TRAGEDY OF A HUNGRY LAWYER
When the trajectory of a man's fortunes take a steady dip and hopes appear forlorn, it takes a strong resolve to resist a stick of carrot dangling from the blues. But a seeming elixir could turn a fatal bite, like in the tragedy of lawyer Abel, who takes one bite too many in George Nnamani's thriller, A Lawyer's Temptation, which dramatizes the downfall of greedy lawyer.
Barrister Abel Meregini is a typical 'charge and bail' lawyer not given to rigorous effort to take his legal practice to a new height. At school, he was a never-do-well. Still, years into legal practice, the ghost of failure haunts him about. Eventually, it follows him to a cesspit.
A high court judge of repute in Nigeria, the author, Justice Nnamani, brings his rich understanding of the workings of Nigerian legal practice and criminality to bear in his thrillers. Thus, readers are fed with unput-down-able reads replete with suspense, twists and thrills. Nnamani's narrative is gripping with the surprise element. If a coin is tossed into the sky, it is bound to fall and ricochet. For Nnamani, the fall has to be suspended; something has to be skewed.
A Lawyer's Temptation has a contemporary setting, Eden is a metaphor for a Nigerian city and the society itself is symptomatic of ours. Sir Edward Hallo-Peters is the billionaire entrepreneur with a scatterbrained only son, Nelson; Chief Roderick is the billionaire expatriate telecoms giant fighting for justice over the murder of his son, Manasseh; Nelson is the idiot boy himself, who, instead of attending to his academic pursuits in the university, turns to a cultist and murderer, thinking his father's money can save him from the hangman's noose.
Stereotypes have their roles to play, too: the incorruptible judge, the greedy policemen easily manipulated, the slut doing anything for money, the perjuring testifier governed by lucre, the bombastic lawyer with little substance (like Steve), and the like.
The conflict in the novel arises when Nelson clobbers his rival, Manasseh, to death for bedding his girlfriend. The gangster, buoyed by his cultist affiliation, owns up to the murder, in a confession to the police, for he wants to prove his heroics. He is equally unruffled when the defence lawyer wants to plead his case: '… I will plead guilty. It is a matter of honour. Besides, I am Vice Capo, and I will never be Capo if I prove myself a coward' (37).
To save his only son from dying, his mogul father, instead of hiring a renowned lawyer to argue his case, hires a 'charge and bail' lawyer, Abel, with a low rating, hoping hope that the huge sum of money (one million riza, offered him would swell his head and have him resort to crooked means to turn the tide.
Sir Edward's desperation in couched irresistibly: '… my son's case is bad, so bad that legal skill and industry will not save him… Your kind of a lawyer is the desperate remedy that my son's desperate needs. His case does not need a sound lawyer. It needs a crooked one …. I mean a criminal in wig and gown…' (p.20).
This is no laughing matter. Abel exemplifies the crooked lawyer, what with his dubious ways, exaggerated airs, as well as pretentious lifestyle. In Abel, Nnamani shows us how not to be a lawyer. Here is a lawyer who operates in a despicable one-room apartment, owes staff salaries for months and merely takes care of himself. There nothing regal about his legal practice.
Expectedly, when the case comes up for hearing in the court for hearing, Abel Meregini dramatizes his incompetence, making himself a laughing stock to all. Nnamani relives tensions in the story with comic episodes. To save the evil day after Abel has been given the first baptism of fire, Abel and his crony, Steve, goes on a wife-haunting adventure on campus. But when they behold a group of medical students dismembering a corpse for medical studies, they take to their heels.
When it dawns on Sir Edward that, with the way the case is going, he is fighting a losing battle, he reminds Abel of the need to embark on crooked measures to win the case and take the outstanding eight million riza. For the incompetent lawyer, it is like an open sesame to reach for the moon with gentle strides. Therefore, working in concert with a diehard criminal, Yobo, and his accomplices, he succeeds in stealing the case files of the Chief Shagaya, the judge, Lord Dike, and the police report, as well.
The last dregs of the plot build up to an exhilarating climax, highly cinematic and intriguing un-end. Detective Harrison comes into the picture to salvage a bad situation: he must find the mastermind of the disappeared documents. After what seems like a futile assignment, the police try to rebuild the case from the scratch. Abel and his men are aware of this. So, they have to scupper it. But the gang's mission to eliminate Didi, the testifier, is aborted when the boys run into six disguised policemen in the hotel, who gun two of them down, taking the female accomplice hostage.
However, Nnamani keeps Abel in the dark about this development, leaving him full of hopes in the court that his boys will deliver and the case will die prematurely. To his surprise, both Harrison and Didi appear in the court when the case comes again for hearing and testifies! Expectedly, Abel and Sir Edward lose the case. Worse still, the failed lawyer is arrested for murder. Despite indeterminate ending of the novel, his fate is already known.
Moments after you have finished the novel, A Lawyer's Temptation stays with you: the unmitigated disaster of lawyer Abel and the delinquent Nelson becomes a pointer to the price for infamy. The bottom line is that you can't bend the law. George Nnamani pens thriller like no other in Nigeria, which is why it is still a wonder he hasn't got the kind of accolades deserving of his genius.