 2010 is one of them.  

First, I must acknowledge the very wonderful ideal behind the Act.  It was enacted to guarantee the payment of compensation to employees (in both the public and private sectors) who suffer from occupational diseases or sustain injuries arising from accident at the workplace or in the course of their employment.  The Act repeals the Workmen’s Compensation Act which was an older law on the same subject but with a narrower scope of application.

The Act has some innovative provisions; including:
-    mandatory contributions to be made by employers into a fund pool (the “Fund”);
-   specific regulatory authority to administer the Act and manage the Fund for the compensation of employees, dependents or survivors;
-   criminalisation of non-compliance.

A few of the listed events for which an employee is entitled to compensation are quite remarkable:
a. Mental Stress: This is made to include instances where the employer changes the work or working conditions of the employee in such a way as to unfairly exceed the employee’s work ability or capacity.  (So the next time a principal insists on a road trip for a junior lawyer for an out-of-town court sitting, the junior lawyer may well begin to contemplate his compensation under this head);
b.  Enemy Warlike Action: This should have been ideal for all the workers in the bomb-infested parts of Nigeria, except that compensation for this arm only applies to government workers.

Now, I have duly paid tribute to the good intentions of the makers of the Act, I may now turn my attention to the part that really worries me. The Act creates a special pool called the Employees’ Compensation Fund (the “Fund”) which is primarily the source of all compensation payable under the Act to employees. 
The Fund shall consist of the following sources:
-  A take-off grant from the Federal Government
- Contributions payable by employers into the Fund;
- Fees and assessments charged on employers by the NSITF Board;
- Proceeds of investment of the Fund; and
- Gifts and grants from any local or foreign organisation.

The most interesting source of the Fund is the contribution from all employers in Nigeria. As a first step, employers are to contribute 1% of their payroll monthly to the Fund.  In addition to this, the, employers shall be assessed for even higher rates of contribution annually depending on the nature of the industry they operate in and the risk factors associated with it. And then, there’s my favourite called a “super-assessment’ where an employer can have more than one assessment in one year if the claims coming from its employees exceed the amount of its contributions.  There is no corresponding provision for refund if, for instance, the contributions exceed the claims, or there are no claims at all.

I did a quick math on the above:
-       Scenario 1: If there are 1000 employers in Nigeria with a monthly payroll of N500,000, then the Fund will receive a monthly contribution of N5,000,000;
-        Scenario 2: If there are 1000 employers in Nigeria with a monthly payroll of N1,000,000, then the Fund will receive a monthly contribution of N10,000,000;
-       Scenario 3: If there are 10,000 employers in Nigeria with a monthly payroll of N1,000,000, then the Fund will receive a monthly contribution of N100,000,000
-       Scenario 4: If there are 100,000 employers in Nigeria with a monthly payroll of N1,000,000, then the Fund will receive a monthly contribution of N1,000,000,000

If you consider that the Act applies to all employers both in the public and private sector and that the Federal Government and various State Governments have a monthly wage bill running into hundreds of millions of naira, then you will realize that the above scenarios are very conservative.  

Factoring in governments, companies (especially those in the communications, oil & gas and financial services sector), professional firms, etc It is easy to see that the expected monthly inflow to the Fund from contributions of employers alone will hit the billion naira mark in no time. 
Consider further that the 1% percent of payroll contribution is only temporary until the regulatory body fixes higher rates applicable to different classes of employers and you will get a better than geometric progression on the monthly inflows into the Fund.  Again, these are just contribution and assessments alone and do not include FG and other grants and proceeds from investments of the Fund.

None of the above would have given me cause to worry expect that I studied the ends to which the fund is to be used and came up with the following. (Emphases on the items tucked away towards the end of the list are mine):
a. payment of adequate compensation for employees
b. provision of rehabilitation for disabled employees
c. payment of remuneration and allowances of members of staff of the  Board
d. supporting activities and programmes on the prevention of occupational accidents  and hazards
e. purchase of any equipment or material required for carrying out the functions of the Board
f. carrying out any activity or doing anything with respect to any of the functions of the Board.

I would rather that the expenditures on the Fund stopped at (a) and (b) above.  Or a system is designed where every ‘non-compensation’ related expenditure is from other sources except the Fund.
As presently structured, the Fund is helplessly susceptible to squander.  I have yet to see any government agency efficiently manage fund that accrues to it.  There is talk in the Act of an Investment Committee to advice on investment of the Fund. There are also some half-hearted provisions on oversight from the National Assembly

The leprechaun that sits over this pot is the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (“NSITF”) Management Board (the “Board”) authorised to manage the Fund.  The NSITF was originally created by the NSITF Act of 1993 as the custodian of pension contributions.  The Pension Reform Act (the “PRA”) of 2004 thereafter practically wound up the pension fund business of the NSITF by providing that the pension fund assets of the NSITF shall be transferred to a company to be established by the NSITF and licensed by the National Pension Commission (“PenCom”) as a pension fund administrator.

