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I consider it a huge privilege to be invited on this auspicious occasion of our Chief Shepherd’s birthday to deliver the keynote address on the topic: “The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer: Challenges and faith Building opportunities” I was tempted, upon reviewing the topic, to slightly adjust it to accommodate the expected roles of 21st Century Catholic Lawyers at a most trying moment in the history of our Country. The Legal profession now occupies the centre stage in the resolution of electoral disputes from the 2023 General Elections.

Consequently, the Bar and the Bench are clearly in the eye of the storm and the judiciary, particularly, is on trial. I however, resisted the temptation because the topic of the essay, as restrictive as it seems, also encompasses the roles of the 21st Century Catholic Lawyer and the bounteous opportunities the Church offers to the practice of law.

These opportunities are available to both the Bar and Bench as we strive to measure up to the moral, ethical and statutory standards we all subscribed to at our Call to Bar. Whether we sit at the Bar or on the Bench, we bear the responsibility for a fair and just society.

The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer therefore, needs to appreciate the uniqueness of his position first as a Catholic, and second, as a lawyer in the society. It is most challenging, if not impossible to effectively function in the above capacities without being a member of National Association of Catholic Lawyers (hereinafter referred to as “NACL”).

Every 21st Century Catholic Lawyer should endeavour to be a member of NACL. If you are not a member of NACL, then you still belong to the “old school”. In making this declaration, I am not oblivious of the provision of Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which guarantees freedom of Association to everyone. Our Courts have expanded this provision to mean that nobody can be compelled to become a member of any association against his will.

There are several cases on this point but the Supreme Court decision in Agbai v. Okogbu (1991) 7 NWLR (Pt. 204) 391 appears to be one of the earliest decisions of the Apex Court on this point that no one can be compelled to join an association against his will.

However, the overriding importance of being a member of NACL which contends with the above legal position is demonstrated by the laudable objectives of NACL contained in Article 6 of NACL Constitution, paragraphs A-M but with specific reference to paragraphs C, D, E and F reproduced as follows:

“c. To promote intellectual, social and spiritual interest of members;

d. To take up the many legal issues and constitutional challenges facing the country and to engage in corporate actions that have substantial positive bearing on the moral, spiritual and social development of people in Lagos Archdiocese or any of the constituent parts as may from time to time arise or be spelt out by the Holy See, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) or the Archbishop of Lagos and the National.

e. To place our expertise and professional experience at the disposal of the Society at large and the Catholic Church in its mission of evangelization and spread of the social teaching of the Church.
f. To promote the spiritual growth of members of the Association and help members live out the Gospel Values, which should be reflected in their lives and work”

The question then may be posed as to why a 21st Century Catholic Lawyer will not be proud to join his fellow learned colleagues in furthering the objectives of the Gospel of freedom with his legal knowledge through the priceless platform provided by NACL?

In James Chapter 1 verse 17, the Holy Book puts it succinctly thus:

“Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning”

Again, St. Paul in Ephesians 2 verse 10 was blunt as follows:

“God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do”.

We need to internalize this in our practice of law because before we were lawyers, most of us were first Catholics. We benefited through the instrumentality of the Church in learning ethical values and morals which prepared us in our teenage years for our current status as lawyers.
The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer is plagued with lots of uncertainties upon being called to the Bar. His fantasy of utopian life of luxury and prosperity, once he is called to the Bar, begins to dispel, and reality gradually sets in.

One of the highlights of this presentation is that every 21st Century Catholic Lawyer should endeavour to do pupilage of not less than five years before setting up his own private practice. The pupilage should be with a good senior or an established Law Firm and he should not be fixated on the initial monetary remunerations. For you to be able to advise the Church properly, you need basic professional trainings many of which are not taught in the Universities/Law School but acquired, over time, through working in Chambers or representing clients in Court. The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer needs to build his confidence to be able to deliver maximally for the Church and his clients. Confidence gaining is not taught in School.

A lawyer needs courage to stand before a Judge in the presence of his fellow colleagues, his clients and the general public to advocate his Client’s case and convince the Judge against his adversary. As a beginner, he is sure to be cutting his words at a point or not sure of appropriate response he should make in certain situations. Undergoing pupilage with a good senior or an established Law Firm will help him resolve these professional nightmares for beginners.

