December 7, 2022

Umuaka Times

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The advocacies of a legal luminary. (An exclusive interview with Chief Marcel Duru.)

17 min read

Chief Marcel Duru, an Akalite and a high profile attorney who is based in the heart of Northern Nigeria, Kano to be precise, needs no introduction in Umuaka at least for now. Many people know him and follow his footsteps in diverse ways. Also at least for now, Chief Marcel Duru needs an introduction too. The reason for this introduction is that the Akajiugo 1 of Umuaka lives a very quiet life. Last time an Umuaka Times reporter saw him in Umuaka around December 2017, he was alone all alone and there was not even a personal security and he was driving himself.

But why will such a highly placed lawyer who handles high profile briefs and has given Umuaka community the highest number of lawyers including those in the making not be known by a reasonable number of Akalites? Indeed many people know Chief Akajiugo and possibly do not know he is from Umuaka. On physical appearance, one may wrongly conclude that the former boss of MBA Kano Branch is a Fulaniman. Could this be as a result of his long stay, socialization and fraternization with the Hausa/Fulani people who are mostly his business associates? The perceived  “onyeugwuness” of Chief Duru does not in any way rob him of his Umuakaness. He told Umuaka Times that soonest, he will unveil his program to develop Umuaka  town and people in a very special way.

Umuaka Times was successful to secure the attention of this legal luminary who will soon be conferred with the legal title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN.

The interview which lasted for days and most of the times, to the late hours of the night was indeed a masterpiece from a masterpiece. Umuaka Times is publishing the interview in two editions. This week, the first edition of the interview comes first.

Excerpts:

 

 Hello Chief Akajiugo, Umuaka Times congrats you for the title and greets you happy New Year. What inspired you to take a chieftaincy title?

Happy New Year my brother. The title was actually conferred on me by HRH Eze Aloysius A. Ojinnaka. I accepted the honor and privilege as a form of recognition for my little efforts in community development.


Since you accepted the title, has there been any form of benefit or is it all about  new challenges?

The title came with some privileges and more visibility/ responsibilities. I have always loved my quiet lifestyle you know.


Yes indeed you are a quiet person…when you read the 20 Most Outstanding Philanthropists in Umuaka, did it surprise you?

Not at all. You did a good job. They are all great philanthropists. I want to believe that it is randomly numbered and not in any particular order of who is better/ best. For philanthropic gesture to be so measured, you may have to look at the resources readily available to the individual and the much he is willing to part with. Remember the parable of the widow’s mite in the Bible as stated by our lord Jesus Christ.


Do you usually keep your charity works secret because of what the Bible says concerning charity?

Yes, and to be frank with you, I derive more joy and peace of mind in doing so. I don’t however condemn those who chose to be loud about theirs. It is a matter of personal choice. Different things motivate our choices in life.


But in keeping silent on your charity works, surveys like the one Umuaka Times carried out will certainly omit persons like you. Don’t you care about that?

It really doesn’t matter to me and I am sure the same can be said of very many people I know personally. Like I said earlier on, it depends on what motivates an individual.


Still talking of motivation, sometime ago, a prominent Nigerian lawyer complained that Nigerian lawyers hardly set up law offices outside Nigeria. What really motivated you to open a law office in UK while you have a robust law firm in Kano?

The primary motivation was for the kids to school in England. There was the need for their mum to be there with them. Being a great lawyer herself, she suggested that a law office be opened in the Uk which eventually materialized through her hard work. She manages the Uk office (called JEMEK Solicitors) while I manage the Kano office. We thank God, for so far so good, both offices are thriving. We can’t stop thanking God for His mercies.

But generally there is this skepticism of Nigeria lawyers in opening law offices outside Nigeria. Why is it so?

It is essentially an issue of getting a good manager of the law firm. You don’t want to get into trouble especially if your firm is regulated. The supervision of regulated law firms abroad can be very very strict. If there is any problem, the owners of the firm are usually held accountable. No one wants to lose his or her license by entrusting the running of his or her  law firm in the hands of persons they don’t trust. Trustworthy people are increasingly becoming scarce commodity in this era. That may well explain why.


Despite this regulatory measures, Nigerian bankers have opened many branches outside Nigeria and they are doing very well. Does the regulation not affect them?

Running of big businesses like banks can hardly be compared with law firms. The former is universally structured in such a way that it could be easily run by any well trained banker. The system on its own easily identifies any infraction as soon as it occurs. Whenever the books can’t balance on a particular day, it immediately raises a red flag. The same cannot be said of an infraction in a law firm which in some cases may take years to unearth.

