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Police and the young lawyer - Tribune Editorial

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A  mismanaged disagreement between a senior lawyer and his junior colleague in Lagos State has snowballed into a major crisis of confidence and animosity. The legal practitioners were said to be in an employer-employee relationship. The acrimony between the two learned gentlemen reportedly ensued when the cheque issued to the young lawyer by his employer to cover his outstanding salary up to the point of his disengagement was dishonoured by the bank because the instrument was not properly signed. An attempt by the junior wig to get his senior to sign the cheque properly  caused the confusion. The senior lawyer, Oluyemi Olawore, allegedly invited the police to molest the young lawyer, Olakunle Kareem, because he wanted his pay. And true to type, the police were less than professional in handling the case: they assaulted and brutalised the young lawyer.

The video capturing the show of shame where the policemen dealt several slaps on the cheek of the young man has since gone viral on the internet. It is shameful that the two gentlemen of the legal profession,  whom members of the public expect to chart the course of amicable resolutions of disputes in the society, chose to descend to the arena of jungle justice. There was a clear resort to self-help, especially by the senior lawyer, judging by the conduct of the security agents he invited to intervene. Even though he sought and got the intervention of the law-enforcement agents, the security agents came in to take sides with a party to the dispute before interrogation and investigation. And since there was no evidence to suggest that the senior lawyer protested the harsh treatment meted out to the young lawyer by the police, it can be assumed that he either sanctioned the assault or did nothing to stop it. This is untoward and despicable. And it should not be happening among persons whose knowledge of the law and of the importance of decorum and decency ought to be above average.

The initial media reports attributed the assault on the young lawyer to the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS). It was, however, later revealed that the police personnel were regular staff attached to the police division at Lion Building in Lagos. That revelation in itself  is worrying  as it implies that the difference between the operatives of SARS  and the conventional police in terms of their propensity for professional misconduct is that between six and half a dozen. Luckily, however, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, has intervened speedily and ordered that the erring cops, whom he admitted   were not at their professional best, be investigated and sanctioned. Their Divisional Police Officer (DPO) is also to be queried for lack of supervision. We commend the swift intervention of the commissioner and urge him to also investigate the circumstances leading to the crisis of confidence between the two lawyers.  And whosoever has breached the law of the land should be made to pay.

Fortunately, it is safe to take solace in the very strong and robust internal regulatory and disciplinary mechanisms of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which many believe will see to the judicious resolution of the rift within the ambit of its rules and ethics.  And it is hoped that the NBA will do more to ensure that its members shun lawlessness and operate within ethical boundaries at all times. Nonetheless, it has become imperative to end the deplorable relationship between the senior lawyers and their juniors who work in the same firms.  Junior lawyers in many law firms in Nigeria are reportedly treated with disdain and poorly remunerated by their principals. Yet, it is claimed that they do the bulk of the spade work, including researches that culminate in the outstanding performances and decent earnings of their principals. In the legal profession, partnerships and pupillage are strongly recommended in private practice. But the current poor working relationship between the senior legal practitioners and their juniors  is a disincentive to partnership and pupillage.

There are, of course, a few senior lawyers who treat their juniors very well and pay the desired attention to their welfare, in addition to mentoring them to reach the zenith of their careers. But such crop of considerate and good-hearted seniors would appear to be the exception rather than the rule in the private law practice. This should not be so. The employer-employee relationship in the legal profession is a critical area that the leadership of the NBA is urged to summon the desired political will to review and regulate. The bitter truth is that the incident that pitched Olawore against Olakunle  is a reflection of the sordid and lopsided relationship between seniors and juniors in many law firms in the country. Nonetheless, legal practitioners have a duty to refrain from acts that can demean them or undermine the confidence that ordinary Nigerians repose in them. This is imperative in view of the prime position that lawyers occupy in the administration of justice in any free society.


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