Re: Ultimatum Issued To The Nigerian Law School By Kwara State House Of Assembly Speaker- My Personal Opinion By Sylvester Udemezue

Sylvester-Udemezue
Sylvester Udemezue

A January 03, 2018 news-report published on www.ilorin.info (and some other news platforms)was captioned, “Firdaus/Law School saga: Kwara Speaker challenges Law School to end silence,” and reported that the “Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ali Ahmad had challenged the Nigeria Law School to respond to allegation of “unlawful discrimination regarding to the Firdaus Amasa’s case, noting that continuous silence beyond the next 30 days will have become unacceptable.” The Hon Speaker who is also said to be an Associate Professor of Law reportedly described the incident as “unwarranted and unfortunate,” and stated that when he (the speaker) was called to Bar in New York, he was dressed only in suit without the wig and gown and a few Muslim ladies wore their Hijab without let or hindrance. The speaker then declared that Law School may have contravened two Appeal Court judgements that held that Hijab is a fundamental right of willing Muslim women. The Speaker expressed his confidence in the Committee of Justice of the Nigerian House of Representatives, headed by Rt. Hon. Razak Atunwa (who the Hon Speaker described as “our own”) to arrive at “a just resolution of this matter in a timely fashion.” (See https://www.ilorin.info/fullnews.php?id=22248). (See also http://aliahmad.com.ng/2017/12/31/firdaus-law-school-saga-kwara-speaker-challenges-law-school-to-end-silence). Below is strictly my personal legal opinion in reaction to the news report regarding the 30-day ultimatum.

Section 1 (1) of the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, 1976 (Nigeria) establishes the CLE (Council of Legal Education) as a body corporate ”with perpetual succession and a common seal.” Section 1 (2) then provides that it (the CLE) “shall have responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession” in Nigeria while section 1 (5) of the same Act confirms that the CLE shall have power to also “do such things as it considers expedient for the purpose of performing its functions” under the Act. I therefore believe the Nigerian Law School (NLS) or the Council of Legal Education  (CLE) doesn’t need to say anything with respect to allegations of “denial” of Call to bar to Miss Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam, for the following reasons:

(1). The Nigerian Law School (NLS) or the Council of Legal Education does not have any responsibility for Call to Bar in Nigeria and, for purposes of Call to bar, performs only such functions as may be delegated or assigned to it by the Nigerian Body of Benchers which is the body statutorily saddled with the responsibility for Call to bar. Accordingly, the NLS does not need to respond to “allegations” of “denial” of Call to bar raised only in the print and social media by any aspirant to the bar or member of the public.

(2). With due respect, it is very, very incorrect to say that the affected lady was  “denied” Call to bar. The correct thing to say is that she CHOSE, DECIDED of her own volition to not be called to the Bar. She had two options — (a). to comply with the extant rules and enjoy the privilege of being called to the bar or (b) to flout the rules and accordingly lose that privilege. The lady (either acting alone or on advice of I-do-not-know-who) voluntarily elected the latter. So how on earth can anyone be heard now to suggest she was denied Call to bar? Compare the following scenarios: a man who arrived the Islamic Holy Mosque for Jummah or Jumaat (Friday) prayers in his shoes, was asked to remove the shoes because the rule is that shoes are not allowed inside the mosque, during prayers, but the man refused to remove the shoes and was as a result not allowed entry into the mosque. Can the same man validly allege that he was denied entry into the mosque? First, he knew the entrance rules (which says, remove your shoes/footwears) and he nevertheless chose to not obey the rules. The implication is that he wasn’t interested in entering the mosque; else he would have simply complied with the rule that says remove your shoes before entry. It is the same thing with a man who, having bought his flight ticket on an Arik Airlines’ flight, decided to have some metal object on his body while boarding the plane. The man was thereupon stopped by airport officials who reminded him that metal objects are not allowed on board. The man however rejected this admonition, insisting that since he had bought the flight ticket, he was entitled to board the plane even with the metal object on his body. The officials didn’t allow him on board following his refusal to comply with the rules. Can the same man allege that he was denied entry into a plane he had paid for? So, I personally suggest it is high time we faced the truth — if a lady who had an opportunity of complying with simple secular, clearly non-discriminatory rules, in order to enjoy the privilege (not the right) of being called to the bar, chose to flout the rules and was as a result not accorded the privilege, the same lady cannot be heard (and no one else on or in her behalf can be heard) to complain that she was denied the privilege of being called to bar. *Truth is bitter, but it must be told at all times.* As Winston Churchill once said, “the truth is incontrovertible. malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is,” like the walls of Gibraltar, unshakable.

