“I became a Lawyer and I love this work. Most important, it gave me the reassurance and the certainty of having a job to fall back on. Without that, I would never have been able to take the risks that I have taken throughout my career. I owe to this profession the independence I’ve needed to remain a free man. It is so much easier to say no when you know your professional future is secure”. – Nicholas Sarkozy.
“I became a Lawyer and I love this work. Most important, it gave me the reassurance and the certainty of having a job to fall back on. Without that, I would never have been able to take the risks that I have taken throughout my career. I owe to this profession the independence I’ve needed to remain a free man. It is so much easier to say no when you know your professional future is secure”, wrote erstwhile French President, Nicholas Sarkozy in “Testimony”, the book he penned shortly after he was elected President of France in 2007.
I am a Lawyer and I know of no other profession that gives you so much opportunity to be what you are and whatever it is you want to be. “There is no jewel in the world comparable to learning, no learning so excellent both for princes and subject, as knowledge of law and no knowledge of any laws (especially human law) so necessary for all estates and for all causes concerning goods, lands or life, as the common laws of England” wrote the Preface to Lord Coke’s Report.
“There is little doubt that society expects lawyers to be leaders and gives them countless opportunities to serve in that capacity” Judge Wiley Y. Daniel of the U.S District Court, Colorado further opined.
If lawyers will be leaders and if they will provide the level of quality leadership expected of them, then there is nothing they need more than the excellent learning Lord Coke’s Preface recommended and the time and freedom to pursue both learning and advancement in politics and in the service of their country. The experience of Nicholas Sarkozy reinforces what I always knew – that anyone who will lead properly and take risks in politics needs the assurance and certainty of a job to fall back on if they failed. This profession of Law adequately offers that. It affords you the independence you need to remain a free man as you walk your way in politics and in the service of your country.
There is something about the profession of law and leadership. Many of the world’s greatest leaders have been lawyers and many still thriving leaders are Lawyers. The United States is considered the greatest Government and system of laws man ever devised/knew and still knows. It is a prime example of the opportunities the law affords you to lead and the sheer volume of great Lawyer leaders that system has produced over two hundred years self validates this argument. At the last count, amazingly 26 of the 44 great men who have led America were and are lawyers, learned, successful and steeped in the traditions of the law. Infact, of the first Eight Presidents of the United States, only the founding President, George Washington was not a trained Lawyer.
The men who built and are still building America at every material time in its chequered political history have a thing or two in common – they were lawyers whose profession afforded them the time and opportunity to remain free to pursue greatness, personal glory and the common good of the American people. The ones considered the greatest amongst the 44 have also been lawyers. A few will suffice – Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton.
Thomas Jefferson penned the great document of freedom, the Declaration of Independence and it was signed by the Continental Congress (representatives of the original thirteen Colonies) in 1776. Today that document enures as the fountainhead of all peoples of the world who seek freedom, self determination and good governance. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seek more likely to effect their
Safety and Happiness” wrote Thomas Jefferson and over two Centuries since, this remains unimpeachable.
Abraham Lincoln led America at the most vulnerable and critical juncture in American history. The bonds of the Union were slackening because of a disagreement over the abolition or otherwise of America’s greatest sin, the evil of Slavery. It pitted brothers from the North against their kin in the South and America was to go to war. But that great Lawyer, Abraham Lincoln the Statesman will not be deterred from pursuing peace until war became inevitable. He penned this great persuasion to reason and the need to avoid war between the Union and the Confederates in his first inaugural speech – “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as
surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature”.
Still greater yet and considered by many the greatest speech ever made by mortal man was his address at Gettysburg – the Gettysburg address – at the closing stages of the American civil war. I will replicate this speech here not only for its sheer beauty but for the eternal truth it holds for all nations.
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work
which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”.
In 1858, two years before he was elected President, he forewarned presciently, “a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South”. The momentous issues of the time eventually led to the American civil war between the Confederates and the Federal forces led by Abraham Lincoln to preserve the Union. The illustrious Lawyer and Federalist, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria described the American
civil war as a war which was aimed at the abolition of slavery, the liberation of millions of negroes who were then still being used as chattels and worse than domestic animals in a speech to the Western leaders of thought in Ibadan on May 1st 1967 urging larger freedom, true federalism and more democracy for the federating units of Nigeria at the time and warning that the imminent civil war between a Northern driven military hierarchy and the Ibo Biafran state christened the land of the rising sun portends no one no good.
It is to the eternal credit of that great Lawyer and Statesman, Abraham Lincoln that the war ended in a manner that saw the nation reunited and more edifying was that the war signaled the end game for slavery and watered the seeds of its eventual demise as epitomized by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation pushed through by Lincoln at the end of the war.
The great work Lawyers have done in leading their people and the monumental sacrifices they have made in the process is not lost on us on the African continent either. Africa has also produced titular legal figures who led their people well, confronted tyranny, fought dictatorships, defied apartheid and other varied and virulent forms of wicked Governments that only the African mind can contemplate/conceive.
The evil regime of apartheid – about the worst mode of Government and segregation ever devised by man – was confronted by ordinary South African’s led by their great Lawyer leaders at unimaginable personal cost. Leaders like the Great Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Bram Fischer and many others either gave their life or their freedom for the cause and they did it with such grace, strategy and poise that only a deep knowledge of the law could have afforded them.
