Book: The man, the law and the state
Author: Segun Onakoya
Reviewer: Olanrewaju Onadeko
Price: Not stated
IN this book, Mr. Segun Onakoya (Life Bencher) takes the reader through the history of the legal profession from orators of ancient Athens, to its adoption in Nigeria from our colonial past, to what now operates, including our court system and how well we have fared.
This publication is not written solely as an autobiography, but an admixture of it and other related issues to its title – The Man, The Law and The State. After over forty years of legal practice, Mr. Onakoya, a past General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association takes stock of what the profession was when he joined it and where it has moved.
Of interest are his comments on corruption in the Bar and ethics within the Bar, including the desirability or otherwise of an incumbent President of the Nigerian Bar Association accepting to serve as Attorney-General of the Federation, during his tenure as President.
The book takes on issues from the fundamental duty of a lawyer, through ethics in legal practice, to client/ counsel relationship. It also traverses the preparation for a case, settlement out of court; and what advice to give a client when the case is lost. The author shows a mastery of the profession as a thorough legal practitioner.
Of note is the acknowledgement of some quintessential members of the profession, who had straddled our legal landscape, in some cases almost, unnoticed. Mention is also made of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria controversy, which he observes now to be more of a “project” than “honour;” and seeks a remedy in the form of reform.
The ever increasing number of new lawyers is also addressed, with exhortation that the Nigerian Bar Association should be pro-active in the awareness drive of what lawyers do; and can do in diverse fields, by constructively engaging the general populace.
He is of the view that law should be a graduate course; and admission to the Nigerian Law School should be by competitive entrance examination. This, he believes, is the way to ensure reasonable control of entrants into the profession.
The book: “The Man, The Law and The State” contains a prologue, eight chapters, a photo gallery, and sixteen appendices. For free flow of thoughts and ideas, the main chapters go thus:
The Man in the Law (chapter two); the Law in the Man (chapter three); Other men in the Law (chapter four); Preserving our Native Laws and Custom (chapter five); The Law and the State (chapter six); The Man on the State of the Nation (chapter seven); and Extras (chapter eight).
The Appendices are in the main, speeches, newspaper interviews and publications of the author; in appendices two to twelve. The after dinner speech of Hon. Justice Ishola Oluwa (rtd) at the tenth anniversary re-union of the author’s class-set at the Nigerian Law School (appendix one). There is also appendix thirteen, which is the speech (advice) of the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola to the people of Nigeria on June 12, 1994. This is followed by appendix fourteen – the five count indictment on which the late Chief M.K.O Abiola was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja for the offence of treason. The last appendix is the list of Lawyers who had worked in the author’s Law Firm of Segun and Segun Legal Practitioners.
Chapter one aptly captioned – “My Roots,” contains details of the early life of Mr. Onakoya, (a true native of Ishasha, Ijebu-Ode), from birth at Imodi Ijebu in 1940. His early education was at Wesley School, Ijebu-Ode, and later Olu-Iwa College, Ijebu-Ode, now Adeola Odutola College, a School with the famous motto of” “Aitan oko le kile” “(a dunghill does not reject any refuse). He clarifies the well known corrupted addition to that motto” Olu-Iwa o komokomo,” meaning Olu-Iwa does not reject any child. This chapter also contains the exposure of the author to three religious faiths – Christianity, Islam and traditional religion, an exposure that gave him the opportunity to author four series of the book: “Jesus Christ through the Qu’ran.”
In chapter two, “The Man in The Law,” Mr. Onakoya gives detailed account of how he proceeded to England in 1963 to study Law at Holborn College of Law, London, as well as his attendance of Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1971 and Call to the Bar in 1972.
This is followed by his years of practice of law, at the Bar. It is his view that there is a lot more to do in ensuring the unity of the Bar. For good measure, he is of the opinion that the status of the Attorney-General of the Federation has changed from being the Lawyer of the Government to the Lawyer of the President. This is a consequence of our Presidential System of government which makes the Attorney-General an employee of the President. His analysis and conclusion on this issue is a food for thought.
