The Legal Artivist: Nelly Idagba Ojong
Art and Law have a long history of marriage even though the legal profession is seen as an elitist profession that prides itself as one without equal. Lawyers have been able to sustain this appearance because of the artistry they put into its administration. For instance, the late Richard Akinjide SAN in 1983 was widely celebrated because his ingenuity in his mathematical calculation of 2/3 of 19 states to be 12.2/3 and not 13 states in the Election Tribunal between Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
The law however, has come under strict scrutiny whether one of its principles is a Science or an Art? Stare decisis (a fundamental element of case law), a principle of law that provides for the reliance on the judgement of a higher court where the elements, circumstances and facts of the trial case are similar with the judgement relied on (precedent). We must acknowledge the art of cross examination in case law. There is also the art of drafting. These are all arts applied to elucidate law. Donna Bader wrote in her article “Art and Law: Is There A Connection?” in The Plaintiff; “Gerry told us that the first words spoken in the courtroom become the first stroke of the brush across a virgin canvas. When you paint, you have to know when to stop. The same principle applies in the courtroom; you have to know when to stop talking. That is when the art, or the trial attorney’s presentation, must stand on its own.” (https://www.plaintiffmagazine.com/recent-issues/item/art-and-law-is-there-a-connection)
The practice of law has had so many interferences from other professions in its administration. For instance, technology has had so much influence on the law especially in the aspect of evidence. Yet the present development of things has started to have further effect on the law especially case law where court cases may now be held via teleconferencing.
The Arts have in a like manner influenced the determination of the law in its administration of criminal justice. In some jurisdictions like US, criminal sketch artists draw a resemblance of a suspect from the description of the complainant or victim and this is used for determination of who the suspect is. Prose, an art of literature has also influenced the literature of the law. Many lawyers while canvassing their cases in court often refer to celebrated writers like William Shakespeare and our own Chinua Achebe. Judges too are not left out.
There are other occasions where we have lawyers who themselves are poets. Some write their poems with legal themes, while others don’t. I remember being published in 2005 by Professor Peter Ekeh who then was a lecturer at the University of New York at Buffalo in his book which was sold on Google and Amazon.
Another group of lawyers using arts in the profession are the those in the visual arts. Those who paint pictures and work on canvass creating various aspects of society while projecting the injustices in the society. One of such person I call the human rights artivist, a prolific and gifted lawyer; a legislative draftsman and an artist whose works project the injustices some women and children bear in our society is Mrs. Nelly Idagba Ojong. Although she is not yet as celebrated, yet works like the one she produces are certainly in a direction to influencing our jurisprudence in the way we treat women and why government and society in general must continue to direct their searchlights their way.
Arierhie Patrick Okuneh
SSA Legislative and Plenary
Office of Deputy President of the Senate