Nelson Mandela’s autobiography tells it all. I have read the book “Long Walk to Freedom” severally and each time I do so I gained a new insight into true leadership. How can a man be so sold and devoted to a cause? He had a thousand opportunities to betray the cause but he did not, Mandela did not even need to fight apartheid, he was a privileged black South African upon becoming a Lawyer, Mandela and Oliver Tambo had the first black law firm in the whole of South Africa and they were quite rich, they would only have gotten richer but he left all that to stand shoulder to shoulder with his black people and in time with all the oppressed people’s of South Africa.
He was even prepared to fight alongside them in the trenches and in the bushes if push came to shove. He said “I started to make a study of the art of war and revolution and, whilst abroad, underwent a course in military training. If there was to be guerrilla warfare, I wanted to be able to stand and fight with my people and to share the hazards of war with them.”
His conviction was unparalleled and I doubt you will find that in any African leader today. Every African alive at this time in history ought to read his speech from the dock at the Rivonia trials in 1964 where he fittingly concluded “during my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela was resolute and his fortitude was such that he fought for freedom, liberation and the fulfillment of African’s in their own country at the great personal cost of family alienation, banning, imprisonment, banishment, threat of assassination and the ever present danger of execution by the South African State. He was a ‘fugitive’, a ‘criminal’, a ‘saboteur’, a ‘terrorist’ and many more unspeakable things in the eyes of the apartheid regime and its rapine Western allies. But Mandela was not any of these things by choice, he was made by the laws of apartheid, a criminal, for the sake of his people but he indubitably saw the eventual collapse of apartheid clearly even though it was difficult for others to fathom as early as 1964 when he declared at the Rivonia trials, “I have done my duty to my people and to South Africa. I have no doubt that posterity will pronounce that I was innocent and that the criminals that should have been
brought before this court are the members of the government”.
Still closer home, what are Nigerian lawyers doing in the face of the great opportunities that we have as a body and as individuals to affect the course and the path our nation takes either to greatness or to perdition? How do we continue to live a life of indifference in the face of monumental tragedy unraveling before our very eyes? Every aspect of our national life is in shambles and there does not seem to be any solution in sight; at least not anytime soon. Many lawyers hold high political office today and many who do not have great influence with some of the leaders in our nation both at the State and Federal level. How have we made our influence count? What kind of Lawyer’s have we being in the face of so much want and deprivation. Where is our Abe Lincoln, where is our FDR, where is our Madiba?
Nigeria did indeed produce them in the past. We had Chief Obafemi Awolowo, we had Chief Bola Ige and many more. But how about now? Do we still have them? What kind and manner of lawyers are we today? On whom shall we call upon? Who will go for us? We are the one segment of Society who can and ought to tell truth to power and damn the consequences. What is it we gleefully quote? “Let justice be done, though the Heavens fall”. For the Nigerian lawyer it should be modified, “Let truth be told to power, though the Heavens fall”. It hurts though that even a cursory look suggests we have abandoned the teachings of old. We have forgotten our place in history. We have not stood by the people. We have connived. We have stood and still stand with those who stand against the people. We have not asked questions of those who oppress them. We have not demanded accountability from our leaders. We have acquiesced. We have not used this profession of free men to
free our people from poverty and the shackles of oppression and injustice. We have not used it to confront tyranny masquerading as democracy.
New evils are upon us and we still have done nothing. We have not used this profession of free men to fight terror. The family structure is disintegrating, there is no middle class any more, many of our Children have become internet fraudsters and we do not seem alarmed. Legislative, Executive and Judicial corruption is now a past time. Oil theft in unheard of proportion is reported every day, ritual killers and forests are everywhere, baby factories are booming, strangers walk into our homes and Schools and cart away our Children, kidnapping is cake walk. In short impunity is now the new fad. Nothing is sacred anymore. There is no dignity left. Human life has become a thousand a dime. The line between good and evil has blurred. Nothing is good anymore and nothing is bad anymore. The moral relativism Pope John Paul II warned against has become the norm here.
Nonetheless ours still is indeed a profession of free men and we must use that freedom to lead and save our society, our nation and our world. No one is suggesting it is easy to do so but we had worthy examples to show that it is possible. The life and times of men like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and our own Chief Obafemi Awolowo inspire still and they have shown us the way to go. That way we should go because indifference is not an option as things stand now and if we learnt anything from history. A life of indifference is a very dangerous one. If you doubt this just ask Rwandan’s before 1994. Oh what manner of tragedy later ensued!!! Close to a million people, mostly tutsi’s and moderate hutu’s lay dead after 100 days of unimaginable savagery and madness never before imagined or seen on such a scale.
Elie Wiesel, the Jewish American holocaust survivor in “The Perils of Indifference”, one of the most empathetic and brilliant piece of writing I have ever read said this about indifference and the tragedy it can evoke “What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means “no difference.” A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
Of course, indifference can be tempting — more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”
Elie Wiesel continued, “In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.
Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.”
This sin of indifference that Elie Wiesel so deconstructed for us has crept into our national life today and we of the profession of free men, we as lawyers, leaders in society owe it to ourselves, our Children, generations unborn, our nation and humanity to fight it, change our attitude of insouciance towards it because if we do not do so now one day they will come for us and there will be no one there for us for in the words of Martin Niemoller:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
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