5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL (BAR PART 1)

If you intend to practice as a lawyer in Nigeria, you must go through the Nigerian Law School (NLS). If you have attained an undergraduate degree in a foreign university, then you must submit yourself to Bar 1.  This is a 3 month period during which you will be schooled on the fundamentals of the Nigerian Legal System. After you have passed Bar 1, you will proceed to Bar 2 where you will join the rest of your Nigerian schooled counterparts. If you are Nigerian and a lawyer, you probably already know this but I write this for the benefit of non lawyers and non-Nigerians.

So 5 things you must know about the NLS Bar Part 1.

  1. FORGET EVERYTHING YOU LEARNT ABOUT JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS

This is the absolute ultimate fundamental cardinal rule to surviving law school- FORGET ALL YOU KNOW ABOUT FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE! I did not use all those synonyms for nothing friend! Nobody cares about what is just and what is fair. Almost everyone you meet will as a matter of right trample upon your most basic human rights and expect, rather mandate you do NOT to put up any protest. Now this might sound confusing for 2 reasons.

Firstly, you have spent 3 years of your undergraduate education grappling with the vague and elusive but fundamental legal concepts JUSTICE and FAIRNESS. Through battling sleep and headache and heartache in Jurisprudence class, Legal theory, Human Rights and Public law classes, you come up with fairly acceptable fundamental definitions. You come out of University, your eyes wide with excitement to implement these concepts especially in your country where these terms are not evident except in the dictionary. So being asked to forget everything you know about these terms is confusing and quite frankly alarming.

Secondly,  NLS is an institute of legal learning- it could be termed the foremost institute of legal knowledge for without it, no lawyer is or has been (VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS  but that is the job of your legal systems lecturer – not mine). No lawyer; SAN or Chief Judge, can practice in the country without passing through and exiting its gates. Therefore you would expect that the standards of fairness, equity, justice, amongst others, which the legal profession  holds dear would salute you every morning as you awake and tuck you into sleep as your head hits the pillow. If that is your impression. I enjoin you to please engage in more productive use of your time and mind.

NLS Bar Part 1 will try you in ways you have never fathomed. From

  • being told that the bites scattered across your body cannot be bed bug bites from the infested hostel mattress because the doctor who diagnosed had not conducted a physical examination of the mattress to ascertain the presence of such bed bugs (never mind that a doctor who diagnoses you of malaria  need not conduct a physical examination of the room to ascertain the presence of female anopheles mosquitoes in your room)
  • to being told when you complain of snake infested dormitory (The Boys Hostel interestingly named ‘Afghanistan’) that you should be tolerant as you are the one encroaching on the snake’s natural habitat
  • to being called Batman by school officials for wearing a billowy top, and still being sent back to the hostel to change said top even after putting a blazer over it
  • to being told to take out a full head of dreadlock braids before classes the next day because they made you look like Rihanna’s back up singer and not a lawyer,
  • to having your name crossed off the attendance for an entire week for signing with a green pen (apparently you are expected to know that black and blue pens are the only  ink colours acceptable to lawyers- for signing attendance! Accountants use green pens! Well we learn everyday, don’t we?)
  • to having your phone sitting in your hand seized by a lecturer who walks in a full hour ahead of his class (moral of the lesson- don’t come early to class? Still trying to decode that).

There will be various trying times. In all of these, be strong and of good courage and above all non-confrontational. Stoop to conquer!

  1. ACCENTS

There is a joke people we Nigerians make about ourselves, Mr ABC travels to China for 3 days and returns with an American accent. Extrapolate this joke to Bar 1. Bar 1 will be made up entirely of people who have spent at least 3 years (it takes at least 3 years to complete an undergraduate law degree) of their lives outside of the shores of Nigeria- and you know what that means- there will be a litany of accents floating around the classroom. I choose to group them in the following categories

Pure Britico/ Americana Accent – Now these are the people who have spent all or almost all of their lives in Britain or England and cannot even if their lives depend on this, speak without a British or American accent. This is a small percentage of the ‘Britico/Americana’ accents you will hear in Bar 1. And usually after the initial gra gra of screaming when they talk, we soon get used to them and becoming accepting of them.

