By Mzee Onyango Odongo
Throughout civilised world, law is regarded as a noble profession, which stemmed from God’s commandments, intended to protect the weak and reward the innocent.
Therefore, lawyers who are trained to dispense legal services to members of the society are given top position of honors in the first rung of the ladder of guardianship of the society.
This author once witnessed how a brilliant young Etesot, named Olemokan, was protected from human wickedness and rewarded by honest dispensation of the law, by a British magistrate, named Barnwell, who was working in Soroti in 1950.
Olemokan was employed by the Agricultural Department as FUNDI PAMBA. In 1949, he worked hard with the Etem Chief, to mobilise cotton growers, and the peasants who lived in their Etem produced much more cotton. Therefore, during the buying season of 1949/1950, he resided at Cotton Buying Center, to make sure that his hardworking growers were paid correct amount for their cotton. He virtually prevented the Indian buyer from cheating his growers.
Then an Indian Ginner, who wanted his buyer to be left free to cheat the growers, offered reward Olemukan sh500, to persuade him to stop supervising his buyer. Olemokan agreed and was asked to collect the cash from the Ginnery on a Sunday. Olemokan went after the Church service, and as soon as the Indian paid him the sh500, a policeman emerged from side room and arrested him.
He was charged with the offence of receiving a bribe before Barnwell. During the trial, the Indian buyer told the Court that when the buying season began, three weeks ago, the accused put his chair beside him, where he could read the weights registered by the bags of cotton hanged on scale, and declared the amount buyers must pay to every grower. Barnwell abruptly asked the buyer’’ when did he first demand the sh500?’’
The buyer answered “He never demanded the sh500. It was my boss who offered him sh500, in order to stop him dictating to me the amount I should pay to each grower.’’
Barnwell replied "that is enough". Then he asked the District Agriculture Officer (DAO) to speak about accused's character. He told the court that Olemokan was possibly the best African employee in Teso land. He never expected him to demand. Barnwell nodded "that is enough. Thank you very much". And he began to write his judgment for about 15 minutes. Then he in the open count as follows:
It has been proved beyond any doubt that the accused, Olemokan, is a decent hardworking young man, who has genuine love and concern for the growers in his area. He was motivated by the love of the people to settle in the Cotton Buying Center to prevent the Indian buyer from cheating the invariably illiterate growers, and he did this very well.
The Indian Ginnery manager, without any stake in the cotton industry, or interest in the Uganda's economy progress, decided not only to give his buyer freedom to cheat African growers with impunity, but also to use her majesty’s Court to lock this good young man in jail for years and ruin his promising career completely.
Such wickedness wasn’t permitted to overrule moral virtues. I, therefore, exonerate Olemokan from all the devilish allegations made against him and I order that the sh500 that was used by the Ginner to trap him to be handed over to the accused right now to be a reward for his suffering in Prison on remand. I order that he will be taken safely with his money, by police tender back to his home’’.
The O.C. Police was in the Court, ordered the Police Tender Driver to go to the Court, and pick up Olemokan, his young wife; his father, mother and two or three relatives, who attended the trial, and drive them home. This was the best court judgment I ever knew in Uganda.
Our first generation of lawyers, who replaced the British lawyers maintained very high standard of legal professions. In fact the late Benedicto Kiwanuka and Michael Kagwa were killed by Idi Amin because they refused to stoop low.
Unfortunately, Uganda of today is reeking with the stench of worldly ambition and lust of dominance. Hence our lawyers are divided into two irreconcilable categories.
The first categories included morally superior Justices of the Supreme Court Justices of the Appeal Court, Judges of the High Court and Chief magistrates, who still maintain the notions of ethics and integrity.
The second category included a new generation of lawyers who see law practice as the route to wealth. They jeer and laugh at the morally superior lawyers as DINOSAURS in the legal profession, who can no longer match concurrently with changes. Many of them would critically study the evidence collected by the police and other investigators, not to prove the truth but to use loopholes, which they found, to help criminals out for money. They are proud to have rescued their thieving clients with deception and manipulation of the law.
Their corrosive activities must be stopped immediately. Fortunately, we now have morally superior lawyers in key offices in the judiciary. Therefore, Uganda Law Society should redeem Legal Profession in Uganda.
The writer is a retired NRM director of information and mass mobilization