It is not certain what factors led to the choice of the Board as the regulatory authority in respect of the ECA.  However, it may be that the capacity ostensibly acquired by the NSITF for fund management may have made it suitable for this function.

If past experiences are anything to go by, the NSITF Board will become the target of intense lobbies for appointment, contracts and all forms of patronage.  And somewhere in the midst of all that;  the objectives of the compensation scheme will be irreversibly lost.

I desperately hope I am wrong.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

LESSONS FROM A TRAFFIC JAM

Guest written by Emma Eze
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There I sat, sandwiched between two portly passengers, gasping for fresh air. A worn bag (from where my wig and gown clearly peeked through) sat on my laps. The bus was cramped; no AC. The windows shifted grudgingly, and then just enough to admit and trap the lethal heat of a ferocious sun. A truck loaded with cement has just fallen over a pothole. The road marshals have refused to show up. We are trapped in a terrible traffic jam. My sweat mingled freely with those of other passengers in a malodorous cocktail. To defuse the tension, people chatted and yelled, cursed and raved. Others stared glumly into space, seeking distraction in some faraway daydream.

Still others chose more engaging diversionary tactics.

The man by my left has just finished peddling his medicine to other passengers. (Pitilessly buffeting my temple in his demonstrations). He claims the concoction can cure more than twelve diseases ranging from headache to stomach cramps.

The stout and fierce looking man at the back was pouring his venom on a local politician smiling broadly from a nearby billboard by the side of the road.  “Why won’t he smile?” he barked. “After using us to get to the Senate he now steals and chop our money alone, thief-thief” the rest concurred. I vowed not to get lured into the discussion. (But really, for how long can a lawyer hold his peace?). They went on and on listing the problems of the nation. Eventually, a rather funny man somewhere by my right poked me on the shoulder and snarled, “They are the problem; Lawyers are our real problem”. He pointed out my paraphernalia to push home his point. Due to the anti-elitist sentiment now prevalent in the bus, I was sure I would be lynched shortly. And how unfairly, because the last time I checked, I was still part of the streets. “No, Lawyers are not your problem” I retorted, shaking off my racing pulse.

My response evidently delighted them, and the bus erupted in smart remarks against the profession. The man’s voice rose above the din. “Of course, I do not expect to win an argument with a Lawyer my friend, but everybody knows that your advice is what is killing this country”. He continued: An average Lawyer’s advice is like the one issued in the following tale: A man hired three Labourers to plant trees for him on his farm. To avoid quarrels, he shared the work amongst them as follows: the first Labourer was to dig the hole; the second would implant the nursery while the third would close the hole. Each was allotted 5 minutes per tree. At the appointed hour, the first and third Labourers were at site while the second Labourer was absent.  The present labourers sought for advice from their Lawyer. The legal advice was short and precise: ‘Just do your parts’. Accordingly, the two Labourers proceeded to do their job thus: the first dug the hole. Five minutes interval was given after which the third Labourer closed the whole. When confronted by the hirer, their Lawyer surfaced and insisted that his clients had performed their respective portions of the contracts. He even cited the contract document to support same. True as his assertion may be, they ended up obtaining money from the poor man without a single tree planted. These are the type of Lawyers we have today”, the man concluded. The applause in the bus was deafening.

To keep my sanity, I peered through the window screen to observe the street. The endless lines of motors, motorcycles and tricycles; throngs of pedestrians, dusty feet of countless hawkers, school children, naked babies crying by the side of their beggar mothers, boys smoking weeds by the corner and the howling voice of the faceless crowd. The street was coloured with sounds, dust, empty smiles and plenty pains. Meanwhile, the well-fed politician wore his perpetual smile from the lofty heights of the multi-metre billboard.

Just before vehicular movement resumed; I sighted a dirty sticker on one of the many tricycles. The message was apt: “we deserve what we get”. Whether or not the rider understands the import of the message, at least in the context it impacted on me, is left to be known. Do I agree with this assertion? I do not know but I can’t stop to wonder what it posits. If the assertion is to be true, it means that we all deserve to be held up in this traffic jam, that we deserve the murky roads leading to it; we also deserve the irresponsible road marshals, politicians and a broken government. What about the crying babies, the unemployed youths smoking away their lives, the quack medicine peddler and the commuters he swindled. Do they all deserve what they have got? Do we always deserve what we get?

In my mind, it is hard to say that as individuals, we always deserve what we get; but as a people, wouldn’t things have been different if we cared to do more than just our little respective parts? If we took the extra steps to get others do their parts as well? 

This is the wisdom in the funny man’s story. We, the people seem to concentrate in doing just our part without minding whether our neighbours do theirs. The result is that no tree is planted on our farms, and as a result, we are exposed to the scorching suns of this world. We are also vulnerable to the recklessness of the political rascals and the mindlessness of every swindler. This, like the traffic jam, impedes our progress as a people.

Case rested.



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Monday, November 7, 2011

NIGERIA WILL RISE OR FALL TOGETHER

Guest written by Chinonso Olonu

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Picture this if you can. You are sixteen years old and your family belongs to one of the 64.4% of Nigerians who live in poverty. Meaning that you survive on less than $1.25 everyday. Definitely you did not choose to be born into this kind of world. But it happened.

