The date for Elesho’s matter was a Tuesday in mid December. I generally regarded Tuesday as a lucky day for me but that morning I felt so many things but lucky.
The harmattan was already at full blast and its presence could be patently seen all over the Lagoon. As I drove through the Third Mainland Bridge listening to an old number of Majek Fashek at a moderate speed of 60 km ph. I intermittently looked at the Lagoon which was covered by some semi-whitish mist giving it the semblance of rising smoke from the remnant lava of a ferocious volcano which had spread on a vast open land gradually dissipating its energy.
The bridge was free of traffic and I got to the Adeniji Adele end of the bridge before I ran into traffic. It was nothing serious and in a couple of minutes I was at the Sura end and veered off to the right into Simpson Street. I got to the office at 6:22 a.m.
It was one of the few days I was the first to get to the office. One of the night guards opened the gate for me to bring in my car. I parked the car in my sacred spot and continued listening to music. There was no reason to leave the confines of my car yet as the entrance door to the office was still locked. It was an open secret that the night guards had the key to the office but had been instructed only to bring it out in an emergency and my coming to the office extra early did not count as one. I had been offered the privilege to keep a spare of the office key since I usually come early but I declined. It was not a responsibility I wanted as I was a bit careless with chattels and the smaller they are, the bigger the chances of misplacing them. The people who had the office’s key to my knowledge were the Partners, the Office Manager and the Security Guard who worked the day shift.
As an old number of Bone Thugs N Harmony was starting I saw the familiar figure of the Security Guard who worked the day shift in the rear view mirror approaching from the street through the unlocked gate with his even pace and average strides which matched his average height. His balding head was tilted to the right as he came closer to my car. He wore a pullover to douse the effect of the early morning harmattan. We exchanged greetings, he opened the entrance door and I entered. The first thing I usually do when I get to the office was to sleep and I slept.
The sound of the door woke me. It was the cleaner. She was the usual person who would interrupt my early morning office sleep. She tried as much as possible not to be heard but it was impossible. I moved to the library so that she could have her space to do the cleaning. I could not sleep anymore. I stared at the books on the wooden shelf with my mind blank waiting for the day to start.
The sound of the library door jostled me out of my reverie. The cleaner was after me again; she was done with the open floor office which accommodated four work stations and two partners’ offices. I left the library for her and went back to my desk. The door of the office of the Head of Litigation was slightly ajar and I could see Elesho’s case file thereon. That was the main business of the day. The Head of Litigation was going to lead another Lawyer and me in the proceedings at the Court of Appeal later in the day. I did not know who was going to be the third Lawyer yet.
Our tripod application which was struck out some months back on account of the decision in Okafor v Nwaeke had been re-filed. The cheque of N30,000 for Mr. Muniru for the cost awarded by the Court of Appeal in his favour had been given to me the previous day by the firm’s Accountant. Mr. Muniru had filed a short counter affidavit to our new application. The guy was a pest. He would not allow you have peace of mind. I wasn’t really bothered. Elesho would win. He always won but we were the ones who would ensure it and we always did. The Head of Litigation would get the job done and I would help in any way I could. The counter affidavit was vague. I reckoned most of his grounds for opposition would be on points of law and probably to attack our affidavit in support of the application. The Head of Litigation and I had already discussed the counter affidavit casually. At that time, written addresses were not used at the Court of Appeal in support of applications except where the court specifically ordered it. Arguments on points of law were taken orally. We were prepared but it always felt good when you knew what you were up against especially with a sneaky snake like Muniru.
The Head of Litigation informed me he heard Muniru was not affected by Okafor v Nwaeke in all of the processes in his firm. All his processes were intact and he had been boasting and giving ethical lessons to whoever cared to listen.
Not one case was affected in his law firm. How could that be? I thought. Naturally he was one of the few who were on the side of the Supreme Court on Okafor v Nwaeke.
