Difficult is not the word. Stressful isn’t it either. In fact there is no one word, there is only a collection of words; most of them similar and none of them good. I’ll give you a few examples: stressful, disorganised, rubbish, shit, retarded, violent, chaotic, lazy, unfortunate, inappropriate, painful, back-breaking, fraudulent, burdensome, unsafe, etc. All of these words can be applied to the call to bar ceremony organised by the Council of Legal Education that I attended on Thursday. From reports I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot, it wasn’t an isolated incident or a freak event in an otherwise organised setting. The gentleman I sat beside was called to the bar three years ago, and he testified that there was no great distinction between the events that occurred at his and those that occurred at the one that I was present for.
The event was held in the Abuja International Conference Centre’s Africa Hall. The hall itself seats 2000 people. The gallery above it seats 900 but I’m getting ahead of myself. How can I speak about the hall where the event was held when I haven’t spoken about what it took to get into it? The traffic to the International Conference Centre was terrible. No preparations were made by the FCT to accommodate the increase in traffic that the event would generate so the one traffic warden assigned to the necessary junction was overwhelmed. He in turn watched idly. He cannot be blamed for what can a man do when faced with the surging tides but watch and be reminded of how small he is. To get to the venue, I got out of the car and walked. At the gate of the International Conference Centre, there was no security. I found this odd and a little unsettling because Abuja has been a major casualty of the activities of Boko Haram. I was in Abuja when they blew up the United Nations Building. I heard the blast from the office I was working in at the time and I went to school with someone who was quite severely affected by the bomb blast. Security is an issue that should not be ignored for convenience, but the Council of Legal Education and the International Conference Centre obviously thought otherwise.
There were so many people outside the Conference Centre that it resembled a market square, to escape the heat I made my way inside it. In hind sight, I should have saved myself the bother and treated myself to a brilliant lunch at Nigeria's only Hilton, but we are all wise in hind sight. The place resembled an airport that had been struck by disaster. There were people, standing, sitting, and sleeping amidst the filth. While I'm sure that the people were to blame for the filth, there were no dustbins in sight.
I clutched my ticket in hand, and prepared myself to present it before the bouncers at the door. I was foolish. I should have ripped it up and burned it. I should have told the optimistic friend that purchased it for me to save his two thousand naira. The queue to the door was a staircase long. When the door was opened we were treated to a stampede, that the 2 security personnel at the door did nothing to stop. Women were screaming, people were smashed into the door, wallets were lifted, and shoes were displaced. I can even confirm that the Managing Director of one of a major Nigerian Bank found himself on the floor. I did not drop that detail to spice up the article. This article could do with some details being left out. I do it to inform the offending party if they do not know already the sort of company they treated without the tiniest bit of consideration.
Now, I do not pretend to know much about crowd control, but anyone can tell you that opening half a door for an area that seats 900 people is absurd. And we were far more than 900. I'm sure that our number was closer to a thousand and five hundred. Those who did not get seats sat on the staircase or stood. So why did they sell so many tickets? Even if they didn't sell that many, why didn't they screen the crowd to ensure that those that entered the gallery had tickets? And is it not fraud if you mis-sell a service?
|That elderly lady lost her shoes in the hustle to get in through the half door.|
|One dustbin for 1,500 people but even so, it's half full while the floor is full. Nigerians are filthy!|
|People standing and sitting on the stair cases between the seats.|
As I sat and waited for the event to begin, I was aware that if anything were to happen in that hall, more than half of us would die. If there had been a fire, or a bomb, or even a rat that caused the crowd to flee, that half door would have been our exit. I asked a member of the security team why it was that he hadn't opened any other doors, and he said dismissively that he didn't know how.
There was no air conditioning in the venue. In one of the ceremonies, a girl fainted. She's the only one I know of, but I'm sure there were more. The event was meant to start at 3 but it started at four thirty. Those that were called to bar were given speeches from the opening chapters of their textbooks. One speaker, said, "Women lawyers dress appropriately" and I thought, "so you had to wait for them to pass the bar before you told them to dress appropriately?" I've been to several graduation ceremonies, I even went to my own graduation twice (long story), and I have never ever heard a more useless collection of speeches than the ones given that day. The new lawyers were not given any advice that would prepare them for their new profession. Instead they were treated to a reading of the code of conduct that I'm sure they were given when they entered law school. But, all of that didn't matter, because the speakers on the ground floor where the lawyers about to be called to bar were not working. A significant number of them heard nothing.
The greatest insult occurred after the call to bar ceremony, when the lawyer MC was announcing that a student had lost their I.D card. Even though she had the I.D card in front of her she said, "Can Oye-sombody come and collect his I.D card. Now, I went to school in England, so I know what it's like when people can't pronounce your name. There, we were always treated to a shambolic try. They would butcher it, but at least they would say it. The point is that if in England, where the English can neither understand nor pronounce consonant combinations such as G and B, and Y and V and K and P, they always, and I mean always have a fair go at it, how can a fellow countryman blatantly refuse to? Is it not disrespectful? If she had done it in casual conversation I might have understood, but she said it over the damn sound system, and she thought nothing of it.
The event ended at 7:30, and the new lawyers were glad to be free from the clutches of Law School. Even though they were free grumbles and murmurs could be heard of how the institution was tragically incapable of organising anything. From my one encounter with them, I agree. They are callous, and inconsiderate and dangerous. They have no respect for safety, or security, or comfort. They should be investigated because if they cannot manage an event like this, then there are bound to be several criminal lapses in their books.
Some of you will say or think, "but this is Nigeria, we can't expect perfection all the time." To that I say shut up. I'm doing my National Service, and for all its faults its level of organisation far exceeds that of the Council of Legal Education. We must demand better, we deserve better.