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Legal practice redefined me – Blind lawyer

By Esther Blankson,

A visually impaired author and lawyer, Dr Michael Adekunle, who handles criminal and terrorism cases, talks to ESTHER BLANKSON about his motivation, achievements and challenges

How did you become visually impaired?

I lost my sight when I was about six years old when the son of my father’s neighbour, who happened to be my mother’s best friend, threw a stone at my eye. It caused the eye to bleed profusely and it was not given the right medical attention.

Why did you not receive the right medical attention?

My parents weren’t educated and they used herbs for the treatment of the affected eye and the same herbs for the unaffected one. Along the line, inflammation set in and that was how I lost both eyes.

You are also an author. What is your motivation?

I strive to do the best that I can and what I cannot do will be left to God and God-appointed men to help me accomplish it. But God-appointed men will want to see what I’ve been able to do on my own. Another thing that drives me is that I like to be the first achiever and if I cannot be the first, then I can be the best so far. And in all of that, I aspire to be different. The man who strives to be different will end up being outstanding. The one who strives to be outstanding will end up being a standout. So, these things keep me going.

Again, there is brevity to life and to time. Good time management is good life management. If you’re able to keep ahead of time, then time is at your mercy. When time is ahead of you and you are have to pursue pace after it, you are at the mercy of time, which is terrible. I need to do everything to be ahead of time.

What are your thoughts about aspirations?

I believe that men who have small dreams will always end up with less, least, or nothing. I don’t want to end up with little. My dream has always been to be a lawyer. I’m a lawyer now. My dream is also to become a writer, and I am getting there with 34 books. I’ve always dreamt of being an icon in the teaching profession and there is a prospect for that, though it has yet to be fulfilled. My fourth dream is to own the world’s largest library and the world’s largest printing press – one in Nigeria for Africa, one in America for the Americas, and one in London for Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world. When I look at these dreams, I can’t lie down to achieve them because when you lie down with your dreams, they remain in the realm of dream, and after a while, they fly away and become the dream and reality of another person, which means to get your dreams fulfilled, you need to keep working at it. Working on your dreams turns them into reality, and leaving them to lie fallow will keep them in the realm of theories only.

What do you consider as the major problem that hampers the realisation of one’s aspirations?

I’ve come to realise that sleep is one of man’s greatest enemies. I agree that one needs to rest but too much rest becomes abuse. They say we should have eight hours (of sleep) but I find that bad enough because, by the time I turn 60, sleeping for eight hours daily, I would have slept for 20 years. I never bask in the euphoria of yesterday’s success. Yesterday’s success is history, today is a new day. So I celebrate a new book, but once that day has ended, that joy fizzles into oblivion. It is a new day to pursue a new thing. I look forward to every new day to pursue a new thing. I’m always thinking about what is next. I never postpone a day’s assignment for the next. It’s a bad pill to swallow because procrastination is a killer of vision.

 When you achieve all your aspirations, will you say you have reached self-actualisation?

There is no self-actualisation. The moment a man begins to feel satisfied with anything, he is finished. I will never be satisfied until breath is no longer at my beck and call. It’s a continuum and it reaches no end because even death will not stop me; the legacy that has been left behind will continue speaking even on my epitaph.

Being visually impaired, what challenges do you face while researching or writing a book?

When I was at the University of Aberdeen, machines did the work. They turned the printed text into Braille for me to read or converted them into readable compact disc read-only memory, which I could slot into my laptop and my speech software would begin to read textbooks to me. But in this part of the world, It is a lot more arduous. I read some books online. Other times, I have to hire people to get articles and books for me on the Internet and convert them into readable texts, or if the books are not available online, I buy the textbooks or borrow them, then get someone to type the big massive textbook all out in word format then put it on a flash drive, and then I can read.

It is arduous but challenges are common to living. The fact that I’m blind doesn’t make me exceptional or most prone to challenges in life. Life has equal and unequal fairness for everyone. So, I don’t see it as a challenge. I see challenges as stairs that I have to ascend and get to the top and as part of hard work, which is very sweet. Labour is very sweet because it gives satisfaction. I don’t look at the beginning to achieve any feat or success; I always look at the joyful end.

What inspired you to write the book, ‘Human Rights, Sustainable Development and Inclusivity in the New Africa’?

Human Rights, Sustainable Development and Inclusivity in the New Africa: Realising the Africa of Our Dream by 2063 in An Era Where Peace and Security Thrives is one of my 34 books. It was written and concluded in August 2022. What inspired me is the same thing that has inspired me for the other 33 books but a little more because it’s about Africa. I recall that in 2002, the Secretary General of the United Nations at the time, Kofi Annan, said Africa was not ready. He was referring to questions surrounding human rights and general well-being, and true, Africa wasn’t ready at the time and Africa isn’t fully ready at this time.

Except a clarion call is made, Africa will not be ready after this time. The heads of government came together in 2013 when Africa turned 50. When I say turning 50 or turning 100, I am referring to the Organisation of African Unity, which started in 1963 and which has metamorphosed into the African Union. So, when Africa turned 50 in 2013, they (African countries) came together and set up about 20 priority goals. Now, it was quite encompassing but even at that, there’s still some shortfall.

