Can the Society Survive without Legal Practitioners?

By Ewulum Ifechukwu Christopher


If we have never been in a situation where we needed the help of a lawyer, we  may not have a clear picture of how lawyers benefit the society. 

There was this brilliant Nigerian Scholar named Mr. Ayodele Oluwatuminu Awojobi (late), a Nigerian professor of mechanical engineering and applied mathematics, “the Akoka Giant”, and “Macbeth” as he was popularly called.  his research papers, particularly in the field of Vibration, are still cited in the year 2020 by international research fellows in Engineering; but he had a burning desire for public litigation and legal activism. He was not a lawyer but spent more time in court than some lawyers. 

In the wake of the presidential election results that returned the incumbent, Shehu Shagari as president in the Second Nigerian Republic, he  became very vocal in the national newspapers and magazines, going as far as suing the Federal Government of Nigeria for what he strongly believed was a widespread election rigging. As a layman, he prepared and argued his own cases from the high court to the Supreme Court. Most of these cases were  lost owning to bad drafting, lack of proper knowledge of practice and procedure for filing appeals amongst others. 

The Supreme Court case of Professor Ayodele Awojobi v Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia begs for attention here. In this case, His Lordship,  Aniagolu JSC  had this to say with respect to one of the appeals filed by Professor Ayodele: 

I consider this appeal incompetent. The appellant had an appeal before the Federal Court of Appeal on 27th July, 1983. He withdrew the appeal and the Federal Court of Appeal, in consequence, struck it out. Then the same day the appellant appealed to this Court against the order striking out the appeal, an order which was made on his own application. He says he had to do so because the Federal Court of Appeal felt bound by the decision of this Court in BRONIK’s Case on the issue of jurisdiction and that he submits that BRONIK’s Case was wrongly decided by this Court. He therefore had to appeal so that this Court could over-rule the BRONIK’s Case. There is no precedent for what the appellant is doing. I made it clear to him that the courts of this country, and much less so this Court, cannot be turned into venues for moot trials.”

“Speaking for myself, I consider the frequency with which this appellant goes in and out of our courts as bringing him dangerously within the meaning of a vexatious litigant who should be restrained by the courts on the principles and jurisdiction laid down in LAWRENCE v. NORREYS (1890) 15 App. Cas. 210, and HAGGARD v. FELICIER FRERRES (1892) A.C. 61. The appellant’s frequent actions in courts have now become an abuse of the process of the courts… In the instant appeal, this Court, clearly, has no jurisdiction to entertain this matter, which must be dismissed. It is a matter for regret that the highest court in the land should be subjected to entertain a frivolous matter of the type of this appeal, in the face of very weighty matters, concerning parties aggrieved, with which this Court has to deal, in the interest of the Nation, within the Constitution of Nigeria. Having been dismissed I must award N300.00 costs in favour of the respondent. I will not call upon Mr. Apampa, for the respondent, to reply. The appeal stands dismissed.”

If the scenario above has taught us anything, it should be that although the constitution allows one to represent himself in person, yet a layman is not better qualified to handle his own case than a lawyer. In fortification of this view, Lord Denning, MR, the erudite Jurist aptly articulated   in Pett v Grey Hound Racing Association(No. 1) that : 

“It is not every man who has the ability to defend himself on his own. He cannot bring out the points in his own favour or the weakness in the other side. He may be tongue-tied, nervous, confused or (even) wanting in intelligence. He cannot examine or cross-examine witnesses…If justice is to be done, he ought to have the help of someone to speak for him; and who better than a lawyer who has been trained for the task?”

Admittedly, If everybody is allowed to defend himself in the society, we will all be  forced to delve into the interpretation and analysis of the law stipulated for guiding various facets of human life. Not everybody can cope with such a daunting task. The insane and immature for instance have no capacity to even understand the law. 

In the light of these, it is pertinent to examine some of the reasons why the society cannot survive without lawyers or legal practitioners. In the other way round; why the society needs lawyers. Although there are plethora of reasons, only three will be considered here. 

A. Lawyers are Catalysts for Progressive Legal and Jurisprudencial Reforms in a Society. 

A Catalyst in this context is someone who encourages change and progress in the society. Suffice is to say that lawyers always come in contact with the society through problems brought by their clients. Hence, lawyers through their advocacy skills, ability to interpret and analyze the law and factual situations can use that as a potential opportunity for moving the society forward through legal reforms. 

When I remember how legal practitioners contribute to the development of our legal jurisprudence, I remember Chief FRA Williams SAN. One of Nigeria’s legal luminary. Through his skill and brilliant advocacy for instance, he was able to persuade the seven Justices of the Supreme Court in the celebrated case of Oduola v Coker to depart from its previous decisions in Odufinade v Rossek and Mobil Oil Nig Ltd v Abolade Coker. These later decisions laid a harsh principle that an appellant who called no evidence at the hearing cannot avail himself on the ground of appeal which complains that the judgment is against the weight of evidence. 

