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New Dealers And Gullible Lawyers 

By Peterkins Manyong

Conditions in a society have to be exceptionally bad before a large number of people undertake to overthrow its leadership by revolution.

This view of British historian, Herbert L. Peacock, on the French Revolution of 1789 equally sums up frantic efforts by Cameroonians to uproot the New Dealers in the early 90s. In the process, hundreds of Cameroonians were killed, maimed and arrested. Lawyers couldn’t care less. They watched with arms akimbo the macabre political drama. But when one of theirs was recently jailed on charges of conniving to defraud the state, the whole lawyers’ core stood up in arms.

Their argument is not without substance. A lawyer has as much right to his dues as any other worker, clergymen and women, included. Etienne Abessolo, the jailed lawyer, by helping the national Ports Authority recover FCFA 5 billion, deserved more than FCFA 176 million as fee. Unfortunately, the person who gave the lawyer the money, instead of saying he paid him, it means the money was not genuinely earned. Several lawyers have put up a spirited defence for Abessolo, some coming close to canonizing him. His advocates include Barrister Henry Kemende, Northwest Representative of the Cameroon Bar Council.

In a broadcast over a Bamenda-based FM radio station, Kemende sanctified the legal profession by recalling that lawyers existed even at the time of Jesus Christ. What he did not or could not say is that Christ was anything but an advocate for lawyers and the law courts, which he advised his followers to avoid at all cost.

"And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, give him your shirt also…" (Matt.5:40) Christ was particularly unflattering towards the Pharisees, professed authorities on the Laws of Moses, whom he said,  obstructed  the entrance to the warehouse of truth; they are neither entering, nor allowing those entering to go in. Christ was vindicated when he was subjected to an unfair trial and executed by a law court that saw more justification in setting free an armed robber (Barnabas) than an innocent man.

Whether taking the cue from Christ or writing from personal experience, several writers have since portrayed lawyers as persons to be avoided altogether, or treated with contempt and/or distrust. In his "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales", Geoffrey Chaucer describes the Sergeant at Law, one of his characters, as one who is always busy, but who always appears busier.

Worse than being a "busybody" the lawyer is generally considered a mercenary. In the graveyard scene, Hamlet chooses for ridicule the skull of a lawyer, when in his "cross-examination" he asks: "Is this the fine (end) of all his fines (fees) now that his fine (beautiful) head is filled with fine (tiny particles) of dust?" Swift takes a harder position than Shakespeare when he makes Lemuel Gulliver describe a lawyer as one who can prove that black is white and white, black depending on how much he is paid.

According to the author, a lawyer is so accustomed to defending falsehood that he is often at a loss when called upon to stand as an advocate for the truth. The legal profession defies the Biblical injunction against swearing and Ali Mazrui, a Moslem, makes one of his characters at the trial of Christopher Okigbo question the idea of telling "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".

"Who apart from God knows what the whole truth is?" the character asks. Lawyers, though they profess, can seldom if ever, be genuine campaigners against vengeance because their stock in trade is the issuing of affidavits and counter-affidavits. As a consequence of moral bankruptcy, but more out of hunger, most lawyers are specialists in touting (persuading supposed aggrieved persons to initiate legal action). History is often a better cherished source of inspiration because it is the source of legal ingredients called "precedents’ and George Gordon actually describes it in his poem, "The Vision of Judgment as "the devil’s scripture".

Betraying the secrets of many clients to their richer opponents is another practice for which many Cameroonian lawyers deserve the guillotine. Such a practice endangers the client and (which is equally disastrous) results in the imprisonment of the innocent while the guilty triumph. Perhaps the most grievous of sins is the situation where the lawyer transforms himself into a jury tyrant, terrorizing his opponents or even his clients.

Many Bamenda inhabitants in the Brasseries du Cameroun neighbourhood are yet to recover from the nightmarish experience they had with a young lawyer, now of blessed memory. This barrister (names withheld) was more dreaded than the fire-spitting legendary monster, the Chimera. None of his neighbours dared oppose him not even in so harmless an argument like that centred on football. The neighbours learnt their lesson the hard way when after such a dispute in a bar, the lawyer invited police of the Mobile Intervention Unit (GMI) who detained all of them.

He would accuse them of intimidation, assault and even battery. They would regain their liberty only after paying a substantial sum of money which the lawyer shared with his police accomplices. These misdemeanours apart, the legal profession is an indispensable and gainful one. Their strike action was generally welcome to most Cameroonians who are ready to support all opponents of the New Deal.

Unfortunately, the lawyers, by striking only for a short time only scorched the New Deal serpent, without killing it. They demonstrated gullibility through faith in the promise that their grievances would be looked into, forgetting that results of commissions end in the drawers of those who formed them. It is hoped that at the meeting which will hold in Kumba on July 4 and the Bar Council Assembly of July 24, they will take a tougher position than ever they did against the New Dealers.

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