‘Things had to be done correctly. Lawyers are dropping the standards of the profession,’ I heard he was saying everywhere he went.
He was another Elesho. He was very thorough and did not shift grounds. He filed his processes on time; he did everything by the book. You could never catch him needless to say the court ordering him to pay costs, fines or penalties; but he was very notorious for collecting costs.
The Head of Litigation came in at 7:10 a.m. He usually comes in early whenever we have an important matter in court. He certainly would not want Elesho to come to the Court of Appeal to see only me. Elesho always wanted a Partner on his matter not some rookie like me. Everyone knew.
At 7:30 a.m. I was still trying to look for something to eat as the Court of Appeal could take the most part of the day when the Head of Litigation popped his head out of his office and called me to his office. I walked through the open office to the end of the hall where there were the two offices of the Head of Litigation and Obameje. The Office of the Head of Litigation was on the left.
‘Professor, how are you today?’ The Head of Litigation addressed me.
‘I am fine sir,’ I said and managed to put up a smile.
‘You do not look fine,’ he said and looked at me curiously. I assured him I was fine.
‘Anyway, something came up and you would be going to the court with Patience. If I can, I will join you in the court,’ he said and dumped the Elesho file in my hands.
I stood rooted to the spot with my mouth slightly opened. A call came in for him about the time he downloaded the file into my hands. He looked at his mobile phone and he dismissed me and shoved me out of his office.
I stood at his door and looked right and left.
‘Abi nkan se man yi ni ke? This guy must be joking. This is Elesho’s matter oo.’ I said to myself. I slowly dragged my feet and left the front of his office.
Patience, the NYSC extern kept to herself most of the time. She was a phone ninja. And the Head of Litigation mentioned her name like she was some research assistant that would be helpful if I needed any help. What would Patience do to help me? I thought.
I was tempted to call the Principal Partner. But that would be too overreaching.
It seemed this thing was for real. The Head of Litigation would never joke with a matter like this. I had never appeared alone at the Court of Appeal. Why must it be Elesho’s matter of all cases in this world and against that sneaky snake at the opposing end? I thought and almost cried.
I was right. This Tuesday was not a lucky one at all. I thought.
It was 8:10 a.m. and we had to be in court before 9:00 a.m. I walked slowly to the library where Patience was stationed. I opened the door and found her head lowered to her phone. I informed her it was time to go to court. I walked slowly to my desk and took my time to get dressed for court. I gently carried the file and other law texts and turned to find Patience with her imposing figure waiting behind me. If anyone saw both of us, you would think she was the one leading me. She collected the case file from me and we headed to the court. I walked slowly with Patience in my wake as we made our way out of Strachan Street to Tafawa Balewa Drive with what was left of the harmattan beating into our faces as the sun was up and had reduced its presence in the atmosphere.
‘What of Mr. Kasali?’ Patience asked after the Head of Litigation as we trod on.
‘He will join us in court,’ I replied in a voice that did not sound like mine.
We passed through the High Court and made our way through a connecting passage to the Court of Appeal. All the multitudes of records of appeal littered the corridors and corners of the passage as we made our way to the foyer of the Court of Appeal. I could not take a few minutes to do my sightseeing as usual. My mind could not absolve any aesthetic pleasure that morning. My mind was so heavy I felt like I was going to a slaughter slab. That sneaky snake was going to have my blood and Elesho would be there to cheer him.
I sat down at the left wing of the Bar whilst Patience made her way to the front to register our appearance on the cause lists. I looked everywhere for Elesho but he was nowhere to be seen. Whenever someone came in, my head would turn automatically to the way of the entrance. Not that I wanted him to be in court but if he was going to be there I wanted to know where he would be sitting so I could see his face. When Patience was done she came and sat beside me and soon enough lowered her head to her phone.
