About a week or so ago, a friend brought to my attention a so-called legal thriller – The Tribunal (watch trailer), produced by Kunle Afolayan and starring such Nollywood heavyweights such as Omotola Jalade and Funsho Adeolu. With cast and crew of such pedigree, I had hoped to see something great and mindblowing. In my mind I expected a new standard set for legal thrillers in Nollywood, maybe our alpha version of My Cousin Vinny. I had high hopes that maybe we would have a movie that finally gets to navigate the interesting mazes of litigation in Nigeria accurately. Well, here goes my review of The Tribunal.
After having to hunt down and see it in one of the few remaining cinemas in Lagos still putting it up on their showtimes, I think my expectations may have been a tad too high.
To the movie itself, a quick summary goes thus. An albino banker lost his job and employed an old, washed up a lawyer to help him legally pursue discrimination grievances against his former employer.
Funsho Adeolu played Jimi, a once-successful litigator, who for a series of (not well explained) unfortunate circumstances had his fortunes turned upside down and was fully transitioned into what we call “Charge and Bail” Law practice. We have Damilola Ogunsi, a whinny, annoying albino character who is not very much likable, losing his job for being despised and discriminated upon. Omotola Jalade plays a cheerless bank executive with the constant facial expressions similar to a person with bowel stress. Ade Laoye played a convincing role of a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Law School graduate with all the hopes in the world of using the tools of legal badassery to make good prevail over evil.
I write this review of The Tribunal as a lawyer, so let’s look at the movie’s performance on that front. I think it was average. It depicted the life of a charge and bail lawyer. Growing up in the training of the profession, a lawyer is made to understand that Charge and bail is one of the most undignified things a legal practitioner would be involved in. It is very much frowned at, and one is seen as completely irresponsible and mediocre to choose that as his area of law practice. Those scenes that portrayed it were quite stark. I cringed and shifted uncomfortably in my seat while saying a silent prayer forbidding such a fate for my hopeful self. Well done, they did well in that front.
However, I almost could not get over the fact that the judicial setting used was a Tribunal and not a full-blown courtroom as provided in our nation’s laws. Every lawyer knows that the right forum to bring employment and trade matter is exclusively the National Industrial Court (NIC), not the so and so employment Tribunal where the legal battles in this movie took place. On this, I merely went ahead and assumed that the NIC had not been established during the period the film was set. Worked for me.
Other abnormalities that took a departure from legal norms in Nigerian law practice and procedure are:
Review of The Tribunal – Mild Spoilers
Tribunal Chair says her decisions cannot be appealed. There is hardly any court ruling that cannot be appealed or overturned by a higher Court.
There was no single incidence of the Judge writing anything all through the trial process. This is not something that happens in judicial settings around here.
Courtroom theatrics. Courtroom theatrics are not allowed of Counsel in Nigeria.
Separate cross-examinations from two different Counsel from the same law firm representing the same party. As far as I know, even if you carry ten fellow lawyers with you, as long as you all appear for the same parties, then only one of you is allowed to talk.
Scandalous cross-examination questions just to elicit more movie drama. Please don’t try this in real life trials; you risk losing your license for such shenanigans.
A suit against a company and its employee having the top echelons of company management attending proceedings. Lol. In real life, the company just sends a bloke from their legal department to observe and report. The big bosses usually have better things to do than sit in court all day.
Pieces of evidence just randomly popping up left and right, catching the other party by surprise, this is not part of our system anymore. However, then, if the movie was set before the creation of National Industrial Court, perhaps this is not so far-fetched.
Fostering the notion that good will always prevail against evil even in the face of lack of preparedness and adequate resources. This is not necessarily so in actual practice. Most of the time, the person who can afford the best lawyers wins.
Lack of pretrial meetings with the witness. You have a witness who is going to be cross-examined by SANs, and you could not even have a little chat with the said witness to let him know what to expect? Interesting direction.
Tendering and admitting documents in evidence before showing the opponent it was being tendered against.
I could go on and on. However, let me stop picking nits at this stage. Let’s talk about the movie without the legal jargon. Is it still worth watching to someone who does not care about the tip-top accurate portrayal of courtroom trials?
Well, I like some of the camera work, the zooming, and panning around the Court premises, the acting was decent, and the history lessons about a particular Nigerian historical landmark was cool. It attempts to address some nuances in issues of discrimination at work vis-à-vis treatment based on actual employee productivity. It also purports to show the practice of law through the lenses of a new entrant into the profession juxtaposed with the perspective of a cynical old and battle-scarred veteran.
Despite these good points, the plot felt shallow. The main characters did not seem to have a compelling enough backstory, and I just could not identify with them. The albino who sued for discrimination just came across as an asshole to everyone who has had relations with him, helpful or otherwise. This made him difficult to root for, such that I was silently cheering every time his adversaries get the better of him. The so-called veteran litigator consistently neglected to prepare his witness for the barrage of questions he would get. And of course, obvious movie tropes like adversaries meeting at restrooms and hallways to taunt each other didn’t help my impressions much.
In all, the movie felt very shallow, almost as though it was hurriedly made. Yet it tried to take itself too seriously.
I think it is one of Kunle Afolayan’s worst efforts yet. Although not a bad movie by all means, but it felt as though he phoned it in to tick some boxes, wrap it up and make some quick bucks.
I would have given it a 6/10, but there was an error which bugged me so much it got under my skin and enraged my blood. The use of the word “Counsels” as the plural of Counsel. That is egregious, preposterous and unforgivable.
5/10. Not recommended for law students to avoid giving them a warped impression of litigation practice.