By Kayode Adeoti
There was so much joy in the family of Adebayo James when he finally secured admission to study Law at the prominent Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Osun State after he had passed Joint Admission Matriculation Board exam (JAMB) at his fourth attempt. His programme at the institution was rocked with perennial strike in which he could not complete his 5 years course of study until the 9th year.
He however, finally graduated in 2011. For him to go through the Nigerian Law School, his mother, a single parent had to halt the education of his siblings in order to pay N245,000 school fee (as at then) and to secure other necessary requirements for him. When he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2013, Mrs James heaved sigh of relief, hoping that her expenses over him was over and that he will soon be sending money for his younger ones’ education. It was also a testament of joy for Mrs James when she heard that his son has been retained by one of the foremost law Chambers in Nigeria at Ado, Ekiti State, where he observed his NYSC programme.
But, unfortunately, Mrs James’ joy was short-lived when Adebayo could only send N3000 at month end for the upkeep of the family. When more money was demanded from him to off-set the accumulated school fees of his younger ones, he confessed that he only earn N11,500 monthly. How such amount could sustain a legal practitioner in this present economic state of the country now becomes an issue.
This however, has become the tale of several young lawyers in Nigeria.
The issue has continued to generate discourse in the legal arena. The new wigs on the platform of the Young Lawyers Forum (YLF), often criticise their principals for using them to execute bulk of the legal works but in return received what some of them described as ‘fragment of the money generated through their efforts’
In fact, the National Executive Council (NEC) Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) held in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital recently, was like a prayer answered for the Young Lawyers Forum (YLF), following the issue of their monthly remuneration that was extensively discussed.
Sequel to this development, leadership of the YLF, during the NEC meeting approached the NBA with a recommendation of N50,000 minimum wage for the practitioners under training, and the sum of N25,000 for the lawyers undergoing the compulsory National Youth Service scheme.
But uncertainty has continued to trail the recommendation as the President of the NBA, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud SAN, failed to proffer immediate solution to the lingering debate, rather he inaugurated a 13-man committee with its members drawn from various branches of NBA in the country.
The committee which was chaired by Monday Ubani has the task to formulate a pragmatic framework for the new salary scale agitation.
According to some legal juggernauts in the profession, for the active role the Kwara state jurisdiction plays in NBA, it ought to have set the pace for others in the remuneration of legal practitioners in training.
Findings by Pilot Law however revealed that insignificant number of law firms in Ilorin, which are believed to be less than 5 per cent could meet up with the recommended N50,000 for young lawyers.
Also, some members of YLF who are currently observing their tutelage programme in various law firms in Ilorin claimed that many principals have neither monthly rewarding package nor occasional incentives for young lawyers serving under them.
It was further learned that Mallam Yusuf Ali SAN and the onetime Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Titus Ashaolu SAN pay the highest in Ilorin with the monthly salary ranging from N35,000 to N50,000.
Other senior members of the bar whose chambers were said to pay averagely well in Ilorin include; Lawal Rabana SAN, John Baiyeashea SAN, Kayode Olatoke SAN, Abeni Muhamed SAN, Rafiu Oyeyemi Balogun, Ronke Adeyemi, Femi Makinde and a few others.
Some members of the YLF who spoke on the basis of anonymity yesterday however disclosed that poor welfare packages of some of their bosses forced many of them to establish their own law firms when they are yet to get the prerequisite experience of the profession.
“As a result of the treatment we received from our principals whom God have blessed, we pulled out. That is why we have proliferation of law firms all around the state. They made us leave them when we are not ripe or ready. The salary some of them pay is annoying, imagine a chamber at Taiwo road area paying N7000, some pay N10,000.
“I’m undergoing my tutelage with a very senior member of the bar in the state, we are about five in office, our principal is always away so I attend to his files both in and out of the court, he pays N10,000 monthly. How can that sustain a man with family? I’m planning to leave though he must not know yet,” the source stressed.
The NBA chairman, Issa Manzuma, in his reaction to the issue, stressed that the payment of the recommended N50,000 might not be feasible considering the economic situation in Ilorin.
“I agree that the salary of lawyers generally should sustain them, no chamber can pay enough salary to a professional… but unfortunately, the payment is determined by demand and supply, the business environment in Ilorin can’t sustain the payment of N50,000 for the young lawyers. Very few chambers in Ilorin can afford this, because the business is not there. We have to be very careful so that we don’t send some of our colleagues into the labour market. A lawyer doesn’t depend on monthly salary alone, there are other incentives like appearance fee,” Manzuma stated.
Manzuma however expressed surprise when he was confronted with the allegation that some of his colleagues in the state jurisdiction do not have any incentive package for trainees in their chambers. He vehemently opposed the allegation even as he stated that payment of young lawyers depend on the type of arrangement individual principals formulate to run his or her chamber.
According to him, some of our law firms have unique arrangements that supersede monthly salary.
“It depends on the arrangement between the lawyers and the law firms. They might be operating on associate level, which implies that whatever comes into the chambers, the trainees will be given certain percentage, it is even better than payment of salary,” he added.
In the same vein, Chairman of the YLF, Ilorin branch, Olayinka Dauda Jimoh, corroborated the claim that not many law firms pay so much, stressing that chambers domicile in Ilorin that pay N50,000 are not more than three.
“Our condition is pitiable, what we receive most times as monthly wages doesn’t commensurate with the job executed for our bosses. No lawyer today in Ilorin collects N50,000 except in the Ministry of Justice, our private chambers pay as low as N5,000. Young lawyers are poorly remunerated in Nigeria. Not that the N50,000 is enough but at least, if the recommendation is implemented, it will improve our condition.
“For those ones paying us nothing, it is bad, they should emulate others paying” Jimoh emphasised
“Manzuma doesn’t pay but he has a superb payment arrangement that is better than monthly salary, he pays on percentage base on the brief that comes in. Baiyeshea SAN, Toyin Onoolapo do similar package in which those working under them smile home, especially at the end of the year. But, those that pay nothing should ‘please save our soul’.
Also lending voice is Olanrewaju Afeez Yusuf of Eminent Chambers who stressed that the proposed N50,000 minimum wage will in no small measure improve the well being of young lawyers if implemented, adding that those concerned should yield to the call.
“The issue of the minimum wage is a welcome development coming at this time considering the present situation and circumstances surrounding the practise, the work will not be complete if it is left at the recommendation level, I will really be pleased if it is implemented. In our chambers, we are paid well, we appreciate our boss and God for that,” Yusuf stated.
Meanwhile, a member of the forum, Ibrahim Taiwo Olojoku, expressed divergent view as he opposed the agitation for N50,000 minimum wage, adding that lawyers under training should rather make acquisition of germane experience from his principal, paramount.
“The idea of paying junior stipend is not new; it is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. In the real sense of legal practise, no senior can pay adequately, and mostly, what they call salary is allowance. Young lawyers don’t earn salary from senior, what they should be after is experience, which is golden,” he stated.