Advertise with us
HomeEntertainmentThe Spirit of Okafor v Nwaeke (PART I) A Fictional Story

The Spirit of Okafor v Nwaeke (PART I) A Fictional Story

- Advertisement -
Advertise with us

When I was done with serving (NYSC) the fatherland in ‘06, I joined a law firm on the Lagos Island as a rookie.

Life was good. Yes, life was beautiful. There were no hassles. You would go to court, conduct your matter and you would close for the day. You would hang out with friends over bottles of cold beer with asun at Igbosere Road or at Berkley Street. Sometimes it was in one dark corner bar at Obalende or somewhere in King George V Road. Then you would go home and you might be lucky to find your girlfriend at home which often resulted in a night of bliss. You would sleep and the alarm would wake you at 5:00 a.m. the following morning and another day would start. It was a roller coaster ride.

Orioge, Osahon & Obameje was a firm of eight lawyers including three partners. In the Lafiaji area, the firm was nicknamed OO7 among lawyers (as Obameje literally means seven kings in the Yoruba language). I gathered the name was given by one jovial female judge in the early days of the partnership. The firm started as Orioge & Co. in the mid 90s and became a partnership in ’02.

The building that housed our firm was an edifice of four floors sprawled over almost 1,500 sq. meters of land on Strachan Street in the Lafiagi area of the Island. The rugged dark roof was of the old stock and the near charcoal color could only have been inspired by an accumulation of green algae turned black. The dark outlook of the roof was in contrast to the full white satin paint used on the building. The masonic architecture which was still a common feature in the Lagos mainland areas of Yaba, Oyingbo and Jibowu but fast disappearing on the Island, was magnificent.

Our firm occupied the ground floor and the first floor. Another law firm occupied the second floor while the business of the tenant of the last floor was unknown to me. The thing about the tenant on the last floor was that he was always having problems with the parking arrangement. The parking lot of the building could only accommodate eight vehicles. Five parking spots were reserved for our firm. The law firm on the second floor had a right to two spots and the last floor tenant had a right to one. I did not know how the sharing formula was worked out but that was what it was. Our firm must have put the sharing formula in place as we were the Chief Tenant in the building being the Solicitors to the owners of the building. You would only get to know the tenant of the last floor existed in the building when someone parked in his space. It was usually either one of our staff, clients or visitors. He was always yelling at the security guard.

On our part, three parking spots were reserved for Mr. Orioge, the Principal Partner, who we called the PP; Mr. Osahon, the Head of Litigation and Mr. Obameje. The rest of us battled for the remainder of the two parking spots or took the alternative of parking in the street. The street was not always safe. Your car could be bashed only for you to end up getting excuses and apologies, not to mention instances where the security guard was not eagle-eyed enough to spot the misdeed and the negligent driver would flee without owning up. Apart from that, the Lagos Annex Office of the Ministry of Defence was some few buildings away from us. At their pleasure, they gave all kinds of directives to car users. Sometimes, they suddenly got security alert signal; no vehicle could park in the street. They would all turn out in their camouflages with their SMGs and they would mount a couple of road blocks along Moloney Street through the Tafawa Balewa Square road all the way to Strachan Street. The word on the streets as the reason for the road block could range from a sudden security alert that the Niger Delta militants wanted to invade Lagos to a couple of other reasons.  After a couple of days, when it had become apparent that the militants were not invading, life would return to normalcy and you could park anywhere in the street. Finding a parking spot was usually a tough exercise on the Island.

