Apr 29, 2018

When Lawyers Bury the Wig and Gown 1: Big Brother and the LPA | Lotanna Attoh

Two weeks ago, the Big Brother Nigeria reality TV show ended, and one youth (who may or may not be lazy, depending on how you look at it) has emerged N25 million naira richer. Also newsworthy, but maybe not as much as the Big Brother finale: the 113 plus Chibok girls still in captivity along with Leah Sharibu; the Benue people still being killed; Lai Mohammed still being Lai Mohammed; Senator Dino Melaye doing Jackie Chan-like stunts; thugs casually visiting the National Assembly; and oh yes, Buhari still remains our president.

Yes, all those take second place to Big Brother; such is the power of mindless reality TV shows. Personally, I have never understood what the fascination is with the Big Brother show, and I never will.

Now you might be wondering what the correlation is between the topic above and Big Brother? Well to those who were regular viewers of the show and are lawyers, such might be obvious; but to others like myself who couldn't be bothered about it, but were forced to receive updates and information on it thanks to social media and the show's numerous fans, that link might not be so obvious. The link between the two is none other its ex housemate, Cynthia Nwadiora aka Cee-C. Still not clear? A little background then.

Cynthia Nwadiora aka Cee-C is, presumably, a lawyer. That is all the background you need.

This article aims to look at the propriety or otherwise of conduct of persons who are presumably practising lawyers, in relation to the relevant sections of the Legal Practitioners Act . Our case study on this discourse will be Cee-C.


We will be working on a set of presumptions. This is solely because of the fact that I don't personally know Cee-C, and thus I cannot factually speak about anything concerning her; inference and presumptions will only be made here.

Our chief presumption and the foundation of this discourse is that the now ex Big-Brother housemate is a lawyer. I say presumption because I don't know for a fact that she is one, but all the information from social media and news outlet claim that she is learned. Till it is rebutted, Cynthia Nwadiora aka Cee-C is a lawyer.

Our next step now is the question: when was she called to the Nigerian Bar?

Her year of call will help in achieving the goal of this article: an earlier year of call will bring about a different analysis from a later one. So, for the sake of this article, we will presume, again, that she was called sometime before she entered for the Big Brother reality show. Let's say some 4 years before; so, 2014 would be  her year of call, hypothetically.

Next is the crucial question: what was Cee-C doing in the '4 years' since she was called to the Nigerian Bar? Was she a practising lawyer, or was she engaged in some other  profession? Again, we must presume here. Let us go with the former supposition, i.e., that she was a practising lawyer. Let us also presume that she was practising up to the moment before she got into the Big Brother house.

Now that we have all our 'facts' in place, let us take stock:

- Cee-C is a lawyer

- Cee-C was called to the Bar in 2014

- Cee-C was a practising lawyer before getting in the Big Brother House

Now let's look at the law in relation to this topic.

The Law

The relevant law to this discourse is the Legal Practitioners (LPA) (Amendment) Act 1994, with specificity to its section 12 (2).

Section 12 (2) states that:

"Where a person whose name is on the roll is judged by the Disciplinary Committee to be guilty of misconduct not amounting to infamous conduct, which in the opinion of the Disciplinary Committee is incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner, the Disciplinary Committee may, if it thinks fit give such direction as is authorised by paragraph (c) (II) or (III) of subsection (1) of this section..."

I have highlighted the relevant portion of that section to our discussion.

To my unlearned friends, the above section is simply saying that where the disciplinary body of our profession finds any lawyer to be guilty of conduct which they judge to be unbecoming of a legal practitioner, such a lawyer will be punished either by being suspended from practising law for a period of time, or by being admonished by the body [section 12 (1)]. Pretty straightforward right? Alas, like with all things law, it isn't so, and there are complications.

To understand these complications, one must first of all understand the true meaning of the section. And to do this, reference must be made to subsection (1) (a) of the same section 12. Section 12 (1) (a) states:

"Where a person who is a member of the legal profession is judged by the Disciplinary Committee to be guilty of infamous conduct in any professional respect..."

The phrase "... infamous conduct in any professional respect" simply means conduct rendered in a professional capacity, which is at variance with the rules and norms of the profession; it seeks to ensure that lawyers act uprightly while rendering their professional services. In the case of NBA v Alabi (2006) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1000) 841, the Disciplinary Committee defined the phrase to mean "infamous conduct in any professional respect is an act or omission which in the opinion of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee is such that will bring the legal profession into disrespect." In that case, the lawyer in question failed to remit to his client money given to him for the client. In another case, Chike v LPDC (2005) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1026) 1, the lawyer misappropriated money given to him for his client. Such was held to be an infamous conduct in a professional respect. In several other cases, the Committee ruled against lawyers who acted unscrupulously in their professional dealings.

Now that we know that section 12 (1) (a) has to do with the lawyers's conduct  in their professional capacity, we turn back to section 12 (2). This section is the direct opposite of section 12 (1) (a). This is so because its provisions make no reference to conduct in a "professional respect," rather the conduct which it seeks to prohibit is that which "is incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner." What would then amount to such conduct? Unfortunately, the Act does not specify; it leaves that question unanswered and open to one's discretion, and there lies the problem. Our case law is also rather lean in this respect, as most of the disciplinary cases have bordered on conduct in a professional respect (I found none which touched on conduct incompatible the status of a legal practitioner.) Despite the dearth of materials on this issue, I will refer to the textbook, Law In Practice in Nigeria (Professional Ethics and Skills) 2nd Edition by A. Obi Okoye, for a better understanding of such conduct as stated under section 12 (2). In pages 384 and 385  under the heading "Conduct not amounting to infamous conduct, but which is incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner," the author lists out certain types of behaviour, that in his opinion may be held to be conduct incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner. He mentions: "the use of obscene language by a legal practitioner in public, habitual drunkenness, fighting in public, seduction of a client or his wife."

We now know the law and its problem; we can now proceed to the last part of this article.


Recall our earlier presumptions on Cee-C (stated above) under the heading "facts," that she is lawyer and she was a practising one up until she entered the Big Brother house? Good.

I'm sure you can now see my destination with all this, but before we arrive there, let us indulge ourselves in one more presumption. For the sake of this discourse, let us presume that Cee-C's conduct in the Big Brother house was terrible and full of shocking behaviour. In any case, the updates and reports on social media during the show showed that this was the case. Still, as I didn't watch the show, I cannot confirm that.

With this last presumption and taking into consideration others mentioned, the question then is: can section 12 (2) of the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Act 1994 be invoked against Cynthia Nwadiora aka Cee-C?

Can her conduct in the house be sufficient  grounds for the Disciplinary Committee to try her, and if found guilty suspend her from practising law or admonish her? Can Cee -C's conduct in the house be held to be conduct which is 'incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner?"

Unfortunately, I don't have the answers to those questions. So, I will leave them to you and the LPDC to ponder on.

Needless to say, it is obvious that section 12 (2) and other sections of the Legal Practitioners Act need to be reviewed and amended. There is currently a bill before the National Assembly seeking to replace the existing Act, but I don't know if it contains an amendment to that section.

To my learned friend Cee-C: Not all of us were made to suffer adjournments and the like... I applaud your hustling spirit. You know what you want, keep chasing it!

I remain a Minister in the Temple of Justice.

L. Attoh Esq. [2018] All rights reserved.
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