September 10, 2022

What do you find yourself exchanging for wealth?


Muyiwa Adetiba

By Muyiwa Adetiba

Many prominent lawyers in their middle to late 70s will probably describe the last few months as a season of bereavements. As the funeral rites of one were being announced, the news of another one breathing his last followed. I personally know about four who died in quick successions including one who was my senior in secondary school.

The latest as far as I know, was Chief Femi Somolu whom I had a high regard for. We had a business relationship some twenty-five, thirty years ago. I found him to be a very straightforward person. You always knew where you were with him. If he said he was going to do something, he would pull all stops to get it done.

And if he promised a date, he probably would deliver ahead of the promised date. He was a leader of men and the name ‘Asiwaju’ gifted him by his peers, suited him to the last ‘U’. He was neat and meticulous prompting those who didn’t know him well to regard him as being aloof. He lived well, but more importantly, he had a right disposition towards life and knowing him, he would have long reconciled himself to death. May his soul rest in peace.

But how many of his peers have reconciled themselves to death? They draw up Wills and Codicils for their clients on a regular basis, yet many are not really addressing the certainty of death in their daily lives because if they did, the unethical pursuit of wealth by many of them should have been curtailed.

Lawyers, more than other professionals, know that the richer an estate is, the more trouble it causes for those left behind. The sad story behind the estates of Chief Rotimi Williams and Justice Udo Udoma, their late senior colleagues should have been a lesson. But it is a lesson yet to be learnt by some prominent SANs, those select and elite few who in their constant search for ‘juicy briefs’, have twirled the fate of the country around their legal fingers.

They have used their well-endowed libraries, sound legal minds and deep connections to pervert the cause of justice in the country. Since 1999, Nigeria has been plundered by top politicians, top government officials and their collaborators. In a saner country where the rule of law really holds sway, many of them will be rotting in jail. But in Nigeria, they not only walk away free, they go from height to height, changing portfolios and looting wherever they find themselves.

They are able to walk away free despite glaring evidence that they have amassed public wealth, because they have some of these elite lawyers on retainer ship. They may blame shoddy prosecutions; they may blame lack of credible evidence but these elite lawyers know in their heart of hearts that they are helping common criminals get away. They know themselves and are well known in the political circle.

They are the ones who don’t take any brief that is less than nine figures. When they look deep into the mirror of their souls in moments of introspection and connect the dots with poverty driven insecurity in the country, they must know that they have paid a very heavy price for the wealth they have amassed.

They must also know, since most of them are in the 60s and 70s, that they have bought tickets for the final journeyand are responsible in some ways, for the state of the country they are leaving behind. Besides, none of the wealth they have exchanged their consciences for, will be interred with them. It will,if anything, likely cause problems for their offspring.

The Attorney General of the Federation, the Chief Law Officer of our country is being called out for acts that are not befitting of his post. The Governor’s Forum (NGF) – a forum that is not exactly smelling of roses itself – has thrown words that are not pleasant to the ears in his direction. It has to do with the Paris Fund and the alleged hasty payment of consultants.

It is not the first time the AG is being accused of hastily approving payment for consultants in the past. The Abacha funds come to mind. There is currently the Mambila Power Project where to pay or not to pay has become the question. All these payments are in millions of dollars. Which means the recipients become multi-millionaires with one pay cheque at the expense of Nigeria.

The AG and the smart lawyers in that office, must know of the deals that have gone on in the past seven years and possibly beyond. In moments of deep introspection, when they look at the mirror of the souls, they must know how many of these payments are really in the nation’s interest and how many are in the private interest. And when we look at the financial state of the country today where we are having difficulty in meeting our monetary obligations, they must ask themselves if the price that has been paid for private wealth has been worth it.

In today’s Nigeria, youths are kidnapping benefactors for money; sons are raping mothers for money rituals; husbands are beheading wives for money rituals. Everybody is bleeding the country however they can. Underlining this quest for wealth is the deadening of conscience. Just as the eminent SANs have had to deaden their consciences in order to let political robbers roam free. Just as the ex-Accountant General who allegedly made away with billions of Naira has had to deaden his conscience.

The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) held its 2022 Annual Conference some two weeks ago. It was not the most edifying of conventions as some developments did the NBA brand very little good. One of its guest speakers was Chimamanda Adichie, the writer whose elegant simplicity belies her prodigious intellect. This pride of the nation, who is already a hero to so many across the globe, spoke on ‘a Nation in search of heroes’.

It is instructive that one of her declared heroes, Dr Dora Akunniyi, was not known to have amassed wealth or compromised her principles in her many difficult assignments. But the real food for thought is to imagine how many of those eminent lawyers seated in that hall and listening to her speech, would consider themselves heroes in terms of ideals, to the next generation or to the country. And how many young people in the country would still want to be lawyers given the way the body of lawyers conducted itself at the closing stages of the convention.