Our firm had the staff strength of fourteen people and seven of us had cars including the partners; that left four of us to battle for the two remaining parking spots. Even before I bought my used Volkswagen Passat ’99 model; I knew parking space would never be a problem for an early bird like me. I was the first lawyer that always got to the office and most of the times the first staff altogether. So I got myself automatically a slot without much problem and the other three battled for the remainder of the one parking spot. It was a problem that could sap one’s energy very early in the day at the time. Haggling over parking spot was a thing I tried as much as possible to avoid. There was a time Alabi, one of the lawyers in the firm started coming as early as me to drag that my one sacred parking spot with me. He would deliberately park where I always parked. Although there was still another spot where he could park but he would park in that spot that I had worked for and others had willingly agreed as my parking space. I did not pray often but on that one, I put him in prayers. I told the good Lord to attend to his case for me. My prayer was promptly answered. The Lord moved with a mighty hand. First, I heard his car was vandalized; he could not bring it to the office for some days due to repairs. Then it was stolen. Thankfully the Police helped to recover it after a month and he did not get it from the police until after another one month. He never came to park in my space again. As much as I did not want to revel in his misfortune, it was a relief that I would not have to put up with his competition anymore; such was the severity of the parking challenge. I never told the good Lord how to deal with Alabi; I just wanted to have my peace and the Lord in his wisdom gave it to me.

I was the most junior counsel in the firm at the time and there was no pressure on me, save for the occasional tantrums of the PP when the end of the month was approaching and you failed to send an invoice to a paying client. And the good Lord already fixed the parking problem that Alabi wanted to create for me. Practice was good.

I had amazing people to work with. The PP rarely joked with the staff but he talked and laughed when he had to. He was the rubber stamp of bosses. There was the amiable Head of Litigation. He was as gentle as he was tall. He would never raise his voice at you no matter how big your transgression was. I had never worked with a better person all my life. There was Mr. Obameje, calm, cranky and crafty. Although he was a partner too but in the unwritten scheme of things, he was next to the Head of Litigation. We never got along. I did not have to work with him much and I was glad for that. He would throw you under the bus at the slightest opportunity. There was Mrs. Adavoh. I did not know what she saw in law practice. In my opinion, she should have been a Sunday school teacher in a village church or should be working with children somewhere. If she lost an application she could cry and if she lost a case, you could just send your condolences to her. If you raised your voice at her, she would be close to tears. She was my source of endless supply of cookies. She was an angel. There was Mrs. Akanke. She gave instructions with a smile. Her jokes were rib-cracking. She gave the best court room jokes in the firm. You could go to court with her and see the things she saw but you could never tell the stories like her. She could be a witch when she was in a bad mood which happened at least once in a month. It was usually towards the end of the month which was the reason we tagged her ‘witch’. The paralegals and I usually joked that the full moon was approaching and Mrs. Akanke would soon need to refresh her powers. Salaries were usually paid on the 26th of every month and if the day was a public holiday or a weekend, the salary would be paid on the last working day before the 26th of that month. It happened regularly that between the 22nd and 25th Mrs. Akanke’s mood would go south. And as soon as salaries were paid, her mood would skyrocket. Regardless of her mood swings, we got along just fine. There was Mr. Arnold. We called him the pastor. He was an adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you wanted to activate him just say to him –  ‘Confess your sins or you shall go to hell fire; the place of raging fire and brimstones.’ Then the sermon would start as to how hot the fire in hell would be. He was a jolly good fellow. There was Alabi who was just two years my senior at the Bar. We would have gotten along but he always wanted to show me who was the senior not only at the Bar but also in the firm. We never got along. I was the friend of all the paralegals and the back office staff. I got along with everyone of them. Generally, the members of staff were all good guys to work with save for Mr. Obameje who I detested working with. I could not ask for better people to work with. Life was very good.

Then Okafor v Nwaeke happened.

The Supreme Court gave the big decision which rendered a lot of court processes incompetent.

Several years before that decision was made, legal practitioners had been signing processes in the name of law firms such that it had become a usual practice amongst lawyers.

In that case, some Court processes were signed in the name of a law firm and the Supreme Court held that the processes were incompetent. The Supreme Court held that court processes should be signed in the name of a legal practitioner whose name was on the roll of the Supreme Court. Any court process signed in the name of a law firm was incompetent as a law firm was not a legal practitioner called to the Nigerian Bar and whose name was on the roll of the Supreme Court. It was that simple. Could one fault the Supreme Court on that? The apex court was just interpreting the law and ensuring that things were done the proper way, in accordance with the law. That was the substance of the decision.