It seems this example is not enough. Let us remember that in the Nigerian legal system, the bench (the Judges) are taken from the Bar(the lawyers). These judges have immensely contributed (and still contributing) to the development of Nigerian legal jurisprudence.Through decisions of the courts, the loopholes, lacuna, ambiguities, absurdities, hardship, repugnancy or even inconsistencies in  our legislations are exposed. Some scholars may name it the Golden Rule of interpretation. The courts cannot simply fold its hands in the face of injustice. 

The case of  Amaechi v INEC seems tempting to mention here. Here, the Supreme Court found that PDP ignored the mandatory provision of Section 34(2) of the then 2006 Electoral Act. By the time the case was decided, the said election has already been conducted. Hence, leaving Hon. Amaechi with a right without a remedy. But the court did something.

It substituted Hon.Celestine Omehia’s, who had won that election with Hon.Amaechi’s name. Even though the court provided a remedy, yet it exposed the lacuna in the 2006 electoral act. Which made the legislature to enact section 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010 to the effect  that for  a person to be declared and returned as a winner of an election by an election tribunal or court, he must have been a person who had fully participated; as a candidate, in all the stages of the election, starting from his nomination, as a candidate to the actual voting. This provision was replicated in the constitution when it was amended. If this section was in place before the case of Amaechi, the Supreme wouldn’t have declared him the winner in an election he did not fully participate. 

B. Lawyers are in a Better Position to Handle  Court  Cases. 

Although Section 36(6)(c) of the 1999 Constitution allows one to defend himself in person, yet we find it difficult to see how a person who is not trained and groomed in the field of law will be able to handle his own matter. It was Lord Simon who posited in Waugh v British Rails Board  that: 

It rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a class of the community, who by study and experience, have acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying to the points at issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to do for his client all that his client might fairly do for himself if he could.

Saulawa JCA in Alhaji  Tijani  v  First Bank of Nigerian Plc seems to concur with this position and opines that: 

What actually makes the participation of a lawyer (counsel) in a court case so vital is his adequate knowledge of the law. His ability to apply that knowledge to given fact situations; to sift relevant, admissible and often complex evidence from what is irrelevant and inadmissible. And most importantly, his skills in argumentation and power of persuasion.

Little wonder, Sections 267(1), 267(4), 349(4), 349(6)(b) and 395 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015  stipulates that a defendant charged with a capital offence or an offence punishable with life imprisonment shall not be allowed to defend or represent himself. It appeared that the draftsman anticipated the danger of such a defendant representing himself in such scenario by making the provisions of the aforementioned sections mandatory. 

C. Lawyers are Guardians of the Rule of Law, Justice and Human Rights. 

Justice Maugham once said of lawyers: You are the custodians of civilization than which there can be no higher aim and no nobler duty.
Lawyers being the operators of the administration of justice system owe a duty to the society to ensure that justice and the rule of law are observed at all cost as non observance of these principles would indirectly make a mockery of lawyers who are trained to uphold these principles. 

No better example illustrates this than what happened in Pakistan in 2007. Following the suspension of Chief Justice Muhamad Chauldhry and declaration of state of Emergency by President Musharraf who placed himself as both the president and the Chief of army staff, a group of legal practitioners formed “The Movement for the Restoration of The Judiciary” and staged  a wide protest that led to the restoration of Chauldhry CJ and resigning of President Musharraf in August 2008

Have we mentioned Chief Gani  Fawehinmi SAN (or Senior Advocate of the masses as popularly called) who in the process of his crusades for the rule of law, the hopes and aspirations of the poor and the oppressed; fought many battles against military dictatorship in Nigeria? 

How about the free legal services provided by lawyers such as the Legal Aid council and International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)?

It is even a compulsory requirement that an applicant for the position of a senior advocate must have been involved in the provision of at least three(3) Pro Bono  legal services for indigent clients or community by virtue of section 19(7)(c) of the 2018 Guidelines for the Award of the Rank of Senior Advocate in Nigeria, 


Lawyers do not know it all, but they are blessings to us all. The society cannot help but making itself available to tap from those blessings. Hence, the society cannot survive without lawyers. Why do we need to do it ourselves when we have people that have specially dedicated their lives to protect our nobe goal?  At best, we cannot afford to take those risks. Let me leave you with the words of the erudite Oputa JSC (of the blessed memory) in his publication “Towards Justice with a Human Face”  that “in developing  countries like ours, where  illiteracy  is  general,  and where public understanding of the  mechanics of legislation is slight, the knowledge of the lawyer is  of considerable importance”.

It can never be like the legal profession! 

About the writer

Ewulum Ifechukwu Christopher is a 300 level law student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is passionate about legal writing, researching and criminal litigations.  “I wish to thank Favour Ejaita from whom I had an insight on  the life of Professor Ayodele Awojobi.” 

Contact : 08022523498. LinkedIn:

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