Reference is made to his contribution to the growth of the Bar, with special mention of the mentoring of aspirants to the Bar (Students of Nigerian Law School), during their placement period at his Law Chambers.
In chapter three – “The Law in The Man,” the author dwells on the practice of Law, especially the congestion in our courts, concluding that even with the positive efforts so far made; we are still far away from the solution.
From the fundamental duty of a Lawyer as a Minister in the Temple of Justice, to the Ethics in Legal Practice, the first of which is that you do not fabricate facts for your client, the author takes the reader through the Client/Lawyer relationship and preparation for a case. Other areas covered include settlement out of court, disagreement between Lawyers and Clients, as well as Legal Fees and payment of costs. His opinion on the appointment of Judges of superior courts of record is quite revealing. The author – displays a mastery of law and practice as an active participant in the legal process.
In chapter four – “The Law in the Man”, the author pays tribute to those members of the Legal Profession who inspired him and made their mark, attracting admiration from those following in their trail. Of note are Otunba Adeyanju Osijo, late Chief M. Ola Yusuf, Mrs. Hairat Balogun, O.O.N., (Life Bencher) late Chief T.O.S Benson, S.A.N., Hon. Justice Dolapo Akinsanya (rtd).
He acknowledges the “Big names in the Bar,” including late Chief F.R.A Williams, C.F.R., S.A.N., late Mr. Kehinde Sofola, C.O.N., S.A.N., late Mr. Tanni Molajo, S.A.N., late Mr. Kehinde Onafowokan, S.A.N., and late Mr. Harry Lardner, S.A.N. Among the living are Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, S.A.N., Chief R.O.A. Akinjide, C.F.R., S.A.N. and Chief B.O. Benson, S.A.N.
Chapter five is on: “Preserving our Native Laws and Custom;” wherein he strongly advocates the establishment of the Customary Court of Appeal in the South Western States. He listed ten advantages of the proposal, including the reduction of incidences of miscarriage of justice.
In chapter six: “The Law and the State,” the author discusses the Legal Profession through the years, the Body of Benchers – Body of Distinction, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria controversy, and employment opportunity for teeming Lawyers among others. He advocates the inclusion of senior members of the Bar (some of whom might have held offices of the Nigerian Bar Association in the past), in activities and affairs of the profession. He notes that officers of the Nigerian Bar Association in the past, respected elders and that enured to the Association’s advantage, and strengthen the Bar.
Chapter seven: “The Man on the State of the Nation,” discusses the nation including politics and the role of the author in national politics.
Chapter eight tagged: “Extras,” is an account of the author’s involvement with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) – the Premier Chamber of Commerce in West Africa. It was at L.C.C.I. that the author had the privilege of being the Chairman of its Professional Practice Group, through which a Code of Ethics was formulated for L.C.C.I. members.
As it is with autobiographies, the author may be “accused” and even found “guilty” of being subjective in places. This is not a surprise because it can hardly be otherwise. The positive side of an account of this nature is its ability to put on record the facts of one’s life, views on topical issues (including professional involvement) as we have in this case; and opinions about others as he has carefully appraised in this book. All these are the inconvertible addition of an autobiographer to knowledge and discourse, even if controversial.
Mr. Segun Onakoya deserves to be congratulated for his bold contribution to knowledge via this publication for posterity. Bold in the sense that he did not shy away from any area of necessary coverage, even where seemingly complex on diversity of views.
This is a book to read for its authoritative contents, current appraisal and diversity of topics. Indeed it is a compendium of history, autobiography and considered views of the author. It is written in simple prose for enjoyable reading. Without doubt, there is a lot to learn from this well written account of a committed legal practitioner.
In his words in chapter two, Mr. Onakoya noted with passion.
“Forty years ago, I saw and we fought the good fight. Now I prepare to slow down from the legal scenery on the stage gallantly… Even now that I am no longer on active service on the field, the passion still runs thickly in my veins. The profession cannot be extricated from my blood.”
These can only come from a Lawyer in the true sense who also stated that:
“I left for the United Kingdom in 1963 – to read my dream course, law.”
It is our prayer and hope that he will live long in good health to publish the second volume of this book to mark fifty years of his presence at the Bar.