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Save Us From Exploitative Salaries, Young Nigerian Lawyers Cry Out by Nobody: 12:08am On Aug 20, 2013
Rachael (not her real name), obtained her first law degree from the University of Ilorin and was called to the bar in 2008.

She has realised that she had missed the point thinking that her venture for a further study abroad would give her an edge over her contemporaries in the legal practice in Nigeria.

With her master's degree (Merit) which she got from the University College, London in the United Kingdom in 2011, what she met on the ground was a far cry from her expectations in the three firms she had worked in.

The 28-year old lady, who practises in a Lagos law firm, was earning N50,000 during her National Youth Service Corps but was paid N30,000 with her master's degree after the one-year exercise.

She is lucky to be earning "above N100,000" at her current firm in Lagos.

She said, "When I returned from my master's programme in the U.K sometime in 2011, I worked with a law firm where I was paid the sum of N30,000 as my salary for a month. I discovered that in a month, I spent about N60,000 on my running cost (feeding and transport to work).Though I was paid stipends every month, I had to remind my principal about my salary every month end before he issued my cheque. I was so disgusted about the manner the firm was run that I barely spent two months in the law firm.

"As a corps member in 2009, I was paid N 50,000, while in 2011(after I had obtained a master's degree), I was paid N30,000."

Mr. Peter David (not his real name), who graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and called to the Nigerian Bar in 2008, has worked in four law firms.

His first was in Ilorin which he joined during his national youth service.

He said his subsequent movement to other firms in Ilorin and later to another in Ibadan was out of the frustration he experienced at those firms.

David, who is now in Ibadan, is not on salary at a firm to which he attached himself so as to have access to law materials and other resources at the firm.

He said, "I was earning a monthly salary of N5,000 during my service year (National Youth Service Corps). I was being paid N10,000 monthly at my second law firm and N20,000 at both my third and fourth law firms.

"Currently, I am not on any salary. The job in those firms were so demanding . I was working without stop, usually from 8am to 7pm or occasionally longer hours from Monday to Saturday!"

Adebayo Olatunde (not his real name) described his four years experience at his former firms as "exploitative practices".

Olatunde, whose previous and current firms are in Lagos, was called to the bar in 2008 and has since then worked in three firms.

After past "bizarre" experience at the previous firms, he considers himself lucky to have joined his current firm where he was able to buy a car worth N1.2m within one year.

Olatunde said, "In the second firm, where I worked about four years ago, I witnessed some of the most bizzare and exploitative practices. The office was located somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos, while the sole owner and principal was well above 20years at the bar at the time. We, the young lawyers, worked Mondays to Saturdays and the usual practice was to close at night – usually between 8pm and 9pm.

"I got tired and decided to leave after the initial four months. My then principal grudgingly increased my pay to N50,000. No transport allowances as usual and not a single incentive - nothing whatsoever. It meant virtually every lawyer in the firm, except the principal, spent their exploitative incomes on transportation to the office and absolutely nothing was left to cater for even basic life outside the office."

Olatunde also lamented the fate of his female colleagues at his former firm, whose conditions, he said were worse than his.

He said, "The working conditions were even worse for the ladies among us then. I recall one lady was coming from Ikorodu to Ikeja everyday but she was being paid the same bizzare sum of N20,000 – and nothing more. No incentive whatsoever was given to her and no regard was ever had for her daily hardships which made her spend her entire paltry income to daily transport herself from Ikorodu to Ikeja.

"Another lady usually came to Ikeja from Ikotun while one even had a master's degree from the United Kingdom. The three ladies were horribly renumerated despite their excessive work schedules. In summary, it was a horrible situation and I do not know of any lawyer that didn't leave the office in protest against the exploitative practices there."
Re: Save Us From Exploitative Salaries, Young Nigerian Lawyers Cry Out by Nobody: 12:08am On Aug 20, 2013
Fred Bamidele (not his real name), who was only called to the bar in 2009, vowed to remain on his own, after years of "grievous underpayments by my superiors".

He said, "The first firm I worked for didn't really place me on salary but I worked for eight months there. Though I was already called to bar, he never gave me salary and the only time he gave me money was during Christmas time in 2009 and what he gave me was N10,000 and never again did he give me anything. I would resume work at 7am and closed around 9pm or even 10pm.

"I got the last firm in October 2011 and the principal offered me N15,000 but I rejected it. He then increased it to N20,000 which I still rejected. So he begged me but because he was desperate for a junior , he begged me and said that he was willing to pay N25,000. I took it because I didn't want to stay at home anymore. He increased the salary to N30,000 in March 2012 and to N40,000 around September 2012 when I demanded for an increment. Arround January 2013 he increased it to N50,000 which could not cater for my transportation and feeding for one month.

"In March 2013, I left the firm to to start my own practice."

As the Nigerian lawyers gather in Calabar, the Cross Rivers State capital, for this year's edition of annual conference, which starts on August 25, many of the juniors continue to groan under the alleged exploitations by their superiors.

President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Okey Wali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, could not be reached to respond to the issue.

He neither answered telephone calls nor responded to the text message sent to his phone.

Agbakoba and Ubani's solutions

A former NBA President, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said poor remuneration for young lawyers was an old problem, which he tried to solve during his tenure in office.

He called on the current leadership of the NBA and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, to draw up and arrangement whereby only young lawyers would be entitled to stand as lawyers for those in police custody.

Agbakoba said, "It's an old and sad issue that I gave priority when I was President of NBA. I suggested the duty solicitor programme to ensure legal representation of persons in police custody at major police stations. Solicitors will be young lawyers. Ten thousand young lawyers can be taken to man key police stations in Nigeria. This needs urgent implementation."

He also added that the prosecution of suspects of minor offences should be exclusively reserved for the junior lawyers, an arrangement which he said could absorb 30,000 juniors.

He said, "Also, junior lawyers should have exclusive right to prosecute minor and non capital offences. With this 30,000 juniors can be employed in one go under the NBA/AGF scheme for about N500 million, annually but they will not be civil servants but akin to NYSC."

On his part, Chairman, NBA Ikeja Branch, Mr. Monday Ubani, blamed the problem on the economic situation and lack of opportunities in the country. While he called for the building of more infrastructure to expand the economy, he added that minimum salary for lawyers should be specified by law.

Ubani said, "The issue of poor remuneration for young lawyers has become alarming. The economic situation and lack of opportunities in the country are the chief culprits. We are not expanding the economic structure of Nigeria and so it affects all strata including the legal profession. We need to develop the infrastructure and create conducive economic atmosphere for investment outlets that create business opportunities for lawyers in the profession.

"Secondly a minimum salary can be fixed by law for lawyers. The law should specify the amount nobody should not go below. It is possible to do this through the law in order to help the junior lawyers who are paid pittance."

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