FOR FOUR SUNDAYS, THIS column will be devoted to thoughts I shared with the Catholic Lawyers' Forum in the Archdiocese of Ibadan at its annual retreat on August 25, 2018.  Who is the Catholic lawyer?  What makes a lawyer Catholic?  Is it simply the fact of confessional affiliation?  Is one a Catholic lawyer simply because one worships within the four walls of a Catholic Church?  How does a Catholic lawyer come about his or her identity as a Catholic lawyer?  What ought to inform and form the Catholic lawyer?  These and related questions are what I would like to reflect upon in the thoughts I am about to share with you.

A lawyer, by simple definition, is an officer of the law.  As officer of the law, a lawyer is at the service of the law.  If one were to go by way of a Catholic definition of the law, that which St Thomas Aquinas bequeathed to the Catholic tradition, a law is an ordinance of reason promulgated by one who is responsible for the community, for the sake of the common good.  If the law is an ordinance of reason it cannot be a directive issued according to the whims and caprices of the lawgiver.  If the law is promulgated, then it must be brought to the attention of those who are to be subject to the law.  No one is justly sanctioned on the basis of a law that had not been enacted, and when the act for which he or she is being sanctioned was yet to be commanded or prohibited by law as at the time the act was committed.  That effectively rules out any retroactive application of a law.  If the purpose of the law is the promotion and protection of the common good, then the law is neither to be promulgated for the selfish interest of the lawgiver nor to be promulgated to persecute a certain individual or groups of individuals. 

What is to be retained here, for the purpose of identifying a Catholic lawyer, is that a Catholic lawyer is at the service of the common good.  The Catholic lawyer does not just win cases.  He or she bears witness to the Gospel by being at the service of the common good. 

Since the law is meant to promote and protect the common good, and since promotion and protection of the common good is a moral issue, the lawyer must be subject to moral norms.  He or she is not just to do what is lawful, that is, what is permitted by the state, the lawyer must do what is moral.  In the same vein, the lawyer is not just to avoid what is  unlawful,  that  is,  what  is  prohibited by the state, the lawyer is to avoid what is immoral.

If the lawyer is to be subject to moral norms, the Catholic lawyer is one whose moral life is formed and informed by Catholic moral principles.  Concretely, as one who is at the service of the society by being at the service of the common good, the Catholic lawyer is one whose legal practice is inspired, formed and informed by Catholic moral principles in general, by Catholic social doctrine in particular.  This doctrine rests on four pillars, namely, promotion of human dignity, promotion of the common good, the principle of solidarity, and the principle of subsidiarity.  Human dignity is promoted by promoting the common good, and the common good is promoted by promoting the dignity of every human person from the womb to the tomb.  One would fit into the description of a Catholic lawyer if he or she would promote and defend human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.  It is a matter of asking yourselves, as individuals and as forum of Catholic lawyers, if it can be said that you have been at the service of human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.

I shall explain what each of these means for us as Catholics.  But for now, let me state that the issue of killings in the Nigerian states of the middle belt represents another index of a habitual disrespect for human dignity and the common good in Nigeria.  The role of the state is to protect the dignity of every human person within its jurisdiction, and to work for and protect the common good.  The role of a lawyer is to ensure that the rights and dignity of the citizens are neither violated by the state nor violated by one's fellow citizens.  Even the dignity of an accused person, even that of a convicted person, is to be defended.  That is why a lawyer plays the role of defender of the accused person.  The objective of the lawyer's participation in the judicial process is not to protect an accused person from prosecution but to protect the accused person from persecution, to ensure that rights that pertain to the accused are not violated in the process of persecution, in a process where persecution is presented as prosecution.

Ours is a country where the rights of the accused are violated, and his or her dignity denied.  Respect for human dignity and the common good makes it imperative to speak up against instances of media trial.  Think of what has become fashionable in this country-the parade of suspects on prime-time television.  One is surprised that the Nigerian Bar Association has not made a statement on this.  One is even more surprised that the Catholic Lawyers' Forum maintains a deafening silence on the matter.  As we all know, quite often, we only see bruised and battered suspects.  We hear nothing of their prosecution, nothing of their conviction.  They are already convicted in the court of public opinion where the onus of proof is almost nil.

The killings in the middle belt represent an unconscionable violation of human dignity that is inimical to the common good.  It has been made possible by an absence of solidarity, by a constitutionally-enabled disrespect for the principle of subsidiarity in the operation of a unitary constitution that says a government may exist without law enforcement agencies.  That is the case when the constitution recognizes there are state governments but does not allow the establishment of state police.  In a curious mix-up, the constitution says states can make laws but disempowers states from establishing an institution that enables her to enforce the law.  Such is the case when a country as vast as Nigeria is being policed from the federal capital city.  To be continued.

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