I looked up again towards the entrance and it was not Elesho who came in, it was Muniru. I did not know who I dreaded to see more that day between Elesho and Muniru. He came in and walked gently towards us and sat down right beside us and put his file and law books on the table. Patience was between him and me and they had a casual conversation in low tones. He apparently did not recognize me even though I had appeared on at least four occasions with the Head of Litigation in a couple of matters where he was the opposing Counsel. He stood up and went to the front to register his name on the cause lists. He walked like he owned the court, slowly taking in everything that was going on around him. He carried his slender figure with grace and moved like he was counting or measuring his steps. His head which looked like a well molded piece of eba was well tucked under his battered wig. His shirt and wing collar were snow white. He returned and sat down. The scent from his body was neither that of a perfume nor cream but pure neatness. I had never been so close to him physically and I felt so numb from the proximity. I was too stunned and overwhelmed to feel anything. The matter had to be done and I was there to do it. I was familiar with the file. The challenge was that when you are a Junior Counsel or would not be the Lead Counsel, there was an abandon with which you treat case files. Muniru resumed his chat with Patience. Patience was pretty. She was naturally fair in complexion and I had no doubt she had also done some additional little bleaching for good measure so that without a second look, one could easily conclude that she was a yoyo champion. In a couple of years, when she would have more money to dazzle she would become the type we call suzzy within my circle of friends. She had the right height but not the kind of figure I liked. Her lower backside was too broad and too big for my taste. In a couple of years, with that kind of complexion and lower back side, she would be an undisputed suzzy. I saw Muniru’s lustful eyes when he looked at Patience with that automated smile men gave when they were interested in a woman. I stored the observation away somewhere in my memory.
Whilst Muniru was chatting with her, I saw a piece of paper in front of him; it was some kind of jottings. For the first time that day, my spirit was lifted. The size of the jottings was not a problem for me. I put my good sight to use and I began to read his jottings. Patience was doing a good job of distracting him; in a bid to re-arrange his belongings, he pushed the jottings closer to my side of the desk. The first point as expected was the issue of cost. The guy was mean; he did not want our application to be heard except we paid cost. I looked at the cheque again, smiled slightly and touched it romantically. I would give it to him later. The next point was that we did not state the grounds of our application on the motion paper. The operative word was ‘shall’ and its effect was mandatory. He wrote several authorities on that.
What does that mean? I asked myself. I quickly checked the Court of Appeal rules. There, I saw it. I had dropped the ball again! Elesho’s ball.
How could I have overlooked the provision? I asked myself. I had prepared applications in proceedings at the Court of Appeal in the past without stating the grounds of the application and no Counsel had ever raised the point before. This Muniru guy was going to raise it. This guy was going to slaughter me today. I hated him more. The PP would kill me if I lost this application; and it would be worse if Elesho was there to witness it. I looked round again whether Elesho was in court; he wasn’t.
I sent an SMS to Mr. Arnold who was in the office for judicial authorities on when the word ‘shall’ would not be construed as mandatory. The reply came in five minutes. Mr. Arnold supplied me with Supreme Court Decisions. God bless the Pastor, I prayed for him. My spirit rose again. Next he attacked our affidavit paragraph by paragraph. That was expected I was prepared for that one.
I did not know what Patience told him. I saw that he moved all his belongings closer to himself and turned his jottings upside down. Patience had given us away. I was sure she had told him we were in the same matter. They stopped talking. He started looking at me from the side of his eyes and I looked straight on.
The Registrars had started their ruffles up front and then all sat orderly which signified that the court was going to start sitting soon.
From what I saw of the jottings, the objections were more than five and I had only seen three. What other grounds of objection could this sneaky snake raise again? I thought. I looked at our application again and again, nothing came to my mind.
We heard the usual three thud sounds. Gbua! Gbua! Gbua! And we all rose.
‘Courttttttttttttt’ the voice of the announcing Registrar took the air. The Justices filed out in the traditional style in their pious demeanor. They bowed to us; we bowed back and they bowed to themselves.
