Interview

I’m A Successful Criminal Lawyer – Habeeb Whyte

---criminals also have right to be defended

Barrister Habeeb Ibidapo Whyte, Esq., is one of the youngest Nigerian Lawyers who have carved a niche for himself in the legal profession. Whyte, is a law graduate from the prestigious University of Ilorin. He gained prominence in 2014 when he led protest against President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration fuel subsidy removal where he was at the forefront of the protest that erupted Nigeria. He is a member of Royal Court of Kingdom of Ile-Ife. He is the Managing Director, OjajaMore, a firm owned by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Olofin Adimula of the source, a member of ECOWAS Youths Council. Habeeb Whyte is the fifth ECOWAS Youth Ambassador in Africa. The versatile but eloquent legal luminary is an author and writer. He has 200 articles to his credit in most of the National Dailies in Nigeria. He has authored nothing less than four law books. The member of African Union revealed his passion for choosing criminal law as career path in this interview with HAWAU AJAYI, WONUOLA ONAKOYA & MARIAM ODESIPE. Excerpts

Who is Habeeb Whyte?

I am a noble minded Nigerian that is set to change the course of my own generation with the power of pen and advocacy, that’s who I am. I am a Nigerian Lawyer, Advocate of Justice, an author, I’m a writer and so many things.

How did you become interested in criminal law in the first place?

One of the best way to practice and to know law like I tell my younger ones or my colleagues, is when you are multi-vast with criminal cases. The basis of law itself is to avoid criminalities, so that you won’t offend me and I won’t offend you, so why should I shy away from that calling of the law itself? Like I tell people, that law is that substance that cemented societies together, there is no where you won’t see laws; it means that there is no where laws are not operatable.

If you look at our society now, crimes and criminality are like substitute to our existent. The element of crime is inherent in everybody; everybody is criminally minded whether you’re a pastor or Imam, what you just need is a motivation or a particular thing that will trigger you to commit that crime. We all are criminals, but we have our own ways of exhibiting our criminal act, why some people have not display their criminal intent is because the law is against it and I don’t want to go to jail or have issues with anybody or police we are just afraid of the law.

So, I got an interest in criminal law, because If a young lawyer want to know the law very well, pick up criminal cases on Pro Bono, free of charge pick them up and do it for people free of charge by that time you will gain experience and know more. The passion that you put in the matter that you did not charge is different from when you charge.

I can tell you for a fact, I have done series of Pro Bono job and do you know my gain, my gain is that over time I became much interested in that line of law and I can say I’m an expert in it one way or the other. It was not as if I was taught in the classroom, but it became as a product of experience and when practicing law you must always be in the court room, because criminal cases is like a surgeon going for a surgery, there are two things. It is either that person dies or succeeds in that operation. It is either you free that person or the person will face his judgment. I chose it because it is a better way to learn, to grow and to develop.

I don’t want to be an office lawyer or a social lawyer. Nooo. I want to practice; I want to see how I can help people. I call myself a medical lawyer, you know why, criminal cases are like doing surgical operations you must not forget one needle inside the patient, you must do it with due diligence because it is like a matter of life and death.

What made you choose the career path?

I don’t like cheating, and I don’t like it when you take me for granted, I won’t allow you to cheat me and I will never cheat you, even if my actions translate to cheating, I will give you explanations why I did it or I will tell you am sorry.

Being a criminal lawyer must be quite intriguing! Can you share any memorable cases or moments of your career?

Ahhh! I have not been blessed with sweet cases, Walahi. I’ve been blessed with difficult cases, cases that people will not want to take. Take for instance, an husband alleged to have killed his wife, a boss that was alleged to have killed his apprentice. I’ve not been lucky with sweet cases but with cases that have deeper meaning or deeper connections.

Have you ever had to defend someone who is guilty?

Yes, you know, I have and this is where your expertise comes into place. It is easy for someone to tell you sir, truly yes I did this thing, what would you do, will you condemn the person and say what you did is bad? “To every action it must have stemmed out from an action” What was the problem, why did you do this, you must ask, it is your duty as a lawyer to ask.

Lawyers are not liars, we are not. You cannot expect me to help you do your case, you are the one saying they have stolen something from you, you have to prove it.