(3). The NLS or CLE, I believe, does not respond to Media rumours or propaganda. If anyone writes to the Law School seeking clarification on any issue or issues in respect of which the Law Shool is in a position to respond, I believe the Law School would respond appropriately, accordingly. So, as an Associate Professor of Law, the Speaker knows that the appropriate thing to do, if he wants to know what really happened on any issue he believes affects the Law School, is to write to the school and ask for some clarification, instead of resorting to media threats, ultimatum, and issuing the school a 30-day ultimatum, as reported! Or, is the press release by the respected Hon Speaker now a form of service on the Law School? Anyway, anything is possible in Nigeria wherein Media trials and convictions are the in-thing; the Law School is having its own fair share of the Media persecution vide propaganda, and unjustly so, in my opinion. But what can it do? Imagine, some people are just attacking and maligning the School — left, right, front, back and center — in the Media when a simple correspondence to the School, seeking clarification, would have been enough for them to get the clear picture. I personally didn’t expect an Associate Professor of Law to join the bandwagon of those who have decided to do everything on the Media—- trials, accusations, convictions, punishments, even service or letters and processes. With respect to service of letters, even when one chooses to do so in the Media (substituted Service), there still is a procedure —- you must obtain a leave of court.  Now, has that been done here? How come the Associate Professor of law is issuing an ultimatum to a public institution on the pages of newspapers? Quite disappointing!

(4). Now, I have some questions for the respected Hon Speaker and (Asso.) Professor of Law. He himself was called to bar several years ago. Congratulations, Sir. During his call to bar, did he see any female aspirant wearing any scarf of any sort, head-veil (including but not limited to hijab) for Call to bar? He didn’t. And he has never heard that that particular  rule has been changed! How come he did not invite or summon the lady under reference to his office and advise her like this: “Dear Miss Firdaus, I myself am a lawyer. Wearing of head veil or scarf during Call to bar is not allowed; it is a long-standing rules and practice which has not been altered. Please go and comply if you truly desire to be called?” Also, during the meeting with the lady, the Hon Speaker would take out some time and further educate the lady as follows:

(a). Call to bar is not Firdaus’ right; it is a privilege that is enjoyed only on fulfillment of set conditions and on compliance with set rules. So, if your refuse to obey extant rules and are thereupon not called to bar, you cannot validly maintain any claim based on violation or denial of your rights;

(b).  Success at Bar Final is not the only condition precedent to admission into the Nigerian bar. Beside passing the bar final exams, an aspirant to Nigerian Bar must as a matter of necessity ALSO (i) pass the mandatory portfolio assessment organized by the NLS; (ii) take part in all the mandatory three law dinners (dinner terms) organized by the BOB (Body of Benchers); and most importantly (iii) *be of good conduct/behaviour,* as captured in the term “fit and proper” which has been well defined in the case of *OKONJO v. COUNCIL OF LEGAL EDUCATION.* [see Okonjo v. Council of Legal Education, FCA/L16/78 delivered on March 12 1979, 1979 Digest of Appeal Cases (DAC) 28)]

(c). Dear Firdaus, you’re not the only Muslim law aspirant in Nigeria. So, stop fanning the embers of religious sentiment, fanaticism and bigotry to advance a clearly legal and professional conduct matter/issue.