Muniru arranged his file and books in preparation for the day’s business. I saw his jottings momentarily again. I saw numbers seven and eight.
Good Lord! Seven and eight? I muttered to myself. And I have no idea what the arguments were. I was only prepared for the affidavit and cheque. I was fortunate to see the third argument. There were five other arguments and possibly more.
This guy is a monster and this life is cruel. I thought. I started sweating. I wasn’t comfortable anymore. I went out and made a call to the Head of Litigation. He didn’t pick. I came back. In another two minutes I stood again and went out. I called the Head of litigation several times, he didn’t pick. I came back. I knew Patience was looking at me; I didn’t look back. I noticed that she had started sweating too and her mascara was wearing off gradually from sweat mopping. She could not press her phone anymore when she saw that the Lead Counsel was not settled.
Good for her. Let her mascara wear off. I thought. At least I was not suffering alone. I stood again for the third time and went out of the court room; Patience followed me. I called the Head of Litigation. His number was no longer reachable altogether. Patience was right behind me.
‘What is the matter sir?’ She asked in a shaky voice.
‘Nothing. Don’t worry,’ I said.
As I made my way back inside she told me she wanted to use the ladies and I nodded. She needed it anyway. Her face looked like the canvas of an impressionist oil painter when the painting had just begun. I went back inside. As I sat down, Elesho waltzed in.
The army of the devil just got a major reinforcement, I thought.
He sat down and looked around searchingly; he was probably looking for the Head of Litigation or Obameje. He wore a flower patterned brown Ankara. His familiar gold necklace was sitting on his short stout neck. The numbness that had taken over my body concluded its navigation and no part of my body had blood it in anymore.
The SANs at the inner Bar had thinned out. It was not safe to go out anymore; not with Muniru as the opposing Counsel. Our matter could be called anytime. I brought out the cheque and gave it to Muniru. He looked at the cheque and looked at my face in a condescending manner and made no move to take it.
‘So you did not want to pay before, eh? He asked quietly. I wanted to say something but the words did not come.
‘This cheque ought to have been sent to us long before today. You were actually in contempt of court until this moment,’ he said quietly.
I nodded like I concurred with his words.
‘I don’t know what the practice has become these days. The standard is being dropped every day,’ he continued to preach quietly.
I wanted to ask him how old he was at the Bar but the words would not come. I put the cheque on the table and pushed it to him.
‘This is what Lawyers have turned practice to. A court would award cost and you would not want to pay.’
I remembered he had not acknowledged receipt of the cheque. I pushed the photocopy I had with me to his side of the desk to acknowledge receipt of the cheque and offered him my pen. He looked at it and ignored my hanging hand with the pen. He compared the photocopy with the original, brought out a pen from his breast pocket and endorsed the photocopy and pushed it slowly back to me.
I moved the case file closer since Patience was taking forever to return. I looked at Elesho. He was looking at me. He looked away. It seemed he knew I was the one in charge. His face was creased and his thick lips were packed to the upper right at an angle that could only suggest disdain.
I had not been able to focus on the proceedings in court but after I had resigned to faith I calmed down. Justice Shittem Omobiyi, Justice Caroline Nbakwe and Justice Yahya Nganusa had been doing the business of the day.
‘So Counsel what do you want to do with this application?’ Justice Omobiyi asked one very handsome Lawyer in a very compassionate voice.
‘I humbly apply to with draw the application sir,’ the cute Lawyer replied in a sad voice.
I was sure that Justice Omobiyi had asked that question several times that day. The decision in Okafor v Nwaeke had become a magic wand. You could walk into any court, file a simple application against your opponent and the court knew what to do. Sometimes the application was not even necessary. You only needed to inform the court that your opponent’s case had offended Okafor v Nwaeke and leave the rest to the court.