In other words, if you had a matter at the Supreme Court in 2017 which commenced by an originating process that was filed in 1985 which was not properly signed within the meaning of this decision, your processes were incompetent and you simply did not commence your case properly. It did not mean you did not have a right in law to enforce, but you had not done it properly and you had to do it properly. It meant going back to right the wrongs done by the lawyer you engaged to represent you in court in 1985. So you would withdraw the earlier one and if you did not withdraw it, it would be struck out anyway. You would then re-file the 1985 process in 2018 and start all over again from the High Court. When you are done at the High Court, you move to the Court of Appeal then to the Supreme Court. Maybe by 2030, you would be done with the life cycle of your matter. The Supreme Court had decided.

Since almost every law firm was involved in signing processes in the name of their firms, the decision was a Tsunami. Almost all law firms in litigation were affected. Our firm was affected. So my ordeal started.

I usually got to the office very early before 6:30 am. The PP would get in by 7:30 am. The Head of Litigation usually got in by 8:20 am. All others came irregularly at various times between 7:30 am and 8:30 am. On that particular day, the PP got in before 7:00 am. The Head of Litigation came in by 7:15 am. By 7:45 am the Administrative Manager had informed all lawyers that there was going to be a meeting of all lawyers in the firm by 8:00 am.

We assembled in the conference room which was an extension of the firm’s library. The Head of Litigation walked in with his imposing figure. We all waited for the top dog.

‘Professor, have you read the Supreme Court’s decision in Okafor v Nwaeke?’ The Head of Litigation asked me with a seeming cunning smile on his face which meant he did not expect me to have read it. I never knew why he called me professor. I wanted to be called many things but not a professor. That never fitted into my dream of dreams. But he was a good guy so I embraced the name.

‘Sir?’ I was lost and looked at the Head of Litigation to say more.

‘The Supreme Court delivered a decision a week ago; Okafor v Nwaeke, have you read it?’

‘No sir.’ I stammered and replied.

‘I thought you guys are the technology generation. So you have not heard of the matter, eeh?’

He was facing me with an incredulous and bewildered expression like I must be from the Stone Age if I had not heard about the matter. He called the case like it was Manchester United v Newcastle United. I shook my head in embarrassment.

That was the first time I ever heard the name of the case and in the several days that was to come, it haunted my dreams. It still makes my hair stand on end till date because if you had the decision on your side, it was a pass to paradise. And if you had it against you; it was the end of that court process.

‘Have you seen the PP this morning?’ The Head of Litigation was not asking anybody in particular. No one answered.

Talk of the devil, the top man entered about the same time with his glasses in his right hand. The PP was a very dark man; almost 6 feet in height. He walked with small strides with his body tilting to his right. To me, his strides were a bit effeminate. He spoke four indigenous languages fluently. One could say he was a complete gentleman.

He ignored all the greetings and did not even sit down.

‘Have you been able to get the CTC of that decision?’ He asked the Head of Litigation.

‘No sir. Not at the moment. All the people I called don’t have it yet.’

‘I want the CTC of that decision before the end of business today.’ He said through clenched teeth and gesticulated with a closed fist. He left. It appeared the meeting was over. I had never seen him like that before. We did not get the copy of the certified true copy of the decision until after three days.

I was the last to read the decision. I read the decision sitting at my desk on a windy afternoon chewing on a banana flavored gum.

‘Ok, yes, I understood. Yes and so what?’ I thought.

Then I paused, then, turned to my computer. I started looking at the processes I had prepared since I joined the firm. I had prepared sixteen in all. By the time I was done checking, I discovered that five of the processes were affected. Two were Court of Appeal applications and the others were High Court processes. Court processes in the firm went through the scrutiny of at least three lawyers before they were filed most times. Nine out of ten times, the Head of Litigation saw the processes before they were filed. He certainly must see a Court of Appeal Process before it was filed. I began to sweat notwithstanding our filing policy. The reason for my sweat was that one of the matters affected was that of the most troublesome client we had in the firm; and a very important one too. ‘What kind of problem is this?’ I said to myself.