(d). Membership of the Nigerian bar is voluntary. Everyone is welcome. But anyone who aspires to belong to the Nigerian Bar has a duty to comply with the existing conditions precedent as set out in paragraph (b) above in addition to rules and regulations made pursuant to powers contained in section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975 (as amended). One’s religious obligations (that if wearing of head veil or scarf is obligatory in one’s religion) do not excuse one from full compliance with mandatory rules of a voluntary organization the membership of which one has voluntarily subscribed to. What some of us do not yet appreciate is that one’s assumption of religious obligations is not itself mandatory but voluntary. Specifically, that keeping or observing of any religious precept (such as wearing of scarf (head veil) by Catholic Rev Sisters, Body veil  or yellow apron by Lords’ Chosen adherents, Cassock and alb by Catholic Rev Fathers, hijab by some Muslim ladies, barefoot by CCC or C & S members, etc.) is mandatory for such religious adherent or groups is only because the affected adherent has voluntarily agreed to submit himself or herself to the rules/precepts. It a self-imposed rule. So one is not permitted to impose one’s voluntarily assumed religious obligations on an association to which one aspires to belong. That’s the main issue here, in Firdaus’s matter. QED!

(e). Procedures, practices, conventions and rules for legal education, call to bar, professional conduct, and law practice obviously differ from country to country. The rules and practice for Call to Bar in Nigeria are not the same with the rules and practice in the USA, UK, Kenya, etc. Every country maintains and operates its own set of rules and regulations (based on its own peculiarities), which must be strictly adhered to by anyone aspiring to be admitted to the legal profession in that country. Speaking specifically, the relevant authorities in New York (USA) prescribe rules for call to the New York bar while relevant regulatory authorities in Nigeria prescribe the rules and preconditions for admission to the Nigerian Bar. Ditto for Kenya. It’s purely a pointless waste of time for any one to suggest that the rules regulating call to bar in far away New York or Kenya should now be extended to Nigerians in Nigeria or should displace the extant rules in Nigeria and to now become the rules in Nigeria. Such is unheard of—- in law, in reason, and in common sense! New York is New York and is not (and will never be) Nigeria. The rules are different. If any aspirant prefers the rules of the New York bar to those of Nigeria, let that aspirant move over to New York and get called to bar there and start practice of law there, and leave us alone in Nigeria. If anyone wants to be called in Nigeria, that one must observe Nigerian rules. Nigerian rules alone (until changed) govern call to bar in Nigeria. New York rules regulate New York Call. New York rules can’t even apply to nearby Washington or Ohio, or California let alone applying to Nigeria. So, with due respect, it’s purely unsound, extremely untenable and grossly unfounded for anyone to argue that because head veils and scarfs are allowed in New York during Call to New York bar, veils and scarfs should be or are therefore allowed in Nigeria during Call to the Nigerian bar. It’s the worst argument any lawyer can offer in court or outside of it. Such is horrendous. It’s like asking that provisions of the USA Constitution should apply to Nigerians in Nigeria. Why not then also ask that President Donald Trump of the USA should extend his rulership or leadership to cover Nigeria? This would then mean that Nigeria (a sovereign country) does not need to have its own President since the US presidency covers Nigerians in Nigeria. Bizarre!!!  Absurd!!!

(f). With respect, the two Court of Appeal decisions upholding the right of a pupil or student to wear hijab or veil to lectures or classes in a public secondary school in certain areas in Nigeria do not at all apply to the Firdaus scenario. First, those cases do not govern everything and all activities and events in Nigeria. They have very limited application. Second, the two cases would not apply here because the present scenario is not about religion but solely about observing the limitations or obligations incumbent on a subscriber to the membership  of a voluntary organization or association. The present case is about freedom of association and the limitations or restrictions it imposes on one’s Individual, sectional or even religious rights or precepts. Accordingly, the applicable case here is CHINWO V. OWHONDA, also of the court of Appeal, and host is other cases, laws, rules and regulations and practices.