The Registrar called our matter. Elesho stood up and looked at me and shook his head gently. I announced my appearance and Muniru announced his. I casually stole a look at Elesho as he was sitting; he was looking at me with the same distasteful expression and had then added the gentle shaking of his head. I stood up to say the things I had rehearsed in my mind since 8:40 a.m.
‘My Lords we have an application for extension of time to file our Notice of Appeal. We had previously brought this tripod application some months back and the court struck same out on account of Okafor v Nwaeke. My Lords, we have done the needful and we are back and we are ready to move the application.’
‘Mr. Moniru, are you opposing the application?’ Justice Omobiyi asked Muniru.
He stood up confidently and replied ‘Yes. My Lords. We filed a counter affidavit and our grounds for opposing the application are mainly on grounds of law…’ He paused when he saw that the Justices were not looking at him. He wanted all their attention
Justice Omobiyi leaned to the left and had a short conversation with Justice Nbakwe and then leaned to the right and did same with Justice Nganusa.
‘What is the basis of your opposition?’ Justice Omobiyi asked and leaned again to the right for a chat with Justcie Nbakwe and then to the left with Justice Nganusa.
Muniru did not talk. He wanted their full attention.
‘Yes. Go on Moniru,’ Justice Omobiyi encouraged him.
‘My Lords they gave me a cheque for the cost awarded at the last sitting this morning in court and ordinarily …’
‘So you confirm receipt of a cheque?’ Justice Omobiyi interjected and asked.
‘Er… Er… Yes. My Lords. But My Lords…’ he paused when he saw that Justice Omobiyi was having a chat with Justice Nganusa.
‘Yes. Go on Moniru,’ Justice Omobiyi urged him as she was writing.
‘My Lords, I was saying …’
‘The cheque is for how much?’ Justice Omobiyi asked and interjected again.
‘N30,000 sir,’ Muniru replied.
Justice Omobiyi was conversing again with Justice Nganusa.
‘Moniru, you said the cheque was for how much?’
‘N30,000 sir,’ Muniru repeated almost snapping in reply.
Justice Omobiyi noted same in writing.
Justice Nbakwe said something to Justice Omobiyi and she laughed. Justice Omobiyi had to repeat what Nbakwe said to Nganusa and he laughed too.
Meanwhile, I was just rehearsing what I was going to say in my mind and taking a look at regular intervals at Elesho. His lips were still lifted at that angle of disdain but his eyes were not on me.
‘On what other grounds are you opposing this application Moniru?’ Justice Omobiyi asked Muniru.
‘My Lords…’ Muniru paused when he saw that the panel was conversing again
‘My Lords…’ Muniru raised his voice.
‘Yes go on Moniru,’ Justice Omobiyi said and faced Nganusa again.
‘My Lords…’ Muniru raised his voice and said emphatically.
‘Yes. Go on Moniru.’ Justice Omobiyi urged him disinterestedly.
Muniru recounted all the grounds and the justices were looking at him. He stated seven grounds in all. Seven grounds of objection for an innocuous application as ours; this guy is a devil. I thought.
‘Is that all, Moniru?’ Justice Omobiyi asked.
‘Yes. Mi Lord,’ Muniru answered.
‘Mr. …’ Justice Omobiyi was looking for her cause list for my name.
‘Ilesanmi, Sir.’ I helped the amiable Justice.
‘Mr. Ilesanmi, please move your application,’ Justice Omobiyi said with a smile to me as she would have encouraged a hardworking school boy to continue with his homework.
‘Thank you My Lord. This application is brought pursuant to Order…’
‘Ilesanmi, please move in terms,’ Justice Omobiyi said as she was writing.
In terms ke? Jesu o se o, I thought
‘Very well Mi Lord. I move in terms of the motion paper and I urge the court to grant our prayers as contained on the motion paper. Thank you My Lords,’ I submitted and sat down. Blood had started flowing in my veins.
‘Moniruuu,’ Justice Omobiyi called without raising her head as she continued writing.
