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HomeEntertainmentThe Spirit of Okafor v Nwaeke (THE COMPLETE VERSION)

The Spirit of Okafor v Nwaeke (THE COMPLETE VERSION)

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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 always 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.

One wet afternoon, I was informed by the PP’s secretary that he wanted me in his office. It was the third time he had called me into his office since I joined the firm. He still wasn’t responding properly whenever I greeted him. But it had improved from no response to grumbled responses. He was on the phone when I entered his cozy office. The office was not as illuminated as the other offices of the firm. The illumination was just enough to read as it had more fancy lights befitting of a bedroom than the regular bulbs of an office. The PP had good taste in furniture. The whole of the furniture in his office was made of wood and wood only. The office was not as big as some offices of the top dogs in some Lagos Island law firms I had seen around. Excluding the bathroom and toilet on the left hand corner of the office, the office should be about 20 x 15 ft in floor area. The wall facing the entrance door had been covered by a wooden shelf with loads of law books and files. Apart from his personal table, there was another round table at the right hand corner with four comfortable chairs around it. I loved sitting in that office; it had the feeling of a bedroom. I always imagined what it felt like to be a boss.

‘What kind of decision is that? Eh hen se n ti e fe so profession yi da ni yen? And so?’

‘Gabi, listen… What about the cost?  Hello, hello… Hehn?’

Gabi was a nickname of one of his university classmates who was then a Justice of the Court of Appeal.

‘Hello… Eh hen and so what? That is out of the question.’

I was looking at his well ironed designer shirt. It was most likely a Pierre Cardin. He loved Pierre Cardin.

He beckoned to me to have a seat as he was rocking on his exquisite chair. He was shaking his head to whatever His Lordship was saying at the other end. I installed myself in one of the chairs around the roundtable and continued to look round the familiar environment whilst he continued with his phone call.

‘How could they give that kind of decision? Eh? Hello, hello… can you hear me? Hello, hello, hello…’

‘I can hear you now. Eh hen, what happened to all the decisions on substantial justice? The decisions on not visiting the sin of counsel on the litigant, what about those ones? Eh? Ki lo n so yi? So you are on their side, abi? And so? How do we explain these to the clients? Ok. Ok. We shall all see. Ok. Ok oo. E ku ise o. Ok no wahala.’

‘When is that one? Are you coming? Abuja is sweet na. Ok cheers.’

He cut the line and put his mobile phone on the table. He sat up with his arms resting on the arms of the chair and looked at me and I looked straight back at him. He rubbed his eyes, he looked away from me and then down and then at his neatly arranged mahogany table like he forgot why he called me. He remembered and his face creased into that familiar expression it had taken since the Okafor v Nwaeke episode began. He picked a sheet of paper from one of the few papers in front of him and handed it to me. I gently stretched my arm to collect it and I saw the tremor in his hand as I collected the document. I saw the familiar signature of one of our clients, Mr. Elesho. It was just three lines and it ended with ‘you have killed me.’ Of course, it had to do with Okafor v Nwaeke. Whilst we were preparing to deal with the effects of the decision, Mr. Elesho wrote to us that we had killed his case because a Court of Appeal process in his appeal against an insurance company was signed in the name of the law firm. He always got every process we filed in his matter so he must have heard about the decision. We were not surprised about his letter. What I dreaded most had happened.

Mr. Elesho was a friend of a friend of the PP’s younger brother who was a naval officer. The PP loved and respected his brother; everyone close to the PP knew that. The young naval officer had been a blessing to his practice. I had never met the navy man before but from what I heard about him, he was a lovable person and quite generous too.

‘Ah, navy man na beta person oo. Na good person.’ Our Office Manager would say.

And whenever our Office Manager said that someone was good, it meant that person always threw money around and he always got his. He never wasted his accolades on non-profitable people.

Mr. Elesho was an important client in his own right. He used to work for a company in the oil and gas industry. He was an intelligent guy and very comfortable too. He was not an everyday client that you got. He was a special person, a special client. I gathered he was a first class student at the University of Ibadan. The good news about Mr. Elesho was that you got referrals of clients from him and once you agreed a fee with him, he would pay as agreed. Although the route to that agreement might be turbulent; but once it was settled, he would pay as agreed and promptly too. Every other thing about him was bad news.

