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HomeHumorA TRUE MAGISTRATE II. (the inner dialogue)

A TRUE MAGISTRATE II. (the inner dialogue)

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By Eigbe Alright Osajie, Esq.

Some have asked me what was it like to have been the defense Counsel in C.O.P. v. Raji Opeyemi, the case that went from Arraignment to No Case Submission and also Judgment in 2 days. I must say that His Worship made this a whole lot easy, but then, I had some internal experiences which I wish to share with you; the court was with people outside – my client was a community leader and I was in a Jurisdiction I had never heard about until now.

The Defendant’s sister in-law who was in communication with me and knows me to be a sex and family counsellor, too, wondered if I was better off as a counsellor or as a lawyer as I am always able to play both roles and job description perfectly – and when she asked how come I am able to do both jobs well, I replied “I just flow with life, and enjoy.” As part of the office policy, I gave her reports and legal advice on the matter every day! I also went ahead explaining all the strategies we would pull, the obstacles and troubles we would face, and should they show up, the likely routes that would set us on course.

A NLSE course-mate, Niran, who graduated with First Class from his university and as best student in Criminal Procedure during our Call to Bar once told me that to be a good criminal law lawyer, I needed to always first think like a criminal. My pupilage with now Hon Justice Mojisola Sule and further employment with G.I. Enebeli where I rose to become partner at Godwin Enebeli and Co., taught me that I needed to always think like a Criminal first to know what was happening and what actually happened before I can approach the case properly. So in attending to C.O.P v. Raji Opeyemi, the words that clouded my mind most was a statement that is attributed to Aare Afe Babalola that “only a lazy lawyer can lose a case against the Police.” I agree that the Police are doing a good job now, but if you know when that statement was made, with the poor investigation officers did and the bad way prosecutors did their cases, even till date, the statement is still to a large extent, true.

First, the Defendant was arrested on Saturday 31st August, 2019 and I was briefed on Tuesday 3rd September, 2019. So I told the clients that I could not guarantee Police Bail for the Suspect. I told them that there were two possible outcomes –
1. The Police may grant him Police Bail at my instance, or
2. They would quickly arraign him since a lawyer is now involved.

I further mentioned that the arraignment may be a dangerous move as SARS may decide to frame him up with Armed Robbery for choosing to get a lawyer involved, and that way, the case would become very challenging. The Suspect’s Bail may not even be considered by a Magistrate and approaching the High Court for it may take several weeks. The game plan was then to play soft and allow the Police breach the suspect’s fundamental rights to freedom of movement and dignity, violate the 24 hours to 48 hours rule, and also breach Sections 2, 3, and 7 of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017. And this would give us an edge over them.

So when I got to ZIS, I just only mentioned that I was lawyer to the Suspect. Although I was not allowed to see the suspect and couldn’t meet with the IPO, too, I returned back to Ibadan. The following day, Wednesday 4th 2019, the IPO and his team and met at their gate, they were going for an operation and requested I waited till 1pm. As a former State Pupil Counsel, I knew they would ordinarily not want to return until they were sure I had left, and then claim that they wanted to release the suspect, but couldn’t find me to make the application. Consequently, I went to a nearby Computer Business Centre and wrote a Letter demanding the unconditional release of the Suspect. I didn’t sign and submit it until about 5:30pm and ensured that it was stated in the letter that I signed it about 5:30pm.

The moment I served the letter, their colleagues quickly informed them of my step, and we met again at their gate. I sensed they were somewhere watching me all these while, if not, how come they were fast enough to meet me at their gate? Well, I was pissed and returned back to Ibadan.

On Thursday 5th of September, I was not even allowed into the compound of ZIS when I was identified by an officer as the lawyer who dropped the letter of the previous day. Meanwhile, all these while, I had not been allowed communication with my client. I had not even seen him yet. Consequently, I decided to go to the Ishabo Magistrate Court to file the Motion to Produce made referenced to in the Part I of this piece. The moment they knew I was doing so, the complainant decided to settle, and I was called back that there was no need for the Application since parties were to settle and the Suspect would definitely be released on the said day.

However, they did not start negotiations until about 3:30pm, and the negotiations failed. Well, I knew it was all a scheme to prevent me from filing the application. I did not want to return but continue the filing. However, the suspect gave clear instructions that he did not want me to continue with the application. He was shocked when my prediction came true. Imagine o, the complainant was asking for the Suspect’s 2 plots of land which contained a completed building, another uncompleted building and also a Mosque that was been completed over a 1.7m which he has in the Corporative Society that the Suspect introduced him to. Therefore, on Friday 6th of September, I filed my application to produce the suspect before the Magistrate so that his bail application could be heard and considered. The Police knowing this quickly went to arraign the Defendant in another court. Unfortunately for them, the court was not sitting, and all they could do was to register the Charge.