‘Yes. Mi Lord.’ Muniru reluctantly answered when he stood as the implication of moving the application in terms downed on him.
‘Go ahead with your objection.’
‘My Lords, on the issue of the motion paper …’ he paused when he saw that Justice Omobiyi was not listening to him.
‘Go on Moniru,’ Justice Omobiyi said as she turned sideways to Justice Nbakwe.
‘My Lords, I would very much like the court to record my submission,’ Muniru stated emphatically.
Justice Omobiyi turned and faced him. She removed her glasses. Justice Nbakwe stopped smiling. Justice Nganusa leaned forward. The court was silent for a few seconds.
‘Mr. Moniru, are you insinuating the court is lazy?’ Justice Omobiyi asked; her feeble voice reverberating to the ends of the court room.
‘No. No. Not at all My Lords. I apologize if that was how My Lords perceived my statement. I am so sorry My Lords. I apologize…’
‘Go on Mr. Moniru,’ Justice Omobiyi stated sternly.
Muniru went on with his arguments one after the other. The three Justices were looking at him with a rare concentration like the type one would give an astute magician in a bid to discover his trick as he performed. Justice Omobiyi did not write. Muniru did not flinch; he continued with his submissions.
I was not sweating anymore. I had made up my mind on what to say; if there was any need to say anything.
‘…I urge the court to dismiss the application with substantial cost,’ Muniru concluded.
‘Is that all?’ Justice Omobiyi asked.
‘Yes Sir.’ Muniru responded. His voice was not as belligerent as before.
Justice Omobiyi leaned to the right and had another short discussion with Justice Nbakwe and to the left with Justice Nganusa. Every Lawyer in the court room knew what was coming.
I found a new energy. Before you could say ‘Kilimanjaro,’ I was on my feet ready to reply on points of law to Muniru’s arguments.
‘Order as prayed,’ Justice Omobiyi announced abruptly and proceeded to write.
‘As the court pleases,’ was the resounding response from the Lawyers in the court.
I looked left and right.
Ah. Just like that? I asked myself.
I won. I won that sneaky snake. That was my first day in the Court of Appeal alone or as Lead Counsel. Although, I did not lead anybody as Patience had disappeared. The Lawyers around me shook my hands and patted me on the back as if I won lottery. I was barely two years at the bar. I was less than 12 months in practice. It appeared one did not always have it so good at the Court of Appeal. It was David against Goliath. I had an idea how David felt that day. And Muniru must have felt like Goliath and Saul put together; I had no idea how that felt but it certainly would not be a feeling that would be fondly remembered.
Patience had still not shown up. I packed my law texts and the case file and moved out of the Bar triumphantly with Muniru standing up for me to pass. The way he stood up to make way for me looked like he was standing up for the champion. I was in the air. I walked slowly so that I would not fall. As I was getting to the litigants’ seat Patience came from nowhere with all smiles and tagged along helping with the files and books. Her make-up had been re-applied. She had de-robed and removed her wig. She brushed her left breast against my right shoulder and lingered for a second more than necessary as she leaned towards me to collect the bulky file. But I wasn’t sure whether it was deliberate. Whichever it was, the feeling was soothing. She could not have rewarded me in a better way after she abandoned me in the time of crisis.
Elesho was no longer in the court. We proceeded to the office and for some inexplicable reason, as we walked down to the office I looked carefully before crossing the road. When we got to the office, we saw Elesho’s Mercedes Benz Kompressor, 2006 model. He must have told the whole office what happened. Everyone was giving me a pat on the back.
That was the only time I had to personally deal with a court process which offended the decision in Okafor v Nwaeke. I never had to argue against the rule again till date. And my turn came to use it as a shield and as a sword. I was using the decision to shoot down processes all over the country – Aba, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ota. I was a James Bond with the smoking ace; an ace given by the Supreme Court.
Tuesday was still a good day after all.
Life was good again.