The Wig & Skirt By Funke Aboyade, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello after so long! What started off as a short break from my column became extended, though I did do some light editorial work through that period.
This week’s edition of THISDAY LAWYER is an IBA Conference Special Edition, given that the week-long Annual Conference of the International Bar Association which began Sunday September 30 just ended last Friday, in Dublin. And what an amazing six days! They went by so fast, before one knew it, it was time to head back home.
The over 5,100 lawyers, judges and academics from around the world were treated to a star-studded cast of key speakers. Two Nobel Laureates, no less – Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Mohammed Yunus - the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Enda Kenny TD, former President (and first female one) of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola SAN, Justice Richard Goldstone, Martin McGuiness and a host of others.
It was gratifying to find Nigerian lawyers participating in significant numbers as speakers or panelists or by ably leading sessions and committees, and making useful contributions, presenting the Nigerian legal perspective. Mr. Supo Shasore SAN, Mr. Babajide Ogundipe, Director-General Nigerian Law School, Dr. Tahir Mamman, Mallam Yusf Ali SAN, Section on Business Law Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Gbenga Oyebode, Lagos State Attorney-General, Ade Ipaye, Dame Carol Ajie to name but a few.
Many of the sessions were devoted to the theme of confronting, as lawyers, global poverty head-on. Hence an entire showcase session being devoted to this and several other sessions highlighted as ‘President Priority Sessions’ with poverty sub-themes.
The IBA in fact has a Task Force, The IBA Global Financial Crisis Project, whose mandate has now been extended to address the legal profession’s concerns for the predicament of the poor. The Task Force, now under its second phase, will ‘examine the role that the law and the legal profession can play, and the impact they may have, in confronting the negative social effects of the Global Financial Crisis upon those living in or being driven into poverty’.
It’s an acknowledgement of the reality that ‘when economic hardships intensify, those living in poverty suffer immediately and the most.
‘With no buffet to protect them, the poor risk losing what little they have, including food and shelter.
‘The Global Financial Crisis has taken even the most basic work away from the poor and has driven others into poverty. Further disabled by poverty, the poor have no ready means of recovery’ - per the IBA.
Innovations in the law continue to interest me. Last April I wrote in this column about a concept which was then entirely new to me and which I had first learnt of at the Commonwealth Lawyers Conference in Sydney in April earlier this year. Cloud computing for lawyers certainly intrigues me and I took more than a passing interest in it in Dublin.
Random thoughts. In no particular order.
The Opening Ceremony on Sunday was a simple affair, not glitzy at all if it is to be compared with some rather more memorable IBA Opening Ceremonies in other jurisdictions. Perhaps the fact that Ireland is struggling to regain her feet after being hit by the global financial was one factor in keeping it simple. Possibly the fact that the Irish are simple folk and the Irish idea of good fun is typically an Irish Hooley night which we all got a feel of at the reception after the formalities were done at the Opening Ceremony (see Cover story pg 8-10 for more details), was a more significant reason. Whatever the reason, the Irish were certainly true to themselves and were not out to impress anyone with flash and pizzazz or splash funds unnecessarily on such. Something I think developing countries can and should learn from. The last General Assembly of the United Nations brought distressing reports - the focus in fact of a programme on a major American TV network - of the profligacy of the delegates from those countries some of which are the world’s poorest. The priciest rooms in the swankiest hotels, hired posh limos at their beck and call and shopping sprees that only the truly rich and famous should indulge in. The contempt in which New York City officials - even whilst coveting the money being pumped into the local economy – held them was barely concealed. Moral of the tale? To thy self be true. And, cut your coat according to your size.
At the Opening Ceremony I had no idea (and I’d guess neither did most people present) when the Prime Minister came in to join the 5,000-plus lawyers in the auditorium. There were no hordes of (gun toting, cane wielding, fearsome looking, trench coat wearing) security personnel who came in with him; indeed security personnel, if any, mingled discreetly with the audience. PM Enda Kenny TD was not shielded from the audience either; he sat just like any other participant. Nor was he accompanied by suffuse government and state functionaries who should in any case be otherwise engaged in the business of governance.
He went up to the stage without any obsequious aides carrying his notes or standing (menacingly) behind him whilst he read his speech which was laced with great wit (not tedious) and extremely well and powerfully delivered.
I think our leaders stand to gain a lot from these seemingly innocuous things. There’s no need for a power show if you’re truly in charge. More, you’re accountable to the citizens who voted you in and whom you govern. You are no better than them - only the office which you hold in trust for them gives you the right and the privilege to be a leader. Lording it over them is not an option; in the civilised world you’ll be tossed out the door before you even know what hit you. Public office should truly be ALL about service.
Speaking of which, I saw former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoaaka at the conference. It was a surprise sighting; in fact the one and only time I saw him throughout the conference – many were unaware he was even around. He cut a lonely figure and was given a wide berth by most Nigerian lawyers. I did go up to him to exchange pleasantries – though I must confess my initial thoughts were to walk right past him. He refused (for some strange reason…) to have his photograph taken and was quite vigorous in resisting...
When all is said and done, when you’re shorn of all power and accoutrements of office which you’d (foolishly) allowed to cloud your judgment whilst in that office, you’re just an ordinary human being at the end of the day. Moral of the tale? Don’t burn your bridges. And, go into public or elective office prepared to serve. There’s always a tomorrow. Your actions whilst in office will determine whether you can comfortably live and walk with those citizens whom you once had power and authority over. Those actions will also determine whether your peers and professional colleagues will extend or withhold their respect in your post-office life.
Finally, registration of 5,000 plus participants, attending to their enquiries, giving them tea breaks and lunch daily, transporting them daily by coach from their official conference hotels to the Convention Centre and other places where conference activities, and back, et cetera must have taken some planning. And it was very evident in the seamless delivery. This is so typical of the IBA that I’m not sure it even bears commenting on; however, clearly, the Nigerian Bar surely has one or two things to learn from the IBA when organising her annual conferences. Happily, NBA President Okey Wali, SAN, a veteran of several IBA Conferences, was in Dublin. No doubt he will take this as a challenge so that next year’s NBA Conference can be comparable.
That said, enjoy our IBA Conference Special Edition!