On Monday, 9th, the Police was shocked to see me in the yet another Court where the Defendant was arraigned, even though I was originally in the Ake Court, Abeokuta, for the hearing of my Motion. I had arranged down for such surprises, and leaving Abeokuta for Wasinmi community was fun since it was not a rude surprise that such move may happen from the Police. This was where and when morality mixed with human conscience and professional ethics started having a serious dialogue in my head.

When the Magistrate ordered Trial to commence, our client had not paid a dime for the litigation. Then I remembered my office, #GracevilleChambers would never support such an adjournment, so I obliged. The only fees we had received was for the Defendant’s bail. We had examined the case and believed that it would be very foolish for the Police to file Charges against our Client on the facts before them (although we also knew that “this is Nigeria”). Consequently, in order not to bill the Client for litigation, a service that may not be rendered, we informed the client that we would only charge per services to be rendered per time, and that it was not proper to bill the services at the Police Station and Litigation (which had not yet commenced) together. I was tempted to seek an adjournment to get our fees sorted out first, before we proceeded. Yes I was, but I obliged not.

It was an interesting experience as there was no time for me to review the Statements at the Police Station of the Defendant, Nominal Complainant and also her witness. I did not even have copy of these. It was when they were being tendered that I had the opportunity of perusing them quickly for the first time. So rather than focusing on their Statements, I focused on their oral evidence. It was just too weak to get a conviction of Obtaining by False Pretense, Stealing and Threat to Life on. Consequently, I entered a plea of NO CASE SUBMISSION on behalf of the Defendant. This was about 2pm already, and His Worship was willing to write and deliver a Bench Ruling on it, but for the request for an adjournment by the Watching Brief Counsel, an adjournment was granted.

You know what, at this time, I was contemplating on whether to Open my defense or ask for an adjournment to put my house in Order. It was then it snapped inside me that rather than seek adjournment for defense, I could enter a NO CASE SUBMISSION since the Prosecution’s case was very weak. However, my head became automatically blank of cases and statutes I could use to support my prayer. All yours sincerely did was to rely on “it is trite law”, “it is settled law” and the likes that the responsibility to prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt is on the Prosecution and until they have fully satisfied that, the Defendant cannot be called upon to enter a defense for a charge that isn’t a case against him. One thing I have observed when dealing with smart and intelligent members of the Bench is that, mentioning the principle of law is sufficient for them to work with, especially in situations like this when I had no time to go back, prepare a voluminous address and return.

At #GracevilleChambers, we believe in God and use our faith as an additional edge and leverage when attending to all our matters. This was the first time I was experiencing such a speedy Trial. I was not having sufficient time to research, and when I would have preferred filing a robust NO CASE SUBMISSION application and the likes, I was required to address the Court immediately, orally. Well, at my office, we do not joke with advocacy; we have special trainings in voice pitch, tones and texture to match whatever emotions we choose to convey when delivering lines. So the vocalizing of our position was not the issues but remembering and being able to mention and canvass all the points and issues in about 10minutes. A written application sure saves a lawyer who is not skilled in this. And hey, my client, their family members, friends and members of the community was present. I had no option to do averagely, but optimally. It is the Prosecution that ought to be in a tight corner, but I was the one who was on the spot to prove I could get this guy out (at least, that was what I felt, even though there was no criminating evidence against my client as such).

So I brought in the God factor Tuesday 10th, 2019. I prayed at home, wanting to know what the next day held for me, the Defendant and the Court. I heard “You would win the case, but prepare for defense.” It didn’t make sense – if the NO CASE SUBMISSION would be successful, why then should I prepare for Defense? Well, I was mentally and emotionally prepared for whatever would happen.

On Wednesday 9/11v(we had joked about the date before), the Court held that my NO CASE SUBMISSION on the Threat to Life had succeeded and that the Court felt justice would be better served if the Defendant answered to the Charge of Obtaining by False Pretense and Stealing against him. That was how I explained in open Court to the Defendant what the Ruling meant and we opened our Defense. All I needed to prove was that the Defendant did not convert to personal use the monies of the Complainant and that he was only but the Agent of his Cooperative Society (where he was the Secretary).

Another serious inner dialogue happened when I was required to address the court and his Worship was willing to deliver judgment on the same day. Questions that flooded my mind included:

1. Am I well-equipped here and now with cases and statutes to make a proper and sufficient address in defense of the Defendant?
2. What if I do poorly, orally, and he gets convicted?
3. Wait, how will the office get its fees for this litigation?

