Jude Ezeobi ESQ. is a legal practitioner and quite unassuming. He is the Managing Partner of the Chambers of Chief T. A. Ezeobi SAN (EZEOBI AND PARTNERS). In this interview with AMEH EJEKWONYILO, the Abuja-based lawyer spoke on his firm’s Lawyers Vs. Cancer, health awareness project. Ezeobi equally bared his mind on the issue of Medical Law, which he posited succinctly is novel in the country’s legal landscape and should be well propagated for the benefit of the citizenry.
Recently, you took your firm’s cancer awareness programme to the Federal Ministry of Justice in Abuja? What was it about?
The pertinent call for Lawyers nay the general public to take matters of their health serious cannot be overemphasized cognizant of the fact that almost every individual has had a loved one or colleague bow reluctantly to a health challenge that could perhaps been avoided with a healthier lifestyle or better managed if the right information were available.
Upon the demise of my father, our law firm, The Chambers of Chief T.A Ezeobi SAN (EZEOBI AND PARTNERS) and The Ezeobi Foundation, TEF, saw the need to champion a peculiar cause; and established the Lawyers vs. Cancer Project, to raise the much needed awareness about the cancer scourge to which our principal reluctantly bowed to. A cause that would assist in the betterment of the life of every legal practitioner and also see to the sustenance of the legal profession in Nigeria.
The Project’s primary target and thematic focus is to increase awareness about the importance of Health Maintenance, early detection and treatment. Today, our law firm –run by my siblings and I, all of whom are lawyers, and TEF, advance that mission by educating members of the legal profession on the disease and harnessing their legal expertise and passion to promote medical, educational, social, and legal services that promote our cause. We’re dedicated to serving not only members of the legal profession but also our shared community.
Fiercely committed to halting cancer, our law firm continues to follow-up on research, programs, regulations, family-focused initiatives and best practices worldwide to address the menace in Nigeria through its advocacy programme and campaigns with the support of its partners.
The emphasis on lawyers and legal practitioners stems from the understanding that by training lawyers are social engineers and as such are well equipped to advocate for the betterment of society. Conversely, the exposure of legal practitioners to high stress levels and sedentary work environments predisposes them to a variety of greater health risks.
Recently, we were invited by the Federal Ministry of Justice to have an interactive session with its esteemed staff, essentially to create awareness in the area of cancer challenges and how best to avoid the scourge. Beyond that, we have partnership with some of the Courts such as the Federal Capital Territory High Court, under the astute leadership of my Noble Lord- Hon. Justice Ishaq Usman Bello ; our programmes are coming up with the FCT High Court at the beginning of the new legal year of 2018/2019.
Now that the courts have embarked on their annual vacation, what is your perspective on the need for legal practitioners and judicial officers to embark on regular medical checks?
Clearly, the break should afford members of both the Bench and the Bar an opportunity to seek for health maintenance; to have the desired rest after a purposeful legal year. It shouldn’t be an avenue to do more work, but to embark on adequate maintenance and medical checkup. We have realised that the challenge really is with the number of lawyers whom at the peak of their career grapple with one health issues or the other, particularly cancer.
As such, we fear that our profession is gradually becoming an endangered profession, and that is why we as a firm and foundation have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that we create the much needed awareness; bringing it to the fore that it is important for lawyers to take issues of their health more seriously; every other thing can and should wait. Lawyers are seen as social engineers and the torchbearers; whatever we say or do, people listen and follow.
In view of your firm’s desire to take the cancer awareness campaign to every Nigerian lawyer, are you into partnership with the Nigerian Bar Association?
We have written to the President and Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), proposing to them respectfully, that the Lawyers Vs. Cancer project be incorporated into the forthcoming 2018 NBA Conference activities. We missed it last year, but we hope that this year, we will be given that opportunity to enable us reach a good number of lawyers who would be present at the conference and in turn take home the vital message of health maintenance and consciousness to their various branch.
The Nigerian Law School is another apposite platform as the earlier the practice of Health Maintenance is inculcated the better. As such, we wrote to the Director General of the Nigerian Law School and we are delighted to have been contacted by the law school. It is our belief therefore that in no distant time, we shall have a session at the law school for the benefit of the students nay its staff.
Does your cancer project involve judges across all the tiers of courts?
Yes. The project is in phases, but our target at this point is everyone matters to us because the project essentially is not just all about lawyers. It is also for the benefit of our shared communities. Last year, we had a session, where I was invited to do a paper on cancer which was well accepted at the 33rd conference of judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja. And I hope that this year again, we would be invited so that we can continue from where we stopped last year. Indeed, it is a continuous awareness programme; we have our materials at strategic places like the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja.
The sessions we have are not limited to only members of the Bench; it extends to members of the Bar and the public at large.
In view of the forthcoming NBA elections, what should the incoming leadership of the Bar do for young lawyers in terms of capacity development to enable them excel in the profession?
I personally believe that capacity building for young lawyers is key to the growth and development of the legal profession, which has not been properly addressed. And quite frankly, I think it behoves on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as a body to ensure that lawyers who have gone through the rigours of legal training and indeed the law school, get commensurate treatment and welfare, having put in so much. Essentially, everyone is a young lawyer, depending on the perspective you analyse the issue from.