Continuing with the scenario; at the age of sixteen, you attend a failing public school with ill-motivated teachers or disgruntled NYSC tutors, yet still hopeful of acquiring good literacy and numeracy skills. How well will you do in national examinations like WAEC, JAMB and NECO If your parents cannot afford the time and resources to arrange supplementary lessons? Yet you still hope.

Imagine too, that in your community, one or more individuals hold government positions and live in unalloyed opulence and comfort. Now, these individuals have no background as business owners or evidence of private enterprises, but they drive exotic cars and live in magnificent mansions. They gleefully display their “good fortune” and are endlessly feted by religious and community leaders.

Now, because you do not have police bodyguards and 14 feet high fence walls with barbed wires, you are more likely to be murdered, robbed, assaulted, raped, kidnapped and defrauded. And when this happens, the police never seem to have the resources or motivation to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Living in this world; what would be your incentive to believe in your country, in your government or in the due process of law?

Oh yes, Nigeria has many problems and very often it serves no purpose to talk about them – just for the sake of moaning or complaining. (That is not to say that it is not important to moan and complain). Indeed it is vital that we continuously hold the democratically elected leadership of the nation accountable by reminding them of the problem ordinary Nigerians face. However that will not in itself solve the problems and whatever else might be debated.

Nigeria is not Libya or Egypt. We are too multi-ethnic and we hate and distrust each other too much for that to happen. In addition, our system of tribal balancing in the allocation of power and resources effectively sacrifices merit for the sake of visual or ostensible equity. And the result? The entrenchment of systemic mediocrity.

However we have the advantage of running a democratic system of government which is slowly but surely evolving to a stage where one may contemplate saying that it actually reflects the wishes of the electorate. That is an advantage Libya and Egypt did not have: our democracy, imperfect as it is, is still an effective shock absorber that disperses the devastating pressure of our economic and social injustices – aided along the way by our election tribunals.

But as important as having a functioning democratic system is, it is vital to also have a ruling elite, governing class, political actors or factions that understand the absolute necessity to think critically and far ahead. This means leadership that sees the country from particular points of view, a philosophy if you will, which allows them to conceive a vision for where the country should go or should do.

The way I would frame a governing philosophy is thus; do I want to lead or be part of a society that condemns a child to a life of want and suffering from the moment of birth until his death? What am I doing to expand the frontiers of opportunity for the people in my charge? And finally am I ready and competent enough to make the lives of others better than when I met them? The way a Nigerian leader answers these questions can tell you everything you need to know about that leader.

Nigeria has serious problems which in time, if left unaddressed will sink the nation into utter dysfunction. By this I do not mean a civil war but something that really feels like it. A state of perpetual siege, capital flight, brain drain, declining levels of investment and employment, rising crime and terrorism, greater ethnic tension and competition for even more limited resources resulting from slow economic expansion.

Many live in cities and villages where Boko Haram and other militants habitually run amok. These people await an inevitable death sentence; imposed by a silent government. Yet, they too are the earth.
  
Corruption is too profitable and there is no disincentive to be clean. None! Apart from some (non-universal) hope of salvation in heaven after death. Corruption must be addressed with brutality and determination. Nigeria will not have room to prosper with corruption still in the house. We have to reduce the size of our government and pay those that remain enough to be honest and focus on their jobs. We have to make every Naira and every kobo count and engender a culture that celebrates accomplishment not money and wealth. (Think Steve Jobs and Tayo Aderinokun).

We need to buy and import a lot less and plant, grow and manufacture more so we can sell and export more. That’s how the jobs will be come. We need to create the environment for young people to go to school and come out with an education that is useful, practical and in demand. We have to understand that we will rise or fall together as a nation and that the poorer the least of us is, the more at risk all of us are. We have to think like a nation and not as individuals. Some may call these conservative principles but they are quite simply reasonable starting points for a governing philosophy.

Will it be difficult? Certainly!  But ask yourself this; do you think youths who take part in kidnapping and militancy know better or have something better to do? Do you think they are as well educated or exposed as the reader of this piece?

Do you think it makes sense to spend most of our national income on paying government salaries and perks than on schools, roads, power stations, healthcare or in helping farmers, manufacturers and small businesses? Do you think 18,000 Naira is a decent wage for an honest public sector worker? Do you think Nigerians should continue the habit of not paying their taxes? Do you think political jobs should be so lucrative and financially rewarding? Do you think Nigerians should die before the age of 51 – given our life expectancy and poor healthcare system? Do you think sitting on our backside and leaving everything to God and prayers is how policy is made and great nations make progress?

I do not know the answers to these questions but I think Nigerians and Nigerian leaders should talk about them more. Maybe, only then can we figure out an approach that makes sense at the end of the day. Mind, I say approach; because we are not asking for solutions yet. We only need strategy.

God bless our country.


1 comment:

  1. Nice 'pieces'. Emotive and Informative.

    ReplyDelete

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