As a result of these and many more questions, I requested for an hour stand down to prepare mentally, intellectually, emotionally and also spiritually for the task. Yes, you may laugh, but I spent most of that waiting time praying in underneath my breath as I checked Google, YLF Ibadan and also League of Colossus Whatsapp groups for cases and statutes. This time, the freedom of the Defendant, the integrity of #GracevilleChambers, and my public reputation was in line. Fees no longer mattered (although I was coming from Ibadan).

Oh my my, you needed to listen to my Final Address. Hahaha. I was given 10 minutes. I did not bother waiting for the Magistrate to write. The moment my issues were settled, I just started flowing slowly, saying as much as I could so that his Worship could write as much as he could without me leaving any stone unturned by the time my allotted time for it was up. I was like one doing a narration for a documentary. Hehehe

Yes, I would have sort for an adjournment after the stand down to file a Written Address and also to get our fees. But the Ruling of His Worship in the NO CASE SUBMISSION; the cases he cited, the statutes he referenced and his logic gave me so much confidence in the Court that he was too intelligent to ignore anything or take a principle of law for granted. His Ruling was as robust as a Ruling of the Court of Appeal. This perception of the Magistrate gave me the confidence not to seek an adjournment to file a legal text book as Final Address on behalf of the Defendant.

I remember his Worship saying “Mr. Eigbe, if you can wait, I can write and deliver my judgment today, but that would mean you may not be able to return to Ibadan today, or return very late.” The inner dialogue became “should I just seek for an adjournment? This is an opportunity to get the fees. If judgment is given, for or against, you may not be able to get your fees again.” But then, our morals, principles and ethics of #GracevilleChambers forbids me to take such adjournments aimed at delaying justice for the personal interest of counsel and the firm. Consequently, I told the Court that even if it means waiting till 6pm, I would wait. Judgment was delivered at about 5:35pm.

I believe you want to know what my inner dialogues and feelings were when the judgment was being read. That was another experience – getting a judgment after 4 witnesses and 5 exhibits in 2 days was something I had never experienced and mhen, this was a criminal matter – if anything was wrong, then my client would most likely get Prison term. So I just started praying underneath my breath, getting myself ready for whatever the outcome would be. Yes, the Defendant was not guilty – he never meddled with the money of the complainant as an agent of the cooperative. All the complainant’s money still reflect in the Complainant’s account with the cooperative, just that the cooperative is having some financial issues and therefore cannot pay the complainant her money.

The Court Ruled on our Issue One that the charge, signed by “Police Officer” was not defective as the Criminal Procedure Law of Ogun State, in its schedule, does not even give space or precedence for signing, so that signing a Charge was mere suplusage and not mandatory. And in this particular case, it was not a requirement to determine if it was properly done or not. Sincerely, I raised this issue to test the waters, so I was glad that his Worship was as intelligent as I presumed. Colleagues at YLF – Ibadan and Lawyers in Nigeria Facebook Group were more of the opinion that as long as the Plea of the Defendant has been taken on the Charge, such objections would not fly. And yes, I did not want to raise it during Arraignment because I did not want my client to be taken back to custody and brought the next day on an amended Charge (as the law requires when a Charge is defective). The Defendant had already spent about 10 days in Police and Prison Custody (and his liberal bail could not be perfected on the day of arraignment – his sureties did not have evidence of 1 year Tax payment).

When His Worship was reading his judgment, it was as though I was listening to a short, straight to the point judgment of the Supreme Court. The cases and statutes he referenced were all straight to the point. He used very recent cases that I remembered that when I was citing some cases during my address, he would tell me “counsel, isn’t that case too old?” but those were the cases I could get on the spot. What he did was to find recent cases that carried the principles I had mentioned in my address.

From this experience, I have learned
1. Always be prepared to do a case
2. Have electronic law reports and statutes on your mobile device, they always come handy
3. Have a backup support system to always help you in emergencies where AI may not be able to do
4. Develop your voice – the texture, tone, pitch and the likes
5. Know your judge
6. Let justice and ethics always rank first before your fees
7. As much as possible, let adjournments never be at your instance unless when it is practically impossible for you to continue your proper duties as a Counsel without it
8. Enjoy being a lawyer.

These are the things we focus on at #GracevilleChambers, always, whether it be at our Lagos Office (0802 780 6886) or our Ibadan Office (08125086798).

Once again, my name is Earl, and I am Alright. You Rock!

Eigbe Alright Osajie, Esq.
08125086798.
Gracevillechambers5@gmail.com

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1 COMMENT

  1. What a story; what an experience! It is more than an account of events. It is legal practice and Professional Ethics 101 in action. It is a clash of justice and injustice at the Temple after the preliminary combat at the annals of law enforcement. I commend the courage of both the counsel and the judex.

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