However, what we have is a practice where young lawyers must undergo pupillage as law is an art. It is imperative for this to take place, but undergoing pupillage on an empty stomach is a lot of challenge. Therefore, it falls squarely on the table of the NBA to address this issue. I think we should borrow a cue from the medical profession, where young doctors are paid handsomely to enable them give their best. For instance, an average medical doctor who has left medical school and undergoing the National Youth Service Corps programme earns way better than even some of the lawyers who have spent more than ten years at the Bar. That shouldn’t be; there should be some type of synergy between the NBA and the Government to understand the fact that for society to get better, lawyers need to be remunerated properly and accorded their pride of place at every level of society. Calculated systems / structures must be in place to ensure this.
For instance, when you go for meetings abroad, you will notice that on the table, the lawyers will be the ones on the front row and their chief executives would be behind passing notes back and forth to them. But in our clime the reverse is the case, as the lawyers only come into the picture of any transaction when there is a dispute. And that is the direct consequences of under development, project failures, system collapse and ever the over burden of the Nigerian courts.
I foretell that we will begin to have the issue of sustainability of the profession if these challenges continue unresolved. In a couple of years, we may find that many young people may not be interested in studying law because they see those that have gone through the rigours of training, toiling, with nothing to show for it. So, this is at the centre of the future of the legal profession and it is imperative we address the issue headlong so that the profession does not become entirely endangered.
As a major and critical stakeholder in the Nigerian legal profession, our firm, the Chambers of Chief T. A. Ezeobi SAN (EZEOBI AND PARTNERS), in partnership with other critical stakeholders have put in place a Legacy that will ensure the preservation and sustenance of the legal profession for the benefit of successive generations. A qualified lawyer has no business being on an okada for crying out loud. It is a noble and prestigious Profession!
To wit, the NBA leadership should sit down with stakeholders and fashion out ways of dealing with the problem, by ensuring that every (young) lawyer is at the least comfortable. The shabby treatment of young lawyers by some employers, rubs off on the generality of the legal profession which is bad for us. On the flipside, you cannot blame some of the employers / firms, as if business or clients are not forthcoming nor paying, how then are the firms expected to remain in practice.
George Bernard Shaw in his 1906 play The Doctor’s Dilemma advanced the thesis that every profession is a conspiracy against the laity. For the benefit and sustenance of the legal profession in Nigeria, that propaganda should and must be sustained. There are certain activities, businesses, transactions and opportunities that must be done by lawyers alone and the NBA and every stakeholder should see to this and keep creating new opportunities for lawyers alone to leverage on.
Another pertinent aspect is the psychology and orientation of the client. Now who is the client? The client is the citizenry who requires the services of lawyer(s) but does not see the need to engage and adequately pay a lawyer. The truth is that whichever way you look at it, the “conspiracy theory” as espoused by George Bernard Shaw must be propagated and sustained for the benefit of the legal profession in Nigeria nay its purposeful and teeming member.
What are your thoughts on the rights of a medical patient, vis a vis medical treatment and care?
The rights of a patient to proper and adequate medical treatment and care should be inalienable and guaranteed. For me, the right to health is synonymous to right to life. Therefore, anything other than that is tantamount to robbing peter to pay paul. There is also the ridiculous and alarming issue of the mortality rate in our health sector, which can be traced directly to professional negligence and to the fact that our health practitioners and care givers are not being held accountable for medical negligence, malpractice and other ethical issues in the health sector. It is necessary that the NBA, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), the Ministry of Justice (Federal and States), the Health Ministry (Federal and States), NAFDAC, Civil Society Organizations, the Nigerian Police Force and other Security agencies and indeed every stakeholder must work together to tame this monster before it consumes everyone.
As I had canvassed during my presentation on Cancer at the 33rd conference of Judges of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Nigerians should come off that archaic mentality of saying, ‘it is the will of God,’ whenever someone dies as a result of professional negligence or any misfortune for that matter. It is not the will of GOD; it is the negligence and carelessness of MAN! We need to hold people accountable and responsible; the laws are there to remedy whatever infractions, tort or criminal liability that may have been committed. The Citizens Rights Department of the Federal Ministry of Justice, the NBA, the MDCN and the CSOs should sensitise Nigerians on some of these issues.
Away from legal matters to politics. What do you make of the gale of defections by politicians across the country?
You see, it’s a phenomenon that is anticipated because our democracy is still developing. Some of the democracies we look up to such as that of the United States of America nay the Western world, you would realize that some of them are over two hundred years and must have gone through this budding stage of their political encyclopaedia. The African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa which was founded on the 8th of January 1912, two year before Nigeria was amalgamated, did not get to where it is today by wishful thinking.
So, for us as lawyers, we are delighted that some of these posers and issues are surfacing and can only be resolved by the courts one way or the other. Those who are aggrieved should engage a lawyer or lawyers and contest the issues in court not behind a camera, on social media or beer parlour. Nigeria has the most brilliant set of lawyers in the world, both young and old. Moreover, My Noble Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen GCON, has positively repositioned the entire Judiciary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And as such, the Heads of Courts at every level have followed suit.