 


You said your children are reading overseas. How many of them are reading law?

God blessed us with boys. By His grace, my first son who did his first and second degrees in Leeds is now a fully fledged lawyer and has been called to the Nigerian Bar. He has recently finished his NYSC. The youngest is presently studying law at the same University of Leeds. So by His Grace two of the boys would become lawyers. The other of our son is science inclined and has MSc in Medical Sciences. He hopes to be a doctor. We pray that they all attain their individual ambitions.


Many law students who read outside Nigeria have complained about the Nigerian Law School admission. These foreign students are under what is called Bar 1 at the Law School and remember, they are not conversant with the Nigerian legal system etc. For them to settle and cope under this new legal environment is always a big task for them….what is your view on that?

The essence of Bar One is to familiarize such foreign students with our legal system. I don’t find anything wrong with that. Most if not all students who studied abroad actually did so in what we call common law jurisdictions. They shouldn’t therefore find Bar One that difficult. The terminologies used are basically the same as those used in their countries of study. I honestly don’t see why they should be complaining.

 

Are you aware that Bar One students have mostly failed the Law School exams than those in Bar 2?

I am aware of that. I think most of them who failed did so because they tended to underrate the exams! They don’t often take the exams seriously.


Let’s go home a little. You are a highly placed lawyer, former boss of NBA, Kano branch. You are a friend to many governors, senators and some presidents even outside Nigeria. Many emirs personally know you also. Why have you not deemed it necessary to use these contacts to attract developments to Umuaka?

This is a very tricky question. I am sure the phrase “development to Umuaka” is not limited to just physical development. It has to be given a very broad meaning. I am sure if I assisted an Umuaka person to get employed or again admission into a higher institution through my connection I have contributed somehow to the development of our community. If you restrict your definition to physical development, then I wish I was a politician, so I could answer your question properly. Besides, I believe that our state Governor and our political representatives at various levels are in a better position to attract meaningful physical development in our community. The opportunity for people like me, who are just a professionals, to do so is very rare. However on very few occasions when there was need for me to utilize my contacts to assist some of our people in any way, I have done so to the best of my abilities. Those so assisted have been very appreciative.

Am not talking of assisting an individual here. There are many community projects you can initiate and complete which will benefit the people. Don’t you think so?

Plans are in the pipeline for that. I am looking at something that is relevant, easily manageable and sustainable. Something that will provide the much needed employment for our teaming unemployed youths. At the appropriate time the project will be unveiled.

Still talking about our community Umuaka, do you subscribe to the autonomous community creations in Umuaka today?

It would seem to reflect the overall wishes of the people. But I honestly doubt if it (creation of autonomous communities) will eventually achieve the set objective; which is to become centers for development.

Can you explain better please?

It has ended up creating more problems. First it created the problem of succession, who should be the new Eze? Brothers now can’t come together to achieve any meaningful communal goals either in the newly created autonomous community or in the former larger entity. It has put a knife on the rope that held us together and the trend now in many of the new communities is: to thy tent oh Israel! Those who can afford it now concentrate in the development of their tiny enclaves which does not augur well for our overall interest. It in fact runs contrary to the basic Igbo tradition of the strong assisting the weak in carrying load. Ibu anyi danda is an Igbo adage predicated on collective efforts. Politically we will find it difficult to speak with one voice like we did years ago. I see the current effort being made at bringing us together again and I fervently pray that it works. Though I have my fears.

What are your fears centered on?

That the initial feelings of the various newly created communities that they were now truly independent and are now strictly on their own will be very difficult to curtail or erased from their minds. The genesis of the creation of autonomous community was quite bitter and that bitterness hasn’t fully robbed off. Some of the then active participants in that bitter struggle are still alive and may still be nursing some grudges which will be inimical to our getting together as before. Those are the basis of my fear.

Have you also thought about the motive behind blood related kindreds and clans being upgraded to village status all in a bid to secure autonomy. Do you see the cultural implications especially with the callous attitude of today’s teenagers?

The things you pointed out were bound to happen as a result of the creation of more autonomous communities. Society is dynamic and would eventually adjust itself to these problems. It is the responsibility of the elders to guide the teenagers to abide by our traditions and culture.

Do you know of any autonomous community in Imo State that has made meaningful strides as a result of its autonomy?