The same cannot be said for the By Force Britico/Americana Accent. These also represent a significantly higher percentage of the class, but still a small percentage as opposed to the litany of accents. Listening to these people talk is like doing your worst chore; very very painful and often incredibly embarrassing. They struggle to roll their tongue and make their words airy and light; they try hard to suppress the heavier Nigerian tongues which they have been born with. The struggle is obvious and hence we call then by force Britico/Americana. You easily spot these people by the number of ‘errrrr’s and ahhhhhh’s they have in between simple phrases. My nameee (errrr) is (errrr) Nicky (errrr). This accent is often not sustainable and it isn’t unusual to hear it slip up and sometimes fall into correct warri pidgin when they are bargaining for food or asking for their change at mammy market! The class forever reacts aggressively to these people each time they pick up the microphone (and they love the sound of their voice so they often go for it) by screaming, hissing, banging armrests and throwing mini tantrums.

The I have been Accent – This is the accent majority of the class has. It is that accent which is still very Nigerian but punctuated with a bit of phonetics. Because this is where majority of the class standards, the class is tolerant of these accents, especially after a presentation, this accent welcomes claps and cheers.

The Forever Loyal Nigerians – These are the Okonjo Iweala’s of the class. They might have spent even more time abroad than the By Force Britico/Americana but they speak with the same degree of flavour as our ancestors. They have no time and strength to roll their tongue. The majority of these are older igbo men and their accents were viscous thick and their mannerisms completely the same.

 

  1. NIGERIAN-NESS OF OUR LAWS

I think this is an important thing that is not talked about because well not many people talk about the academic aspects of Bar part 1 because if we are being honest there is almost no such thing. (Okay if we are being completely honest there is such a thing actually but only the week before exams!). Before the final week of exams, all you need to do is show up to classes and sign attendance, or if you have (good) friends they can help you to sign the attendance while you sleep off the hangover from clubbing in town the night before.

So why do I say it is important to know about this? If you are like me who doesn’t like to leave the academics to the week before exams, that is – you actually like to follow what is being said in class, then a lot of things would confuse you at first. Also, if you decide to leave everything to last minute,  you must also understand  some little principles so that you don’t start to question whether or not your parents wasted valuable hard currency sending you to school outside the country.

This little excerpt is just to tell you that many things about our laws do not make any form of sense- at first. I mean for example you would be very confused and find it very hard to grasp the fact that ‘all land in a State is vested in the Governor of that State’ therefore every State government is the chief and original landlord of the land in that State.’  To be fair, this is not an entirely fair example because Land/Property Law is generally a terribly difficult course to comprehend in almost any jurisdiction. (It is where the money is too so…….). But prepare your mind for the Nigerianness of our laws, to grammatical errors in statute books and inconsistencies rife and thriving even in the Constitution. Prepare your mind too for evidence law because that shit makes no damn sense – at least in Bar Part 1!

4.  LOVITOS

This is the only thing in Bwari that reminds law school students of their time outside of the country. Built to double as a restaurant and a a bar/club, official hookup zone of Bwari Abuja. In case you are not aware, you will be thrust in the middle of no-where in Abuja (to think I was actually super excited to move to Nigeria and live in Abuja and live my best life….chile!) Lovitos is what serves as everything. It is where a poor and sweet vegan soul like me thought I could go and ask for a meat free meal being that it is the only place that looked like civilization might have brushed past it as it qucikly hurried past that town! I got a ‘meat free’ pasta meal alright…..WITH SAUSAGES! The waitress didn’t seem to understand why I was so frustrated because ‘there is no meat in the plate now?’ It is the place you are most likely to get taken on a date for some ‘privacy’ if you are not determined enough to drive into town. Lovitos is where the Friday and Saturday parties are at. It is the scene of the last party after Bar 1 exams where if you go all day without eating and stressing for your exams, and after a few shots of what you don’t know, you might end up slow whining with the annoying Nigerian-American guy in your class you can’t stand – the guy who raised hell over the cafeteria owing him N10. Lovitos is a beautiful place filled with regrets and memories that must be suppressed.