As he undergoes pupilage, he would have learnt how to conduct legal research, prepare legal documents and processes for filings, conduct trials in Courts and see how documents are either admitted or rejected; he would have learnt the process of deploying the lethal weapon of cross-examination in destroying unjust and hopeless cases by exposing the falsity of claims; he would also have learnt how to make various interlocutory applications and learn preparation of Final Address as well as the appropriate ways of addressing the Court.

From the benefits of hindsight, if a 21st Century Lawyer trains in an established Law Firm or with a good senior, there is almost 65% assurance that he will be almost like his master, and even more. If the 21st Century Catholic Lawyer is focused and committed, he would within five years had practiced through all levels of Courts from the Magistracy to Supreme Court and would have prosecuted or defended cases against some of the brightest lawyers in the land.

My early encounter with some of the best lawyers in the Country, helped build my confidence and made me fearless in Court. The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer who works in an established Law Firm and is interested in taking Silk, will find it easier to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria at a younger age, like my good self. The simple reason is that he would, in the course of his employment, even surpass the necessary requirements for the award. He will not look for briefs or cases because he will have more than enough and his clientele base will be diverse.

In my own case, as at the time I resigned from Gani Fawehinmi Chambers (GFC) in 2009 after nine years of pupilage, I was already qualified to apply but I was not ready. At the time I became ready to apply in 2020, most of my judgments at the appellate levels had expired but I still applied with Seven Supreme Court judgments instead of three or four and had no need of scouting for cases at all. The Privileges Committee’s requirement of three or four contested cases from the High Court to the Supreme Court within Ten (10) years, will hardly affect anyone who has done proper pupilage in established Law Firms.

The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer should endeavour to trust in God, respect the sacraments of the Church and consult the Church ministers when in despair. I suffered a fair share of despair in the course of my application for elevation in 2020 and I ran to His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins, DD. His Grace rose to my defence, and in one of my sessions with him, he said this payer for me. “You will find favour in the sight of God and man”, and I did. Your Grace, some of my “supposed enemies” even recommended me.

The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer is challenged by the hazardous economic circumstances of our Country. He is therefore, faced with terrible temptations of compromising ethical standards in his practice of law for ephemeral monetary gains.

I advise that no matter the temptation, the 21st Century Catholic Lawyer should not fabricate evidence for any client. While this is unprofessional and unethical, and he risks being derobed, it is worse for the Catholic Lawyer because of the infraction against his faith. By fabricating evidence for his Client, he has violated the 8th of the ten Commandments in Exodus 20:16 as follow:

“Do not bear false witness against your neighbour”

The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer should conduct the case of his client within the actual, real and available oral and documentary evidence. The Catholic Lawyer should accept that any brief that will make him go to confession, is not for him.

In the Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 8 verse 36, the Scripture says:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

The 21st Century Catholic Lawyer should research and locate his client’s defence in the statutes and case law. He must remain professional. The 21st Century Catholic Lawyers should be willing and even available to defend the Church in any area that needs the application of our secular laws. It may be in the areas of legal advice, prosecuting and or defending the Church or any of its several institutions of evangelism. As the 21st Century Catholic Lawyer does this, he needs to be assured of the outright and automatic guidance of the Holy Spirit in every step he takes.

I draw strength for this position from the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter: 12 verses 11-12, where the Lord says:

“11: When they bring you to be tried in the synagogues or before governors or rulers, do not be worried about how you will defend yourself or what you will say.

12: For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

The reality of this scriptural promise was recently demonstrated in the now popular case we defended for St. Raphael’s Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital, Igede, Ikorodo, LagosState. The Hospital is one of the Church’s legacy projects which caters for the medical needs of our teeming populace at highly subsidized rates. Two medical doctors were unduly harassed over the death of a patient who underwent myomectomy procedure and unfortunately passed on. The doctors were initially arraigned at the Magistrate Court and upon receipt of the DPP’s advice, they were further arraigned at the High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja Division.

The Hospital panicked but thanks to Very Rev. Fr. Joe Ben and Rev. Sr. Henrietta who were firm and tried everything to resolve the case but the instigator of the Prosecution refused. He even threatened me to get ready for trial. Unfortunately for him, he did not know that as a Catholic by birth, I nursed a secret grudge against him for scandalizing the Church, and was ready to demystify him before a hostile Court.


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