Posted by By Wole Mosadomi, Minna on
HIS name is Tsetim Tarvihi. Born about 35 years ago in Benue state, Tsetim popularly referred to as young lawyer because of his youthful look and love for the profession has never seen the four walls of any university...
HIS name is Tsetim Tarvihi. Born about 35 years ago in Benue state, Tsetim popularly referred to as young lawyer because of his youthful look and love for the profession has never seen the four walls of any university within and outside the country.
He was passionate to become a lawyer but did not get the opportunity, no thanks to lack of money with which to pursue his dream profession. And because of his desperation to become a professional lawyer, Tsetim sought for the shortest way of becoming a lawyer. What did he do? He began to parade himself as one. But he was nothing but a fake lawyer, an impersonator.
The highest education Tsetim acquired was secondary school certificate.
He struggled to proceed to a university but there was no money, no helper. He went a step further to serve under a man as a clerk to raise money for his education but that did not help. He then went ahead to pick up a lawyer’s wig and gown and started to practise as a qualified professional. As a West African School Certificate (WASC) holder, Tarvihi says he has won many celebrated cases against many qualified lawyers in different courts including Abuja, Suleja and Minna.
Because he won some cases against qualified lawyers and before prominent legal luminaries, young Tsetim became overwhelmed by such feats and perhaps thought that he has got to the peak of his career. The idea of going to school to pursue the profession he has great love for, became history.
Twice he had been arrested while on “official duty” and arraigned for impersonation and forgery. The first was in 2004 in Abuja by the police after a tip-off. He was tried for impersonation and forgery, sentenced to a two-year imprisonment and served his prison term at the Lapai prison in Niger State. After his release, he relocated from Abuja to Minna where he continued the illegal act.
This fake lawyer had defended his various clients in many cities but our findings show that he appeared more often before Magistrate’s Court VI and Chief Magistrate’s Court II, Minna. And as fate would have it, he was arrested and jailed before these respective courts where he had defended and won cases for others.
He perfected the fraud to the extent that he had all it takes to be a qualified lawyer. Apart from being eloquent and composed before magistrates, Tsetim had a printed letter-headed paper and complimentary cards with the inscription “Tsetim, Tsetim and Associates. A. T. Tsetim, LLB (Hons), B.L.” with some fake office addresses. He also forged the NYSC certificate and that of the Law School. The fake lawyer is now with the State Security Service (SSS) in Minna where he is still being interrogated. A top official of the SSS described him as “a very brilliant young man who’s not yet harnessed and if well harnessed positively, can go places.”
But how did he get into the profession he was not trained for and yet won cases? Was he not afraid that a day would come when he would be arrested for impersonation? Why did he continue on such dirty tracks after being arrested the first time?
Saturday Vanguard posed these and more questions to Tarvihi, the fake lawyer. He says that he was propelled more by his love for the law profession than the lure of money. He says he desperately wanted to be addressed as a “barrister.” Excerpts:
How did your journey to this sorry state begin?
I went into this job because I am from a poor family and as a matter of fact, I have interest in the profession despite the fact that my parents are not well-to-do. I believe that no matter these hurdles, I would qualify as a lawyer one day.
Three months ago, you were released from the prison for a similar offence. If you still went back to it after that, what assurance is there that you will dump this illegal act and pursue the right path towards becoming a professional lawyer in future?
The prison system today is not reforming anybody. Rather, if you are there, your condition deteriorates because while there you meet a lot of criminals that are hardened and not ready to repent. Therefore, I will like to state again that our prison system is not reforming anybody.
Are you then not confirming that you were in any way reformed or that you’re still unrepentant?
No. Actually, I have not refused to repent.
Talking about reforms in our prisons, what were the things that were lacking in the place you were?
The reason why I said that is that if you go to our prison, you will see that there are no libraries there, some don’t have mosques or churches. You hardly see men of God coming inside to preach. In fact, there are some prisons that the prison officials even stop men of God from coming in to preach. My belief is that the only way prisoners could be reformed is by having access to reading, trade work and listening to preaching from men of God which can easily change one’s life even while still in prison. Unfortunately, nothing has been done on this up till now. So, my advice is that government should establish churches, mosques, libraries in the prisons. They will help to reform some of the inmates. When I was in prison, I only had access to the Holy Bible.
But you don’t seem to regret your action.
Actually, I do. Yes, Ido.
What’s the guarantee that if you’re freed today, you won’t go back to it tomorrow?
Not, I will not go back to it again. Even if it is to go and handle a hoe in the farm, I will do that.
Before your arrest, how much were you making from your “practice”and what were the kinds of cases you were handling?
It was not all about money because as an unqualified lawyer, there are some places you don’t have to go. In other words, I knew my limitations. So, it was not money but just what to eat from morning till evening.
When did you get into this illegal business of parading yourself as a fake lawyer?
I started in 2004 and I was apprehended that same year at Abuja.
How did you come across the gown you’re putting on?
I was under a man and he was a qualified lawyer for more than 22 years. He never cared to know whether I was a genuine lawyer or not even though I think I have the talent.
Did you buy the gown or wig or you stole it?
No, no, I borrowed it from him.
Who was the man to you?
I was serving him as a servant. I was a security man to him in the house.
Can you tell us some of the cases you had won.
I had won many cases even against qualified lawyers (defending the other clients).
Are your parents still alive?
Yes, they are still alive and they are at home.
Can you tell us some celebrated cases you handled and won?
I handled the matter of rape at Juwa Chief Magistrate’s Court before Justice Shuaibu Usman and I won it clearly.
How much did you realise from the case?
I got about N18,000 because the man I defended was from the same tribe with me.
Which were the others?
Apart from this, I handled a case of a Commissioner of Police versus a civilian before a chief magistrate’s court in Bwari (Abuja). It was a case of theft and I won it clearly. In fact, I have other cases still outstanding.
Why did you not give up after you were arrested and jailed, no matter the passion?
What I have realised now is that God just wants me to worship Him because I believe that if God did not actually like me, he would have given me more time to carry on. I started this illegal act and within a short time, I was apprehended. This year again, I continued and in June, I have been apprehended and I think God actually wants me to worship him.
So, what next for you now?
I seriously plea for leniency because now I have observed that God wants me to worship him and I will surely stick to that and will never get back to the trade again.
What are the plans to get back to school to study law in order to accomplish your dream of being a qualified lawyer, and not a fake one?
Yes, I still have the zeal to do that and I believe my brain is still sharp to do that. I have the qualification to push me through my ambition.
What does it take to parade yourself as a fake lawyer?
Ah, let’s not even get into that because I am not encouraging anybody to go into the illegal trade. Though some may be lucky and may not be caught, but to me, I know it is not encouraging.
Did you have a gang of fake lawyers or are you alone?
I was alone. I didn’t have a gang of fake lawyers. I was doing it alone.
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This is a great piece of history, which is dear to our hearts as people and very much appreciated.
Many thanks to the people who worked hard in the past and those who are still making efforts to keep the institution.
The labour is obviouly worth it. We are proud of you all.
A lot still to be done, with the motivation of the champions of this course, others will follow as well to maintain the institution
May God continue to keep the edifice for development of future generations to the glory of God and the benefits of our fatherland.