5.  PREDATORS
Listen ladies! I speak for ladies because I do not know about the men. But ladies…….LISTEN! The favourite button on your phone will quickly become ‘the block button’. And honestly it doesn’t matter how kind and sweet and friendly your disposition is (I am as sweet as they come). It is close to impossible as a Bar 1 student to leave your room without encountering some guy who is trying to get your number, buy your meal or walk you back to the hostel (because you suddenly have gotten blind and can’t find the way by which you came again.)  Listen I am not even talking about purposeful approaches – just random approaches with the stupidest pick up lines. I mean I had a guy approach me TWICE at the same exact spot -I had to remind me that we had done this before, that he has my number and YES when he calls I do not pick the calls and will not pick the calls.  So ladies, the guys will approach you, YES THEY WILL. And honey, I know you are a babe, and you are fit and snatched! But it has absolutely nothing to do with any of the above! Nope they approach you because you are new meat in the wilderness of Bwari and you are easier to prey on than their Bar 2 colleagues! Men of all sorts will approach you, you will quickly learn to be deaf, to walk super swiftly or to use your block button because sometimes it is easier to give them your number and walk away than to pretend to be deaf.

Good Luck.

 

P.S. It might be too late for us but we can at least laugh about it: Don’t be a lawyer

 

 


I wrote this a while ago! I have been out of law school for 3 years now but I still feel the need to publish because 1. memories 2. for those who come behind 3. to share with those very very ‘unprivileged’ to be lawyers or attend the Nigerian Law School.

 

For the Love of the Profession

The fires in our eyes once shone brilliantly.
Burning with merciless vigour;
Ravenously, eating up everything standing in its path.
We barely slept because the heat of the fire
Made sleep uncomfortable, impossible.
We barely slept because we feared that while unconscious
The fire might consume us too, innards then flesh.

We looked with arrogant pity at those gone before,
10, 20, 30 years post-call,
Who in their eyes, we saw, instead of fire, flickering embers,
Their fires quenched by the realities of the trade;
Eyes dull, eye balls only glistening in moments of remembrance of the days gone before
When they could forego food, shelter and even life itself,
For the love of the profession.

We looked with scorn and disdain at those gone before
10, 20, 30 years post-call
Who have in their eyes the dull green colour of currency notes.
No flickering embers,
Eyes dull as though hypnotised, slavish in their pursuit of money.
‘These ones have sold their souls’ we laughed mirthlessly.
‘What do they know about the law, the common man, and justice?’
Where is the love of the profession?

But experience, they say, is the best teacher,
And learn we did,
That the fire burning in us while we burned the midnight candle,
That fire that kept us hungry, yet no food could fill us,
That kept us passionate and judgmental,
That kept us intrigued and blissfully naive,
That fire;

That fire soon gets enveloped in a wave of reality
When we realise that passion isn’t always the sole criterion,
Neither is qualification nor knowledge alone.
So in that wave, the fire is snuffed out for many,
Buried deep in the seabed of responsibilities.
And then we learn to look without arrogance in our pity,
For how can one be arrogant towards oneself?
And lose our scorn and gain reverence for those whose eyes are dull and green.
For is it not the comfortable place to bear the pain of regret?

We drop the naivety invariably attached to passion?
The naivety that things can change and we can change them
Just by the power of hungry hearts….
We learn the way the world works,
We humble ourselves,
And for the love of the profession
Hope that the jackets of our suits match the trousers,
And that the soles of our feet, while in our shoes,
Are not intimate with the soil on which we walk
So that we have reasons to walk dignified on the streets
While people hail ‘the law’.
So that they don’t snigger and point their lips at us
While we shuffle past, under the sweaty armpits of a yellow bus driver
Into our designated corner in the bus.
So that we never get to hear the words
‘The Law, your money no complete again o.’