The above are what one had reasonably expected from an Hon Speaker of a State House of Assembly who happens also to also be a professor of law. But since he has (like some few others) chosen media trials and issuing an ultimatum on the Law School, I have nothing more to say other than to say, may God help and guide us all. I however love the manner the Hon Speaker ended his press release/interview. It is awesome. He said, in conclusion: *”I have confidence in the Committee of Justice of the House of Representatives, led by our own Rt. Hon. Razak Atunwa to drive at a just resolution of this matter in a timely fashion.”*  This means that, at the end, it’s the “just resolution” of the matter that is important and that would prevail, not the predilections of individuals or groups. And the justice of the case must  have due regard to, and take into account, all and everything, including law, practice and common sense. But one thing the expected “just resolution” would not recognize is religious sentiments or predilections because we operate a secular or “multi-religious” state wherein no one religion ought or be given any “right” or preference against or over and above the rights of members of the other coexisting religions. Besides, a “just resolution” would recognize that while the CLE/ NLS and of the BOB are not entitled to make rules or regulations that run contrary to provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, yet, it is settled beyond question, even by the courts, that no other authority has powers or right make rules or alter rules already properly made or issued  by the CLE pursuant to its powers under the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, 1976, for purposes of legal education of aspirants to the Nigeria bar or by the BOB pursuant to its powers as enshrined its powers under section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, as amended. SECTION 3 (1) of the *LEGAL PRACTITIONERS ACT, CAP L11, LFN, 2004* establishes the Nigerian Body of Benchers to be a body of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria and to be responsible for the formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners.  SECTION 3 (5) (e) of the same Act provides that the Benchers may make regulations — providing, either generally or in respect of any particular case, for the discharge of the functions conferred on the Benchers under this Act. Finally, SECTION 4 (1) (c) provides that subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall be entitled to be called to the Bar if, and only if he satisfies the Benchers that he is of *good character.*

I respectfully wish to emphasize the last point (good character) and to remind us that only the BOB and the CLE and not any other authority have powers to determine which aspirant is of good character and hence entitled to enjoy or be accorded the privilege of Call to car or who is not of good character and as such is not fit and proper to enjoy such privilege. The present (Firdaus’ matter) has nothing to do with religion. With due respect, it is pure mischief to attempt to drag religion into it.

May God/Allah bless and sustain the noble, orderly legal profession in Nigeria. May He also bless all Nigerians and the Nigerian state. Finally, may Almighty God/Allah himself in His infinite grace and mercy rescue us, Nigerians, and Nigeria from the dangerous and debilitating influence of our own conscious or unconscious misapplication and misinterpretation of religion. Dear God/Allah, you gave us religion and spirituality as tools for building bridges of humanity, orderliness, friendship, love, peace and progress because you know (as echoed by Suzy Kassem in her famous book, Rise Up and Salute the Sun)

that we all, Christians, Muslims, Traditionalists, Buddhists, Jewish, etc., are together and collectively the flowers that make up the Creator’s vast and beautiful garden. God, when you gave us religion, you had expected that religion and spirituality must have their proper place and limits in our lives. You didn’t expect us to transform religion into a division agent. God, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God, you well know (as Amit Ray, an Indian author, later wrote in the book, Nonviolence: The Transforming Power) that “spirituality is not making walls in the names of religions and prophets but to make more roads and bridges to reconnect with humanity.”

Therefore, if we are to become true global citizens, we all must (as suggested by Suzy Kassem) individually and collectively abandon all notions of “otherness” and instead embrace “togetherness” and “oneness.” This is chiefly because “in the future, after all is said and done, all these religions will sink and be forgotten; only God will then remain stand-still and unshakeable! (apologies to Mehmet Murat ildan).

This is purely a PERSONAL LEGAL OPINION, respectfully and disinterestedly offered by me:

Sylvester Udemezue.
(03/01/2018)

Udemezue is a senior lecturer at the Nigerian Law School.