I honestly don’t know of any. Is it not astonishing and even ridiculous that Imo State with it’s tiny landmass and limited population has more kings than the entire Northern Nigeria? I tell you very soon every kindred in our state or indeed Igboland shall have a king. It is laughable. Yet, that’s what the people want, so be it. You can’t get any meaningful progress in such a situation. You can only get squabbles, bitterness and unhealthy competitions!

Are you aware that the dilapidated state of Umuaka Community Hospital today is as a result of the autonomous community crisis in the community?

Not necessarily so. Even when we were one and in unity, the place was not properly managed. Right from inception some people perceived it as their own cash cow. The deterioration was gradual and any perceptive mind knew we were bound to arrive at this point. In fact as far back as 2010, Dr Uche Oguike at the Umuaka conference in London, warned against what has happened now. If I remember correctly, the conference recommended a long lease of the hospital to private entrepreneurs or a formal hand over of same to the government to be run as a community hospital. As far back as then it was clear to all and sundry that we as a community had failed in the management of the hospital. I still stand by those early recommendations. The Creation of autonomous communities may have exacerbated the problems but the problems were always there.

Sir, in the early 80s, when you people were students…you guys were there to inspire the younger ones, you engaged each other in deeply intellectual discourses because you read voraciously. When you look at the youths today, they only discuss football, music and exotic cars… What is your take on that and at what point did the youths go off track?

The erosion of our core Igbo values which began in the mid eighties by the introduction of fast money making means (419) is essentially the cause of the sorry state of our youths. Our youths and indeed the larger society are obsessed with money to the detriment of sound knowledge. It is no longer knowledge is power, but money is power! It will take quite a while to redress this malady for the evil is psychologically rooted. Sound education, the type you alluded to has been relegated to the background. Yet it is surest and lasting way to get out of the poverty circle. Those amongst our present youths who have realized this fact and who are sticking to it, will eventually be happy. The internet is a cesspool of unlimited knowledge, which is so easily accessible, that any youth who decides to be ignorant has himself to blame.


But a lot of factors contributed to this monumental damage. The government takes the lead in the killing of education and new thinking in Nigeria. Someone even blamed it on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Yes, to an extent, the government contributed to it. This is because teachers who are the true builders of society were so neglected by successive regimes that they totally lost interest and zeal in their calling. The result was and is still catastrophic. Half baked and completely unemployable graduates are churned out in droves. It is sad. As for WhatsApp and Facebook etc, I believe they are fountains for good and bad depending on what the individual is looking for. Knowledge of good and bad abound there; it is a matter of personal choice which is often dictated by background and upbringing. So I won’t necessarily blame them for our youths’ dilemma.

 


But day by day reading culture keeps drifting, what is the way out?

The need for a total overhaul of our entire educational sector is now inevitable if we intend to stop this drift. Peter Obi as governor of Anambra state hit the nail right on the head with the policies that greatly radicalized that sector in that state. Within a short period, Anambra shot to the very top of the national chat. The template used by that cerebral leader should be studied and enhanced. I have no doubt that if this is done, we will be able to stem the drift. If however, we continue to pay leap service to that sector, we should be ready for the worst in future.

What about family units? Any specific roles to play?

I think the family units should also work on their wards by emphasizing the importance and benefits of voracious reading to them. Community extra moral classes should be regularly organized for our youths.


The fear now towards achieving this is that the youths are now focused on how to hit money…do you still see them having the zeal to move on academically?

Yes, they just need vigorous re orientation by all and sundry. We must revert to those values that once made us leaders of this country.

 Now the same youths we are talking about, some of them now constitute real terror in their communities. This has made people to spend heavily on private security. How do we handle the insecurity in the south east?

The answer lies in community policing. The people know who is who amongst them.


This brings us to the formation of regional security outfits both in the North and South. Is there any legal implication on that?

Originally I was one of the persons who were fiercely opposed to the creation of regional security outfits because I feared that they would become tools of oppression of opposition by unscrupulous leaders. But with the recent developments in the security sector, I support the idea. The legal impediments can be found in the rather contradictory sections of the constitution which tended to classify policing in the exclusive legislative list and yet designate the Governor as the chief security officer of his state. With the current trend in the country, these things will be sorted out by the elites.


Your fears can still be confirmed. I hope you know?

No doubt, that fear is a present and future danger. Our democracy hasn’t developed to the extent of entrusting so much powers and instruments of coercion on a state Governor because of fear of abuse. But when one is left to choose between two evils, common sense dictates that one picks the lesser of the two. The current security situation in Nigeria pushed me to make the difficult choice.

