The ethics of the Nigerian legal profession tell law students, and lawyers, that it is unethical for Nigerian lawyers to solicit their services to clients unless they are approached. We are forbidden to go out there to grab the cases by their necks. We are also told that it is unethical for Nigerian lawyers to advertise anything beyond modestly or discuss their matters with the press while they are in court, and not to flaunt their success afterwards. So we leave the Nigerian law school quite uncertain how we are to become Harvey Spector, Olivia Pope or Superman in a Nigeria where success and financial fulfilment flows only from reasonable conformity, even when you are self-employed. So as lawyers we are out here in the world on our virtual Nigerian thrones waiting for the bruised, broken and violated clients to approach us. Do we really?
What if they do not come? What if they believe that lawyers are liars? What if they believe that we are all as corrupt and exploitative as the ones who violate them? What if they can’t afford our fees or our presence? What if listening to them cannot afford us the lives, assets and exotic trips abroad we see flaunted by our learned ‘brothers’ and seniors? As if this is not bad enough, what if they are the very ones the society has prejudged as evil, miscreant, unreasonable, vile, and criminal? What if we our jobs as associates , partners, paid legal staffs, paralegals, assistants, public office holders, legal assistants, personal assistants, fathers, teachers, mentors, pastors, friends and lovers are hinged on avoiding, ignoring and walking away from them, even if they approach us?
But you Mike. You have crossed the line. Fortunately for us, not in the way that violate the scripted Rules of Professional Conduct, but in the way that mocks, taunts and slams the unscripted ones in the face- the ones that reek of bigotry, prejudice and indifference to the cause of vulnerable people.
I did not know of Joseph Terriah Ebah and Ifeanyi Orazulike’s case until recently. I confess that prior to being called to bar, I was not one to sink into verbose, thick volume law reports, ceaseless news and current affairs save for narrowed down and deliberate research purposes. Interestingly, I did not read about your participation in these cases from the law reports, but from blog and online news posts dating as far back as 2014.
Mr. Joseph’s case did not go so well. I would have been shocked if it did, given the fiercely homophobic legal climate at the time. The clouds are still dark by the way. But learning of the victory in the case of Ifeanyi Orazulike v. Inspector General of Police and Abuja Environmental Protection Board of last month at the Federal High Court Abuja, Nigeria, I now see colours in the Nigerian sky. There is hope. Fortunately for us, someone at the bench sees that a right is a right, and a human is a human regardless of where he /she is or what he/she is doing. And some one at the bar is firm enough to fight for it.
Mike, I am proud of you, not because you are the fore-front of Nigerian LGBTIA rights litigation but because you have insisted on staying there, and fiercely so, in spite of the odds, insecurity, snail-pace of our judicial system, pressure from the public and from within. You have stood strong and you have seen Ifeanyi’s case to the end. It has come out well. We have been heard and seen.
Before now, I have not thought of the Nigerian court rooms as a place where LGBTIA rights could stand, be heard and protected, at least for now. But you have shamed my pessimism. And I’m all the more blessed for it, we are all blessed for it.
I know that the Nigerian LGBTIA rights battle is far from being over. I know that not all the violations will get to court. But the ones that must, must. I have a role model in you sir. And I hope to learn more as time advances. You have just proven to me more that Nigeria is a place where anything and anyone can happen.
You remind me of a thought that haunted me years back: an activist is not activist for his gifts, opportunities or compliance with the ethics of human rights, but for his stubbornness, resilience and resolution to cross most of the lines. You have crossed this line. This means that we have crossed. This means that we can cross.
I know that the Rules of Professional Conduct will frown at you for bragging, if you did. But it does not say that I cannot brag for you. So here goes: You are a hot, powerful and cut-throat dagger of a lawyer, activist and ally. If only you can reproduce yourself, so that this battle can swish-swish twice as fast, twice as powerful, twice as effective. And even in multiples of three to hundreds.
I think Superman is quite overrated. Harvey Spector and Olivia Pope, not Nigerian enough to stand this heat. So I have decided that when next I don my wig and gown in Nigeria, or anywhere in the world, I will be mirroring you, inshallah- if I can find the stamina to successfully pull it off.
We still have rules, Mike- the ugly unscripted ones. For some reason they are an inalienable part of our bar. But then, what is a fight without a scar? Sex without a burn? Heights without a rush? And activism without the barriers and ‘do-nots’?
Thanks for winning this, for standing out. For showing us, me. You are God sent. You and all that you are and stand for.