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Learned, Noble, Comrade

Most readers were particularly irked that I omitted lawyers from my list. A Nigerian lawyer calls himself Barrister so-and-so, Esquire. He adds after it, “Solicitor…

Most readers were particularly irked that I omitted lawyers from my list. A Nigerian lawyer calls himself Barrister so-and-so, Esquire. He adds after it, “Solicitor and Advocate.” The big ones add ‘SAN’ in front of their names.
I used to think that lawyers are unpopular only in Nigeria until TIME magazine did a lead story in 1978 titled “Those lawyers!” America is the home of litigation; it has an estimated 1.2 million lawyers and there would have been more if not that law is not offered there as a first degree. One must acquire another degree before he is qualified to study law. The TIME cover story was illustrated with a bespectacled lawyer poring over a large book and saying, “A certiorari, whereupon the party of the first part indemnifies the party of the second part, pursuant to the third clause of the above mentioned paragraph.” Chei!
From their first year in a Law Faculty, Nigerian students begin to sport an arrogant gait because their lecturers tell them that theirs is the learned profession. Why lawyers think they are more learned than everyone else beats my imagination. If it is because some Law books are fat, I have seen even fatter books of medicine and botany. Indeed, one of the fattest books I ever saw in a university library was Flora of Tasmania, a detailed list of all the plants found in the small island off the Australian coast. Talk about lack of relevance.
The reason usually offered by Law students to justify their claim to being learned men is that when a judge sits over a case involving professionals in any field, he acquires enough knowledge of the field to be able to adjudicate in the dispute. Is that something? I will rather have the justice system in revolutionary Mozambique where all trials were conducted by wise old laymen. The idea was that truth is not a technicality; wise old laymen can listen to all sides and determine who is telling the truth.
One often gets the impression that law is the opposite of justice. The modern “justice” system is steeped in technicality, much of it designed to subvert the cause of justice. The large signs adorning our ‘High Court of Justice’ ought to be changed to High Court of Law. When a man is called “Senior Advocate of Nigeria,” is he advocating for the truth or merely for the law even when it subverts the cause of truth?
Anyway, a judge is not always wise about other professions. I remember an old episode of the British television series Crown Court that my brothers and I used to watch in the 1980s. A gangling businessman was called to the witness box and the lawyer asked him to state his profession. He said, “I am a professional gambler.” The Crown Court judge, who casts the image of a conservative English gentleman, glared at the witness through thick eye glasses and sarcastically asked, “What is the difference between a professional and an amateur gambler?” Without batting an eyelid the witness said, “The number of times you win, My Lord.”
I often think about the doctrine of client-counsel confidentiality as one issue that pricks the conscience. A lawyer who is defending an accused murderer, for example, could ask his client to tell him the truth of what happened. The accused person could confess to the lawyer that he actually murdered the person. Rather than run to the police with that information, the lawyer will instead sit down with his client and plot how to exploit loopholes in the law in order to spring the accused man from the murder rap. This is not the hallmark of learning, in my opinion.  After all, in the days of Nazi Germany, some Roman Catholic priests ran to the Gestapo and reported anyone who confessed to having committed a crime against Der Fuhrer.
These days in Nigeria, a lawyer who is defending an election winner might look at the total evidence and see that his client did not actually win the election. Instead of telling him to go and return the Certificate of Return, the lawyer will sit down with his client and plot how to retain the stolen mandate and essentially subvert the voters’ will. Is that the hallmark of learning?  
Many readers also complained that medical doctors escaped too lightly in my last write up. You see, men with knowledge of medicine have been called doctors for hundreds of years and I did not want to question the wisdom of something that has lasted that long. The medical profession is noble because it involves saving lives and healing the sick. Only that Nigerian doctors often place other things ahead of saving lives, such as pursuit of fat allowances. You often wonder how anyone who subscribed to the Hippocratic Oath will go on an indefinite strike nearly every year and abandon patients in hospital wards, no matter the merits of his demand from employers. Any patient who dies as a result of a strike cannot be brought back to life. If indeed human life matters, how can the allowances earned from a prolonged strike taste sweet in a doctor’s mouth?  
There are still other less noble elements to medicine. For one, doctors are generally arrogant. In my secondary school days I once provoked a doctor to anger when I said “I have got malaria.” The doctor believes that no one but himself could tell if you have got malaria. This, when an adult person in Nigeria must have been down with malaria at least 100 times during his lifetime and very well knows the symptoms.
I once complained to my Polish lecturer Professor Robert Miodonski that Nigerian doctors are arrogant and he said, “It is the same all over the world. It is part of their training. They need it in order to make life and death decisions.” Although I respect Miodonski’s knowledge, I still wondered, what kind of training is it that purposely sets a man out to be arrogant? You need self confidence to make tough decisions, yes, but arrogance is something else.
Despite all their self assuredness, you often wonder whether doctors really know what they are talking about. I say this because issues in human health that have acquired the status of gospel truth are sometimes reversed. Think of a recent TIME magazine cover story which said doctors now think dietary fat is not the killer that they had been saying it was for the last half century. In the 1990s when TIME magazine used to publish a brief section on latest medical research, I noticed contradictions in research findings by different experts. Today a report will say egg is bad for your health, tomorrow another research will show that it is beneficial. How do we know that 30 years from now, doctors will not reverse themselves and say that cigarette smoking is good for your health?
Still other readers accused me of overlooking the common Nigerian title “Comrade” because of my own Marxist-Leninist past. They could be right there. Comrade is one of the most nauseating prefixes that adorn Nigerian names these days precisely because it is meaningless. In the heydays of left wing politics, members of Communist parties referred to one another as “comrade” in the struggle.  
In Nigeria, this tradition has been carried forward by labour unions, especially. Every Nigerian labour aristocrat is called a comrade. Labour union chieftains in Nigeria are more majestic than traditional rulers. I was standing at the Kawo motor park in Kaduna one day when a Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers’ [NURTW] official rushed in, grabbed all the day’s collections and urgently sent a boy to buy foodstuff, meat and fish and deliver it to the Chairman’s house. Talk about comradeship.

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