Let me tell you one thing about all these criminal cases, at times even if you are caught in the act like this, the law still says that you are not guilty until proven; it is the law it is not me.

Criminal cases are not easy to prove, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is time demanding, money demanding and health but we all have dreams and goals. It is just personal growth that has being the pushing thing.

What’s the most challenging part of being a criminal lawyer?

The most challenging part of being a criminal lawyer is client not saying the truth, you always find out the truth in the court room and it will embarrass you. I have been insulted by judges before in the court room but what will I do? I will take it as a learning process. Another embarrassing thing is that those that you are helping are not counting it as help. They are not. It is always embarrassing.

How do you manage the emotional toll attached to working on criminal cases?

It has been grace of God because when you listen to some stories ordinarily you shouldn’t take it up but, do not be swayed by your own emotions, because law itself is not built on emotions. Don’t put emotions in studying the law because the law itself is not built on emotions that why we have the court. We have a symbol in law, we call it Lady Justicial. She is blindfolded; she has a sword and the scale of justice in her hands. That symbolizes that she does not care who you are, she’s only going to do justice because at times you can get soaked in your emotions. That is why they said the law is no respecter of anyone.

What do you find most rewarding about being a criminal lawyer?

It is judgment, when I get judgment in court from murder to manslaughter, I feel fulfilled, I feel happy, it shows the depth of my research, it is not about the money I make. Money is not law, if you want to know good or successful lawyer go to his library, you know our books we buy them in millions. I know a lawyer’s library that worth N100millions, N200 million. I know libraries of some Senior Advocates, top lawyers, that is investment. If you can invest money in where you get knowledge and you know that book you are not selling it again because it is an asset that you don’t get money from. There was a day I bought books of N4.5 million Naira and I don’t have a good car, I don’t have a house, but that knowledge is very important, that is investment in my career, the biggest thing you can do as a lawyer is to invest in book. A good lawyer is not a person that knows the law, it is the person that knows where to find the laws and where do u find the law it’s in the books.

Are there any misconceptions being a criminal lawyer? 

Yes! A lot of people think we hate criminals. I’ve seen where a fellow lawyer like me told me why do I pity criminals? So, it is just normal we take it. Criminals too are citizens, they have the right to be represented by a lawyer, that is what law says and you can’t over look that side of the law. You don’t condemn people; don’t condemn anybody because you don’t know their stories.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in criminal law?

That person must be able to read ooo; That is the main thing. Like I said, criminal cases are very difficult, is like going to lion’s den is either you get killed or you kill the lion. Is like a surgeon going to theatre to do surgery, it is you get the surgery successfully or the person dies, that is how criminal cases are. If you are going to that court room we have two things in mind, it is either the person is sentenced to jail or that person get freedom, your joy is that the suspect comes out. That where we now say that when you the law does not favour you, you use your fact, when fact does not favour you, you use law and when both is not favourable, use common sense and logic.

How can you deny the assertion that lawyers are liars?

Lawyers are not liars. We only work around circumstances of our cases. If the law didn’t favour me, I will always use my facts, if fact didn’t favor me, I will use my logic, for the facts that you think somebody should be in prison, does not translate to me that the person is a criminal. If you don’t prove your case very well, how would you put that person in prison? Remember, the judge you are facing was not at the scene of the crime. As a lawyer you must have a library, your library will determine the kind of lawyer you are. If you want to know a good lawyer as a client always ask for the lawyer’s library to know the amount of money he invests on the library to know how serious he takes his job.

It is believed that the judiciary encourages the high rate of crime in our society, how best do you think the judiciary can save the nation?

That’s misconception. We are the last hope of the masses. If not for the judiciary, there won’t be a country called Nigeria. We are the one that helps to maintain stability in the whole polity. We should be treated as kings and queens, give us red carpet treatment, because we are trying our best to stabilize every part of the country. We are the ones that help you get justice. Justice can’t be bought, but be served. So, erase that notion. The judiciary is the opium of the masses. We are the arm of government that brings succor to the people. Why do people seek redress in court if they don’t believe in us?

Let’s go to your social life. Are you married?

Yes, I’m married; I have been married for the past 7 years.

What is your body count?

It’s much ooo. I’ve lost count. I won’t lie to you.

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