- September 8, 2023
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Categories: Opinions, Trending
PEPT JUDGMENTS: THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS?
The Court of Appeal which sat as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) delivered its judgments on 6 September 2023. The Judgments pertain to the election petition cases filed by the Labour Party (LP), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and their party flagbearers during the concluded 2023 presidential elections.
The summary of the decisions is that the PEPT upheld the election of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the President of Nigeria. It dismissed all the contentions of the petitioners as lacking in merit. The petitioners are now left with the option to climb to the topmost floor on appeal to the topmost court—the Supreme Court.
Usually, I do not review any court judgment unless I see and read the full report or a certified true copy of the judgment. This is to enable me have a more comprehensive understanding of the judgment and digest the reasoning of the court. Following the live broadcast of the judgment isn’t sufficient. Sometimes, listening to court judgment could be boring. We saw how some lawyers and others in court went on a sleep-a-thon as if the Court sang a lullaby. Also, you may not really hold any court to what you hear, only what was written, printed and signed by the judge.
I concede that many things didn’t go right with the last general election on multiple ends. Our electoral process and judicial system, especially in election cases, are laced with incredible hurdles. A petitioner seeking to displace the person returned as winner through the court has an uphill task—equivalent to crossing the Red Sea on foot.
Blame on lawyers
In the meantime, I was shocked to the marrow by the aftermath of the judgments of the PEPT. Some Nigerians who were dissatisfied with the decision of the Court decided to heap tons of blame on lawyers. Some sought to ridicule the legal profession by their vile vituperation. A noble profession is now being treated as ignoble.
While meditating on what might have led to such an unfortunate development, I recall a remark contained in William Shakespeare’s Play, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2, Line 72. The remark was made by one of the characters in the Play by the name, Dick The Butcher. Dick said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Dick made the statement while in conversation with Jack Cade. Cade led a rebellion against the Government of King Henry VI of England. Dick was Cade’s second-in-command, and described as a killer, known for his amusing statements.
As Olivia Rutigliano wrote, “Let’s kill all the lawyers” is a complicated and multi-dimensional phrase. In making the controversial statement, Dick The Butcher sought to butcher the reputation of lawyers. He was seen ‘jokingly’ advocating for the ‘elimination’ of lawyers, being persons of high intellect with the capacity to defend the cause of justice and promote the rule of law. Therefore, Dick saw lawyers as a threat to their planned rebellion. Perhaps, doing away with lawyers may pave the way to actualise the dreams of Cade.
Interestingly, Dick’s phrase has also been viewed from another angle. Here, it was perceived that lawyers of that era were in the business of protecting the agenda of the ruling and oppressive class—upper classes. Therefore, terminating lawyers may guarantee securing freedom through the planned rebellion by Cade.
Could it be from this latter perspective that some Nigerians turned against lawyers after the PEPT’s Judgments?
Agitation against lawyers, ill-informed
As a lawyer, and as a citizen, I believe that the current agitation against lawyers in Nigeria is ill-informed. No matter what your grievances are, picking on Nigerian lawyers as an emblem of your disappointment with the Court is totally misguided.
If the courts or judges disappoint you, it is not the fault of lawyers. As lawyers, sometimes we feel disappointed too when we don’t get what we want from the court. Worse still, when a court turns the law on its head and goes the way of injustice, we weep. Blaming lawyers is a classic show of lack of adequate knowledge about the role and business of lawyers.
Lest you forget, politicians are in control of all governmental powers at different levels and at the three arms of Government. Politicians control the Executive and the Legislative arms. The Judiciary is made up of judicial officials who interpret the laws, and play other constitutional functions. Judicial officials are appointed by politicians. Election petition cases pose one of the greatest threats to the independence of the judiciary. It is nearly impossible to rule out the influence of politicians especially in election matters. The Supreme Court has condemned this.
In the entire set up, it is difficult to see how lawyers automatically became the problem where, for instance, it is alleged that any judge failed to do justice. It is immaterial that a judge was once a lawyer before being appointed. The argument is similar to the contention of a particular sect who agitate against formal and western education.
I acknowledge the role of lawyers as some of the drivers of positive change in a society. Nigerian lawyers through the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) are collectively working towards the promotion of rule of law. You may question NBA’s impact. But that doesn’t justify anything. Lawyers must not bear the blame for any perceived alleged injustice done by any court. Lawyers like all other professionals and citizens have stakes in nation building.
It is hypocritical and unfair to single out lawyers for criticism. A lawyer is trained to advance the legitimate cause of his or client using best of abilities. But, ironically, even when some lawyers use their skills to take advantage of technicalities in order to represent their clients’ best interest, it is hardly for their direct benefit.
At the PEPT and other election petition tribunals, the parties on both sides were represented by lawyers. In other words, both the winners and the losers have lawyers on their sides. Can the lawyers on the losing side reasonably victimize their colleagues on the winning side? The answer is, no! Did the people criticizing lawyers exclude those lawyers who represented their preferred candidates? Or is it a case of head or tail, a lawyer must take the fall?
In summary, the first thing we do is, let’s discard every feeling of animosity and aggression towards lawyers. Lawyers are not the problem and will never be. Lawyers are citizens who breathe the same air as every other citizen. They are not part of the Judiciary or government except when they are elected or appointed to serve in a given position.
The social media tsunami of criticism against lawyers due to displeasure with the judgments of Justice Tsammani-led Tribunal is nothing but an unwarranted transfer of aggression against the innocent. Let Nigerian lawyers breathe. Don’t suffocate them.