OMA & IKUKU*

 

 

*I met Ikuku at Law School and at first he was just my fitness buddy, till he checked me out on facebook and discovered this blog. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t writing anymore (I couldn’t either). I spent the rest of Law School avoiding him because the first thing he wanted to know each time he saw me was when next I would write. 3 Years post-call, it is still the same. Each whatsapp message and each call is started with his encouragement and bullying that I write something and ended with (many failed) promises to write something that week. The few times I have written within this time, he is the first to comment and to send his love and encouragement. I have been afraid and lazy to write recently,  but I wrote this with Ikuku because he deserves not to have his heart broken again by another failed promise. Thank you Ikuku for being there. Here is to hoping that the fires in our eyes for the love of the profession and our friendship keep burning for the rest of our lives.

I be lawyer, trouble nah my work

I have been told that I make a big deal out of little things- ‘You take things too personal’ was what the person said. I am not quite sure that is true. I just think many people take me and the things I say too seriously. Some things I say, in fact most things I say are clearly rants, with a hint of truth. This one is clearly one of them

You have to love car bumper stickers- especially when you are in Nigeria. It is only in Nigeria that you see bumper stickers which quote full chapters of the Bible or make intense prophetic declarations against witches and wizards, and destiny delayers. Some are not that extreme, less elaborate words such as ‘Olorun maje’- God forbid  and ‘Miracle Worker’ ‘Jesus’ ‘Praise God’ are also evident. On a slightly unrelated note, why is it that yellow buses which have words like ‘Halleluyah’ and ‘Child of God’ scrawled behind the windscreen seem to be the most aggressive bus drivers- quick to bang their fists over your car roof while swerving into your space and quick to give you a waka when you cuss them out?

Nigerians also have a penchant for advertising new wealth through bumper stickers. A flashy new Honda model car with a bright eyed young man (I say bright eyed although most times they dorn thick black sun glasses) inside will bear the bumper sticker, ‘Maga don pay’, ‘Water2Wine’ or ‘O si na nwata’ meaning ‘Started at childhood’- an abbreviation for Dbanj’s lyrics in the song Igwe which said ‘O si na nwata buru ogaranya’ -‘Wealth came at infancy’. Over this summer, I also saw a car sticker that said ‘Started at the Bottom’- I didn’t stop laughing. My mom didnt understand why and my explanation didnt help her confusion either.

There are those who declare their ethnic affiliations too through their bumper stickers ‘FBI- Full Blooded Igbo-boy’, ‘Edo Boy’ ‘Wafi Boy’ etc and it is not unusual to see a bumper sticker just saying ‘Nigeria’ or ‘God bless Nigeria’. What is unusual though is ‘I love Nigeria’- that is an unusual bumper sticker.

Finally we have those who advertise their professions via their bumper stickers and there is one profession particularly guilty of this: LAWYERS! The most popular lawyer bumper sticker reads ‘I am a LAWYER, trouble be my work.’

As a growing child aspiring to being a lawyer, I analysed this sticker very thoroughly. The first part of the message, written in ‘Queen’s English’ saying ‘I am a lawyer’, states a fact, very unequivocally, with little grandeur. Although when you read it, you know that the owner of the vehicle intended for it to astound you, to make you raise your eyebrows in admiration of this feat which they have achieved. This also tells you that he belongs to a certain class, a certain league which you are not privy to.

However, the second part is almost alarming in its contrast; ‘trouble be my work’. This is written in Pidgin and is a sharp contrast to the first part. It is meant to convey the expression that this person is not afraid of a mess, he is willing to get his hands dirty. It is also a warning to okada men who whizz in and out of tight corners and break car side mirrors, and to domineering bus drivers who bully people out of their right of way, and ‘area boys’- touts  (LASTMA and the Police included) that their (the lawyer’s) ‘were’– madness equals or even surpasses theirs. It is a warning to other road users that what happens on the road in 2014 doesnt end in the road and certainly not in 2014(although this is more a testimony to the snail-like speed of the justice process than the lawyer’s original intention. But they use it to their advantage nevertheless. A lawyer never tires of going in and out of court- you will; especially a Nigerian court!) The overall effect of this sticker is to make other road users shift uncomfortably in their seats, hold tight to their steering wheels and to keep an unspoken respectful distance of the lawyer’s car.

