The event is an annual ritual undertaken by theNigerianLawSchool. It involves the presentation of successful candidates for call to the Nigerian Bar. This year’s edition was initially scheduled to take place at the International Conference Centre,Abujaon Tuesday, January 17, 2012. A new date of Tuesday, February 14, 2012 was later chosen because of the crippling strike embarked upon by Nigerians in January to protest the sudden astronomic rise in the price of petrol.
The new date, February 14, is significant as a day to share love, empathy and compassion among people. Generally called ‘Lovers’ Day’, the date evokes some innermost feeling of love, hope and emotional fulfillment. Many people trooped to the International Conference Centre,Abuja, the venue of the Call to Bar ceremony, basking in the euphoria of what the day stood for. The happy families had seen their children and wards pass through the rigorous five years of studying Law at the university, especially in Nigeria. They had also seen them through the excruciating but mandatory one-year study at theNigerianLawSchool.
For the students, going through the law school is like taking a trip to ‘hell’ and back. The courses are heavily packed, and the lecturers, very ‘stingy’ with marks. After burning the midnight oil or the candle at both ends, the Call to Bar for the budding lawyers is the icing on the cake – a whole six years’ bake. It is a cause for joy and celebration for their families. At least, that was the mood last Tuesday as many families, their friends and other well-wishers headed for the International Conference Centre resplendent in one of their best attires.
The event was probably the first visit by some of the families to the imposing edifice that has hosted several events of international significance and repute. Personally, I have been there several times. My first visit was in October 1992 when the Federal Road Safety Commission, under the leadership of Dr. Olu Agunloye, hosted an “International Conference on Road Safety Experience and Practice inAfrica” between October 26 and 29, 1992 at the venue. The conference was attended by several experts and traffic control officers fromAfricaand across the globe. It was a huge success.
Since then, I have attended many other events at the edifice. My last attendance before last Tuesday’s was the 2010 Annual International Conference of the African Public Relations Associations, APRA, of which I am a senior member. In all my appearances at the conference centre, I have never witnessed the type of ugly incidents that played out last Tuesday. Though the Call to Bar ceremony has come and gone, it left a sour taste in the mouth.
From what I gathered, the event was slated for the conference centre for purely security reasons in view of the threat posed by the Boko Haram insurgents who have gone on a bombing spree all over the place. I was told that it was the first time the event was being held outside the precinct of the Law Schools either inAbujaor inLagos.Abujahas since displacedLagosas the natural choice of the organisers because of the centrality of the city to all the geo-political zones of the country.
But if the choice of the conference centre was predicated on security considerations, those considerations were almost made nonsense of by the recalcitrant posture of the security agents, mainly soldiers, who mounted sentry at the gates. The fact that the event was split into two – morning and afternoon sessions – did not curb the surge of expectant families who came to witness the admission of their children and wards into the Hall of Fame for “learned” men in the country.
I remember many years ago when a hot argument ensued between one of my friends, Dare Adejumo, a journalist, and a lawyer to my landlord, who had come to pick up a cheque for rent in my office. What started as a small joke later degenerated into a shouting match between Dare, an Akoko man, and the lawyer, an Ekiti man, whose name I have now safely forgotten. The kernel of the hot exchange on that day was the insistence by the lawyer that Dare could not “rightly” (or was it legally) address him as “my learned friend”. This did not go down well with Dare who challenged the lawyer’s audacity to dismiss him as just educated but not learned. If I had not quickly intervened and physically separated the two of them, as they had gone as far as pointing fingers at each other, only God knows what would have happened. Since that incident, I have cautiously watched lawyers doing their own thing without much interference from me even though some of them could make you vomit with the attitude they put up.
‘If learned men could have such a poor showing, what more is expected from those of us who are readily branded as just being educated?’
At any rate, at the gates of the conference centre last Tuesday, the crowd that was waiting to gain access to the afternoon session was as large as the one trooping out of the place after the morning session. My son, Fabian, was slated for the afternoon session. The previous night, he had hinted that we needed to get there on time to avoid any unpleasant experience. According to the invitation card, guests were expected to be seated at 2.15 pm or thereabout. We got to the venue at about 1pm and behold, there was a sea of heads, all trying to gain access or exit the place. It was an organised chaos or total confusion.
The soldiers were overwhelmed. One of them, obviously the oldest among them, who was profusely dripping in his own sweat as if he had just emerged from a swimming pool, was menacingly dangling his assault rifle. My greatest fear for the crowd that had massed by the gate, pushing and shoving, was the fear of accidental discharge from the rifle, as he occasionally pointed it at the crowd in a recurring feat of aggravated anger. From my vantage point, I could notice that some of his colleagues were also overwhelmed with fear as they watched, helplessly, the ugly scenario. When he was not satisfied with the way he menacingly dangled his rifle, the soldier reached for a thick iron chain with which he consistently hit the crowd made up of gaily dressed elderly men and women, some of who were old enough to be his parents. It was a sad and pathetic retrogression to animal kingdom.
At a point, the tenacious crowd managed to push the gates open and rushed in. by this time, the soldier’s anger had reached effervescent point as he resorted to flogging people with the iron chain. In the melee that followed, two elderly women in their late sixties or early seventies, fell on the tarred floor at the entrance while other people were matching on them as the soldiers attempted to close the gates. Even magistrates and judges who came to witness the event had a rough deal in the hands of the unruly soldiers.
After the episode at the entrance gates, gaining entrance into the expansive hall where the ceremony proper was billed to take place was equally a Herculean task. By and large, what happened on that day was an eyesore, very much unbecoming of an event organised by learned men. And if learned men could have such a poor showing, what more is expected from those of us who are readily branded as just being educated?
Perhaps, there is need to have a meeting point between learned men and educated people. Otherwise, going by the appalling organisation of that event, and I am told that it is a recurring decimal, how really learned are these learned men?