The PP had ceased responding to greetings for about one week then. Well, whenever I greeted him he did not respond and I heard a paralegal said the same. The atmosphere in the firm was tensed. Another meeting was called, not only of the lawyers but including the paralegals. The decision was to check all the matters and see which was affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. It happened that the lawyers have to look through the files one after the other, the job could not be left to paralegals. Not all the files were on the computer system. The physical search of files and the exertion of the legal research were tortuous.

In three weeks, we had a list of all the matters affected. They were fourteen in all. I prepared five of the fourteen. No Supreme Court matters were affected; we only had two matters at the Supreme Court at the time. Four applications and a Respondent’s Brief were affected at the Court of Appeal; I prepared two of them. The other affected processes were in the lower courts. The research continued. Sometimes, I even thought the PP looked at me like some piece of shit. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me. I was beginning to have a re-think about my life again. Maybe I should have joined the army. I would be glad instructing in law subjects and my favorite was Law of Armed Conflict. I probably would not have to go through this kind of stress and mental torture at the Nigerian Army School of Military Police in Zaria, Kaduna where I served as a corps’ member and was much loved. I started having bad dreams.  When I played football in my dream, Okafor was written all over the ball. Manchester United was always playing Nwaeke United and Nwaeke United always won.

Toyin preferred to come to my place on Friday nights. She was of the opinion that I was more relaxed on Friday nights than during the week. I had no idea I was more relaxed on Friday nights. But it made sense. I would not be waking up by 5:00 a.m. the following day. Toyin generally woke up before me. I knew she liked looking at me while I slept. She had told me several times that I looked like a child and innocent in my sleep. She had lots of my pictures she took with her mobile phone while I was asleep. In a way, I had to agree that there was something artistic about the pictures but as regards the childlike and innocent look, that was not what I saw. I had told her she could make a good curator, or be good at some stuff in visual arts or as a critique or a collector. Visual arts appreciation was natural to her. But she preferred counting money. She liked to be in touch with money. As long as she was in control of money, she was happy. A fat credit bank alert could make her have multiple orgasms in three seconds.

One Sunday morning whilst she was in my 10 x 7 ft kitchen making sandwich; she said ‘Ogbeni, do you have a problem with an Okafor in your office?’

‘Hehn… What Okafor?’ I asked a little bewildered whilst I tried to savour the aroma of the sandwich and to figure out what fish she was using.

She preferred using tinned sardine in making sandwich for the simple reason that she could apply them immediately without any further effort. I preferred titus, croaker or some other fresh fish from the Lagos Lagoon which she had to boil before use. She had played some pranks on me a couple of times thinking I would not know the difference between tinned sardine and either of titus, croaker or some other fresh fish. I always knew. I detested eating canned fish of any sort. She always marveled at my sense of taste. I knew all the tastes of those fishes even in their mashed state. She could not differentiate between them.

Fish na fish’, she would say.

She would tease me that I would have made a good cook or a culinary critique of some sort instead of chasing court cases all over the country. She usually said that shortly after I made comment on her artistic talent. She actually preferred my cooking to hers. She said I was a better cook. I liked to cook but only if I did not have to wash plates and pots or slice onions and I loved onions. Thankfully that day she was using croaker. I loved sandwiches. She knew a favorite good meal could light up my day and fire me up in the night.

‘You were calling Okafor in your sleep.’

‘Eh hen?’

‘Henn.’

‘It is one troublesome Idumota client jare. The guy dey give me hard time for office. I must have been thinking about his matter.’ I lied. I did not know how to explain Okafor v Nwaeke to her.

‘Ok oo. Me, I thought it was village pipu oo. Then I thought an Okafor could not be in your village na. Then I remembered again say you no even sabi village sef.’

I did not want to engage her in the village talk so I took a piece of sandwich and wolfed at it.

TO BE CONTINUED

Advertise with us
Oludare
Oludare
Lawyer, Bibliophile, Polyglot, Traveller
Advertise with us
Must Read
Advertise with us
Related News
Advertise with us

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.