Advocacy and the roles of a Lawyer as a Societal Reformer: Gingering the zeal for activism

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Overtime, there has been some reports about some lawyers being unable to defend their own rights whenever any of such is violated not really out of financial disability rather as a result of lack of exposure, with due respect, to the roles of a lawyer (as they are) as a societal reformer. Sometimes too, some of these lawyers beg non-lawyers for assistance, the situation which becomes very embarrassing and surprising! That is why this paper aims to ginger and reawake the activism in those lawyers so that they can speak for themselves with passion and to stand up for someone’s right whenever the need arises.

‘Advocacy’ according to the Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition, Electronic copy, means ‘the work or profession of an advocate. The act of pleading for or actively supporting a cause or proposal.  While an ‘advocate’ is defined by the same dictionary as ‘1. A person who assists, defends, pleads or prosecutes for another’. In the same vein, the words ‘to ginger’ according to the Webster On-line Dictionary means ‘to make lively’. And the word ‘Activism’ according to the same dictionary is defined as ‘a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue’. Therefore, every lawyer must ginger the activism accustomed with the legal profession. With due respect, it is worse for a community where there is a single lawyer to have bad road, not to have constant electricity supply, not to have good and portable water, to be harassed in one way or the other! This is because, the community expects a pay back from the lawyer as a defender of the right and assurer of justice for all. Some persons would call such lawyer as ‘Barrister’! This is because they expect some concerns from such lawyer. Rather than for the lawyer who is expected to save them or protect their interests or to advocate for them to perform his roles, whether they have money or not, such lawyer disappoints his people and join them in complaining and pleading! As a human rights activist, I have a principle which is that I do not beg anyone to do that which he ought to know that is right (not a pride, though, far from it!). I may draw your attention to that thing that is right and also remind you of the implications of doing contrary to that right thing! But where there will be trouble is to insist in doing that which is wrong! That is why some persons have thought of me as a very strict person, but they would not understand the kind of concession and opportunity that I would have given before I react! My principle is ‘let’s settle, there is no need to fight or quarrel!’. ‘Just do the right thing!’. But when such person proves to be unrepentant, then, the law would take its cause.

Furthermore, therefore, every lawyer must rise up in activism against injustice, oppression, inhumanity of one against another and must keep standing for someone’s right, environmental and societal sanitation, sanitation of the corrupt system, speaking against abuse of powers and office. Etc. So, if a lawyer does not take the side of public interest with great concern, how then would the society be reformed?! The roles of a lawyer as a reformer is even well informed in Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as the RPC which provides thus ‘A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner’. That is why a lawyer would suffer just as the members of the society would suffer and such a lawyer will be among the complainants without finding solutions to the complaints of his people. A lawyer to me, is a saviour to his people, he is their hope, he is their trust, he is their guide and if I may be permitted to say, with due respect, that if the society is in disarray, a lawyer should be held responsible for the evil that has befallen his people, with due respect! This is just an analogy of the extent of the importance of a lawyer to reforming his society and his people. 

Furthermore, I had argued in one of my articles that the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009-herein after referred to as FREPR is an exception to Rule 47(1) of the RPC which prohibits instigating litigation. My submission was solidified by my arguments that’… the RPC was made two years before the FREPR was made in 2009, so, it is submitted that the provisions in Rule 47(1) and the entire provisions of the Rule 47, RPC, can no more stand as a restrictive law when human rights matters are contemplated. This submission is made to the effect that even where the RPC has restrained lawyers from ‘instigating litigation’, especially in the public interest, the FREPR has allowed and permitted lawyers to institute action for and on behalf of a prospective applicant to seek redress in court. For instance, by Rule 3 (e) to the Preamble of the FREPR which provides thus ‘The Court shall encourage and welcome public interest litigation in the human rights field and no human rights case may be dismissed or struck out for want of locus standi. In particular, human rights activists, advocates or groups as well as non-governmental organisations, may institute human rights application on behalf of any potential applicant. In human rights litigation, the applicant may include any of the following; i. Anyone acting in his own interest; ii. Anyone acting on behalf of another person; iii. Anyone acting as a member of, or in the interest of a group or class of persons; iv. Anyone acting in the public interest; and v. Association acting in the interest of its members or other individuals or groups’.  Also see: section 46(1) of the Constitution. For the purpose of clarity, instigating litigation as argued and submitted by me in the above referenced article, is in a way of encouraging the victims of violation of human rights to approach a court to seek redress where there is an allegation of violation of their human rights rather than dying in silence or dying out of the trauma of the violation and either committing suicide or seeking revenge by the means of jungle justice or unlawful retaliation.

Also, it is the trite position of law that fundamental rights matters are sui generis, as held by the Court in the case of Enukeme v Mazi (2015)17 NWLR (1488)411 C.A. at page 434 paras. A-C, Mbaba, J.C.A. (delivering the leading judgment). The case of Loveday v Comptroller, Fed. Prisons Aba (2013) 18 NWLR (pt. 1386) 379 C.A. is humbly referred to (supra).

Also, the emphasis laid down by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of A.C.N. V I.N.E.C.(2013)13 NWLR (pt. 1370) 161 SC, is very noteworthy where the Supreme Court held thus ‘Without law and its rules regulating the enforcement and enjoyment of rights under the law, chaos will reign supreme, with every man pursuing and enjoying his real or perceived rights without regard to the rights of others, and organised society may come to an end’. More so that the FREPR is made pursuant to the provision of the Constitution. See: the case of Abia State University, Uturu v Anyaibe (1996) 3 NWLR (pt. 439) 646 at 661, per Katsina-Alu, JCA (as he then was). In which case, such a provision has equal force of law as the Constitution itself.

Therefore, it is my humble submission that any law or Rules or legislation, such as the Rule 47(1) of the RPC, that runs contrary and or breaches the FREPR has run inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and shall subject to such inconsistency, be declared null and void. See: the provisions of section 1(1) and (3) of the Constitution. Also, the RPC being a subsidiary legislation made pursuant to the Legal Practitioners’ Act, 2004 (as amended). The Supreme Court of Nigeria has held in A.C.B. V Losada (Nig.) Ltd. (1995) 7 NWLR (pt.405) 26 thus: ‘It has never been the case in our laws that the provisions of any ordinary statute would render nugatory the relevant provisions of the constitution. Therefore, if any law of the State including a subsidiary legislation… is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution, the provision of the constitution prevails and that State law is to the extent of inconsistency void’. Also see: Achu v C.S.C. Cross Rivers State (2009) 3 NWLR (pt. 1129) 475. Further see: the case of INEC v Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (pt. 806) 72 SC, page 157, at paras. D-G, (Ayoola, J.S.C).

Furthermore and finally, human rights activists are their brothers’ keepers and that is why it becomes necessary that human rights lawyers/activists (and every lawyer) instigate litigation for and or on behalf of a victim of human rights violation in order to secure justice against an oppressor and or an unjust fellow, as many times, those victims do not have the required courage, confidence and finance to pursue such redress in court. This is one of the roles of a lawyer in his society.

Email: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com

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