The book is a clarion call to take note of certain loopholes, to borrow a leaf from the African Union and the Asian tigers, how they are running things, especially economically, in the area of discrimination, inclusivity and in matters concerning gender.

In what way has the legal practice shaped your life?

Being a legal practitioner has been defining, redesigning and reinventing. Law practice has shaped and defined me and my reasoning. It has even defined my style of writing. It gives me a lot of joy and a sense of fulfilment when I speak with great erudition before a judge in the presence of a client. The smile on the face of a client is much more than $1m and is a spark of fire that keeps me going. It is the greatest advertisement about my name and my intellect.

Have you had any bad experiences appearing before a judge?

I have handled many criminal cases and have not lost one. I have realised that if normal people do two things to succeed, I need to do three, four, or five as a blind person because it is a crowded world, so I need to do the extra to stand out. I’ve only had one bad experience in a magistrates’ court with a case I inherited from a colleague. I was given the wrong information and I used that in court. The other defence lawyer got up and began to insult me, calling me a liar.

How did you react?

Well, I reacted to that and the judge came up and said he was going to take us on for contempt of court and I said, ‘My Lord, no, I’m not going to be involved in that because my Lord was present while I was being called a liar and all that and my Lord did not protect me’. That was my worst experience but that didn’t make the magistrate a bad person. I have good stories to tell about what I enjoy.

Can you share one of your memorable moments?

I’m sure there are many memorable ones. I usually tell the judges when I do a cross-examination that I need them to continue their impartiality by becoming judges of morality in the sense that as a prosecutor who is blind, I need the judge to not only write down, but to also show a bit of his impartiality by assisting me to monitor the defendant to ensure that he does not make any eye contact with any member of the court.

Since I’m blind, the defence counsel can take advantage of that and make signals to the defendant in the dock and I don’t want that to happen. So I keep the judges on their toes to make sure that they are monitoring, and that every answer that the defendant gives, they do so facing the judge and the judge alone. When I ask the defendant questions, they have to face the judge. In a particular case, the defence counsel was not comfortable with that but he had no choice. The judge reasoned and agreed with me. That’s one memorable moment. In prosecuting cases of terrorism, the judges make nice comments about my presentations and these give me great memories.

Do you feel intimidated by your colleagues during court proceedings?

No, I don’t. I am not intimidated by my visual challenge because the game between the prosecutor and the defendant is a mental one not an eye game. I do my homework before going to court. So, it is my brain hitting out against their brains and we see the most superior brain. Also, considering my training in the Nigerian Law School, it is impossible. Our psyche is built to be confident. That is part of what I mean by being redefined by legal practice. By the time you step out of Law School, you are already a transformed person. There is hardly an issue in life that can send shivers down your spine.

Defence counsel can come up with very powerful submissions. But I don’t have to be intimidated. It is for me to reason out good and heavy legal responses backed up by case laws, superior legal arguments, and authorities from the apex court where possible. The game between the prosecutor and the defence counsel is one between a football striker and a defender who is preventing him from scoring. No matter how powerful submissions are, it is my duty to cook up a superior legal argument to outwit him.

What should we expect from you in the next five years?

I want to become a world-renowned professor of International Law. I dream of having my printing presses and the largest library in the world. I also want to have enough resources to send every blind person in Nigeria to school through a non-governmental organization of mine. In my view, the worst form of disability is blindness. The best you can do for a blind person is to hand education over to them. It will transform them. By giving them education, you would have returned the sight to them. Education is vision; it sees and refines. Education sets and restores lost destinies to the blind and I will love to give that to blind people.

Do you think that the government has done enough to help people with disabilities?

In my view, the present government has tried its best. I don’t belong to any political party, but the truth must be told. Aristotle said Plato was dear to him but the truth was his dearest. First, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the Disability Act was signed into law. The Disability Act has wide provisions for persons with disabilities in general.

Second, the Electoral Act, for the first time, to the best of my knowledge, took into cognisance the difficulties that persons with disabilities encounter in the course of exercising their franchise. For example, Section 54 of the Electoral Act makes provisions for blind persons to cast their votes and that is commendable. Also, the government over the years set aside one per cent allocation in terms of employment at the federal level for persons with disability, particularly blind persons. One per cent is low, and the government can do better. I am sure there are more than 10 million Nigerians who are blind, either educated or uneducated.

How else can the government improve the lives of people with disabilities?

It can make education compulsory for all people with disabilities. Resources can be set aside for that because there are limitations whether we like it or not for persons with disabilities. There are job opportunities that persons with disabilities cannot apply for. A lot more can be done with education and employment. The government needs to talk to organisations with draconian and discriminatory policies.

The governments need to show more inclusivity to people with disabilities in politics and appointments. More scholarships should be given to indigent but people with disabilities. I will plead with the government for clemency on that and many other areas, but I won’t say they haven’t done anything because that will be superfluous. The government has tried through the years. I believe they are still trying but they can do much more.

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