I grew up not liking this sticker very much. I felt like it fostered the already wrong view of lawyers as ‘trouble-makers’ and ‘liars’.( As a child, you didnt need to do much to piss me off; all you needed to say to me was ‘All Lawyers are liars’. ) I often thought, doctors deal with sick people, and occassionally, some die but I dont see them writing ‘I am a DR, i fit kill you’. Doctors take pride in correcting a human certainty; sickness. Sickness is a certainty in life and doctors are looked upon gainfully by society, they are respected and admired.

The opposite is the case for lawyers, an ‘average’ Nigerian having legal trouble would much rather live with it for 100 years than go to a lawyer- they dont want lawyer wahala. We are feared, even by those we help. Not admired, not respected- feared. I was not sure I liked it.

As I grew up, the sticker bothered me less, maybe because I saw it less. I think I had almost forgotten about it till I had one of my early morning Saturday chats with my father. We had just finished discussing global governance and equated it to government of the world by the big nations. Feeling impressed by my father’s line of reasoning and ability to articulate facts I bestowed him with a compliment

OMA: Daddy, you will make a very good lawyer’

I expected him to reply saying something like ‘if only I had the right opportunities…’ or ‘You know I am a born medical man’ or  maybe something unexpected like ‘Stop it!!! You are making me blush!’ Nope… none of those. Instead he said

DAD: no i donk think i will thrive in law. Lawyers look for and go after trouble but me i runaway from it. so i would not make a good one.

Now, if you know my father you know he is the proudest father of a lawyer ever- so this is not him dissing me or my profession at all. Secondly, my father in about a two-ish decades of being my father knows that ‘trouble’ is the opposite of what I want and look for. A quality I got from HIM- so shouldn’t he then be worried that his daughter is in the wrong profession if that is what he thinks lawyers do?

Anyway, I was already ready to whip out my activism tools (starting with the words ‘That is just ridiculous’) to address the issue once and for all, starting with my father- after all charity, they say, begins at home! I started to type furiously about how that was a negative view of lawyers, about how disappointed I was that he subscribed to that low a view of my profession, of me, of my career plans (okay maybe I take some things too personal!) But then halfway into my rant, i stopped, highlighted and deleted the chat. Because here is what I finally accepted:

I am a lawyer, and trouble be my work!

Not that I go after it, but it comes to me, because man is by nature troublesome. A society where individuals are ultimately competing to better themselves is bound to be one where interests and ambitions clash, creating trouble and that is when you need lawyers. We also try to pre-empt trouble; because we know people will surely clash- so we draft contracts, help with treaty and legislation drafting, to regulate our naturally troublesome inclinations.

And this was what I told my father! I dont go looking for trouble- even lawyers who are ambulance chasers are not looking for trouble. There is trouble out there already! All we do is right the trouble, bring justice to the deserving

Now some people might find us shady, liars and etc- which is fine because some lawyers are- but so are some doctors, engineers, even pastors! Some people will simply not like us because we are able to say exactly what they wish to say but in legal speak- hence they pay us for translation jobs. Some people might legitimately not like us because sad as it is there is an established practice of injustice and delayed justice turned injustice in the (Nigerian?) system, but those are do not detract from the fact that we inherently serve a good purpose in society. Furthermore, troublemakers just dont like us- finish! And if you know anything about troublemakers- they have big mouths and so their big mouths spread big fat lies about our profession.

And just like that I made peace with my most hated childhood bumper sticker. I had learnt to accept it:

I am a LAWYER, trouble be my work!

 

PS: My mother’s tagline is ‘Just do and graduate so that i can start making trouble up and down?’

And people say we look for trouble? You guys shouldnt be wary of lawyers, we should be wary of you!!!