The pain and hardship of young lawyers in the hands of senior colleagues has been judicially noticed.


Ifeanyi Okeke Esq. v. Wale Ogunade Esq. Suit No. NICN/LA/432/2014, per Amadi J:

“This case once again shows the pain, hardship and difficulty which some young lawyers undergo in the hand of some senior colleagues, who ordinarily should encourage them. I commend the tenacity and dexterity of the Claimant in pursuing justice in this matter since 2012 up to this stage. In the same vein, I condemn the conduct of the Defendant in trying to wish away the earned salary of the Claimant in this suit.”


Sadly, the hardship young lawyers face in Nigeria in the hands of senior colleagues is now judicially noticed. This pain and hardship manifest in various forms ranging from incredibly and ridiculously low earnings to massive exploitation of human skills, time and energy. Thus, even some firms who pay fairly good salaries more or less ask for the ‘blood’ of the associates working for them, in a manner clearly suggestive of acute ‘noble’ slavery. This runs against all internationally recognised labour standards and best practices. Taken that the practice of law is largely rigorous and that young lawyers must pay their ‘dues’ (whatever that means) in the course of being trained on the job, this should not be a general excuse for subjecting young lawyers to a working condition that totally rob them of reasonably fair and decent living.

The situation has become critical and deserves serious attention. The Nigerian Bar Association should have this on the priority list.

Law firm

There are few lessons to learn from the case at hand. The facts are that on 15/4/2012, the Claimant was employed as a legal practitioner by the Defendant under some form of oral agreement, on a monthly salary of N30,000 (Thirty Thousand Naira). The case of the Claimant was that the Defendant never paid his salaries as at when due and that this continued until the end of September, 2012. Consequently, on 8/10/2012, the Claimant informed the Defendant of his intention to stop work on 12/10/2012. The Claimant stopped work as indicated. However, the Defendant refused to pay the Claimant his September, 2012 salary in spite of repeated oral and written demands. The Claimant wrote a letter to the then Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch to intervene but the Defendant remained adamant, leading to the filing of this suit.

The case of the Defendant is that he is a legal practitioner and human rights activist whose practice is basically in litigation and mostly pro bono services. He claimed he was reluctant to employ the Claimant because of the type of practice he runs but that the Claimant persuaded him to employ him and that he was ready to bear whatever inconveniences in order to be able to learn under him, including possible irregularity in the payment of salaries. The Defendant argued that the Claimant was bound by this understanding and is therefore not entitled to complain. The Defendant further contended that since there was no pre-agreed length of notice, the Claimant was bound to give 1 week notice (instead of the 4 days notice given) by virtue of Section 11(2)(b) of the Labour Act. As a result, since the Claimant was in default, he cannot claim rights.

Never lose heart

The learned trial Judge, Hon. Justice K. I. Amadi, took time to consider the facts and circumstances as well as the arguments. On the issue of whether or not the Claimant accepted, as part of the arrangement, irregularity in the payment of salaries, Amadi J. held:

“…The Claimant neither confirmed nor acknowledged irregular payment of his salary as part of his contract of employment with the Defendant. Even at that, such an agreement will certainly amount to an unfair labour practice in which case this court will not enforce it. In view of that, I hold that this defence is a ruse and it has failed.”

See page 9 of the Judgment.

On the issue of length of notice of termination, the learned trial Judge held:

“…The Claimant was employed in his professional capacity as a legal practitioner to perform professional legal services; he is consequently clearly excluded by the definition of a worker by Section 91 of the Labour Act. The said Section 11 of the Labour Act heavily relied upon by the Defendant are therefore inapplicable to the Claimant as he was not employed in the category of workers covered by the Labour Act which are limited to workers engaged in manual and clerical work, see the case of Evans Brothers (Nig.) Publishing Ltd v. Falaiye (2003) 13 NWLR (Pt. 838) 564. In view of the foregoing, this ground which is the foundation of the defence of the Defendant is bound to collapse and it has collapsed. In cases where the Labour Act is inapplicable and the contract of service is silent on the requisite notice of termination, the law is settled that a reasonable notice will be implied. See the cases of Maiduguri Flour Mills Ltd v. Abba (1996) 9 NWLR (Pt. 437) 506 at 511 and Alraine (Nig.) Ltd. v. M. A. Eshiet (1977) 1 SC.”

See page 9-10 of the Judgment.

The Court therefore held that the forfeited prorated salary for the month of October, 2012 was waived by the Claimant in lieu of notice and that coupled with the 4 days notice which was given, the Claimant gave adequate and reasonable notice.

Upon rightly upholding the case of the Claimant, the Court granted his claim for the September, 2012 salary (N30,000) and awarded the cost of N80,000 against the Defendant.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.


  • Carlos Mbaka

    I’m pleased with the courage of the Claimant in asserting and pressing on to secure payment of his deserved merger wage…

    I Congratulate him for the victory. I can identify with the work circumstances and pain that engendered the suit. I went through similar experience and was intellectually milked for profit I didn’t receive a share.

    As at date, I have over 100k in unpaid wages and commission that have been withheld for over a year by a former principal. I will pursue court redress after an indulgence of a final written demand.

    • Stephen Azubuike

      Hi Carlos, the Claimant is a colleague and I join the Court in commending his courage… Please, I encourage you to press for your rights and set the records straight… It is good you’re letting me know on this platform. I believe cases deserving attention would be escalated to the appropriate quarters.

  • Lilian

    The same thing is happening to me now. My principal terminated my employment without prior notice because my baby was admitted for one week at the hospital, he was claiming that I did not informed him when I was not discharged like I promise him we will of which we did not. I told him the the doctor said he will not discharge the baby until he is okay but he denied that I never informed him. My problem now is that he promised to pay my October salary but he has not. I am thinking of reminding him again.

    • Stephen Azubuike

      Hi Lilian, please do remind him again and make sure it is in written form. In your letter, state the background of events to put the record straight, and clearly make your demands. Cases like yours deserves all the attention… Cheers.

  • Chizhim

    Nice write up Stephen..Keep it up

  • Etti

    Each party has learnt a lesson.

  • olabisi

    That is quite a good one.

Comments are closed.

For advert enquiries -

Send this to a friend