Do you know to what extent these regional outfits will be armed?

To be very effective, they will eventually be properly combat ready. You can’t go out unarmed to confront a person who is dangerously armed. That would be suicidal. Yes they will be fully armed in due course.

Let’s go to your profession again. You are a highly placed attorney of repute….you handle high profile briefs a lot. Many are surprised you have not been confirmed with SANship. Have you not been applying or you are not interested?

I am interested, but have not applied. I am on the verge of doing so. I needed to satisfy myself thoroughly that I could wear that crown and be able to defend it anywhere any time. I can now say that I have arrived at the point that I can safely take the plunge.

Some lawyers accuse the Legal Privileges Committee of basing some of the appointments SANs on political and ethnic considerations. For example, Gani’s own was delayed, while some guys and their children etc are SANs.

Every institution in our beloved country is struggling for perfection. They are not infallible, therefore, from time to time they may make mistakes. Generally however they are doing fine.


What are the benefits of being a SAN?

The benefits are numerous and so are the responsibilities. It’s an indication that one has attained the peak of his professional career so it attracts instant recognition and respect from all and sundry. Even professors in law aspire to attain the position. One’s financial value (in terms of legal fees) skyrockets and of course you have right to sit in the inner bar and you mention your case first.


But at times, observers are so worried over some highly unintellectual arguments made by some SANs in various courts which earn them outright dismissal of their cases.

One thing most people don’t realize is that more often than not, the facts of a case decide the case. Facts are stubborn/sacrosanct and no matter how brilliant your arguments may sound, the one thing you cannot change are the stubborn facts of a case. That’s it.

During the days of Oputa Panel, the late Justice Oputa was visibly angry and disappointed in some lawyers to the extent that he wondered if they really went to law school. Do you at times feel that the quality of law practice is seriously going down in Nigeria?

The quality of general education in Nigeria is seriously going down, Law can’t be an exception. I have seen graduates who cannot write an application for employment. I have seen characters who are not even fit to be common truck pushers parading as lawyers! Sometimes when they open their mouths in court, you want to hide under the table. It is that terrible

If you are given an opportunity to carry out legal reforms in Nigeria, which areas  will you touch?

The first thing I will address will be how to ensure that law students acquire quality education. The various law faculties will be subjected to periodical checks to make sure the standards do not fall below a particular level. . I will set down very rigorous conditions for the appointment of judges. Appointments should not be based on who knows who but on competence and merit. I will ensure that the judiciary is fiercely independent at both the Federal and State levels. It is appalling to observe how some state chief judges always go cap in hand for money meant for judicial works. It is dehumanizing. The pathetic condition of some of our Nigerian lower Courts are demoralizing. They are no better than the average traders shop in Ochanja Market in Onitsha. Its a shame. A court room should command some degree of respect/awe from the general public.


What about the appointment of SANs?

I thought that has been addressed. The rules are stringent enough as they are but like I said earlier, you must make allowance for our imperfections.


Will you not decentralize the Supreme Court?

That would sound the nunc dimitis for our judiciary. No, a nation should have one ultimate court. That is what is obtainable in most common law countries. I will support the appointment of many more justices to the apex Court and the creation of additional panels to ensure quicker dispensation of justice. I will also limit matters that can go the Supreme Court to avoid clogging the wheel of justice. That would amount to tinkering with certain provisions of the constitution.


All your solutions are first class. I want you to look into the torture new lawyers go through during their call to bar ritual.You bring all the graduating law students across the country to Abuja, keep them standing for over 6 hours. No considerations given to their health status. Some are pregnant, some very sick. Some fall down and faint etc. Yet anyone who fails to make it on that day has to wait for another one year?  Does this not amount to human and health rights abuse?

I am sure the Body of Benchers is seriously looking at this problem and will device a means to alleviate the problems associated with the call to the Bar. I attended some of the call ceremonies and the experience wasn’t that palatable. Something needs be done.


Someone is of the advocacy that each law school should call it students to bar or let each student go to his state and be called to bar by the chief judge of the state. Do you subscribe to that?

That may well be a kind of solution to the problem. I support that, provided that the Center should scrutinize and approve those to be called to Bar. If you leave these later responsibilities to the law schools, you will soon see every Tom, Dick and Harry being called to Bar not on the basis of competence and merit but based on other criteria.

 

To be continued next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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