Mr. Elesho never liked to part with money and he was as frugal as he was thorough. He gave instructions like he owned the firm. The PP avoided him like a plague. He got the drafts of all the letters we prepared on his behalf for vetting and it was upon his approval that they were dispatched. He got the drafts of all the court processes of his matters for vetting and it was upon his final approval that they were filed. He was like the Head of Litigation of his matters. And there were several of them. He had sued his Head of Family, his Landlady, an automobile service company, a journalist, his second son, an insurance company and an airline. The latest was his former employer. I even heard he wanted to sue one of his ex-girlfriends but it had not happened for lack of evidence. The gist was that she had promised to marry him but reneged after she met a white guy. He had never been sued before. He was always the Claimant or the Plaintiff. The strange thing about him was that he always won all his matters. If he lost at the trial court, he would be victorious on appeal. At the time I joined the firm, he just got paid by an automobile service company that served as his mechanic through an out-of-court settlement. Before any document was sent to him the whole firm would look at it carefully because if he saw any grammatical error, he would correct it and send a letter in that regard.

‘Ehhhnn. If you get a letter of correction from Elesho, hnnnmm; you would not want your parents that financed your legal education to see the letter oo. They would think they wasted their money on your empty head.’ The Office Manager told me.

I had not seen any of such letters or witnessed any of all the things I heard about him. He had been a client before I joined and I guess the firm was used to him and had mastered how to deal with him before I joined. Now, I had dropped the ball; Elesho’s ball.

I remembered the first time I was told to do a letter of an update in respect of one of his several matters. At that time I had never heard of him. I quickly did it and I gave it to the Head of Litigation for approval for dispatch. The Head of Litigation told me to give it to another lawyer. The lawyer told me to give it to another lawyer. At the end of that day, six lawyers including the Head of Litigation had read it. The letter could still not be sent out. It was going to wait for the final approval of the PP before dispatch. At that time, I had been at the firm for three months. No letter of update passed through such scrutiny to the best of my knowledge. Eventually, the letter was dispatched. My curiosity got the better of me. I went to the ground floor, to the office of the support staff.

I walked up to the Office Manager and asked, ‘who is Mr. Elesho?’

The ground office went silent.

‘Is he here?’ The Office Manager asked alarmed.

‘No.’

‘Did he call you?’

‘Call me? No. I don’t even know him.’

‘Did you receive any letter from him?’ He attacked me with questions and looked searchingly at me with his face contorted.

‘No.’ I replied.

‘Then what is the problem?’ he asked.

‘I just want to know who he is, that is all.’

He looked a bit relieved but it appeared he was not going to volunteer any information.

‘Why does the whole firm have to vet a letter of an update to him? What is it about him?’ I asked curiously.

He was more relaxed. The others who were all ears but pretended to be doing something then actually started doing what they ought to be doing. That week, I met Mr. Elesho. Not in person but I got all the accounts of his exploits. One thing was clear from all accounts; the man was trouble. No lawyer in the firm vetted or prepared Mr. Elesho’s documents in a hurry. We used to joke that ‘you do not attend to Elesho’s document on an empty stomach’. It had to be critically perused on full stomach. A paying client though. But you were always threading on thin ice with him.

 ‘Go and prepare a reply to him and bring the case file to me.’ The PP said.

I nodded and wobbled out of his office with the horrid thought that I was the remote cause of that letter. I really would not want my parents to see the letter. I continued to stare at the three-line contents of the letter. The tremor in the PP’s hand had flown into mine as my left hand was shaking as I continued to read the letter. I changed the letter to the right hand; the right hand was shaking too. I began to feel feverish. I am going to join the army after this. I reminded myself

I prepared the letter. It was a long epistle. It took seven working days before it went through the desks of all the lawyers; the PP approved and we dispatched.

As the days rolled by, articles were published; interviews were granted and most of the opinions were against the Supreme Court’s decision. By the time the effect of the decision began to manifest, we began to hear stories. My classmates told me things that were strange. I was not alone in this world of misfortune after all. Our firm was not so badly affected. The decision was dealing with lawyers. If only Elesho’s matter was not affected, things would not have looked so bad. No other client had us worried like Elesho.

We received hearing notice from the Court of Appeal. Mr. Elesho’s matter was in a fortnight. We did meetings upon meetings, research upon research. The reports we got from colleagues were not encouraging. It was like the Court of Appeal was going to empty its registry. Appeals, applications, briefs were struck out in droves. We were not optimistic of any success but we felt prepared. The day came and we went to court. It was the Head of Litigation, Patience and me who went for the matter. Patience was a new wig doing her national youth service externship in the firm.

The Court of Appeal was sandwiched between the High Court of Lagos and the Kings College on Tafawa Balewa Drive. The building had two floors; the ground floor and the upper floor. The floors were tarred in the popular terrazzo style of the 60s. The building used to house the Supreme Court of Nigeria before the apex court was moved to Abuja. To me, from the outside, the building did not look like a court. Certainly it had the look of a government office and one could call it the name of any government department but not a court. I liked standing in the first landing from the foyer at the upper floor of the court to enjoy the view it offered. One could see the lush green cricket pitch of the Tafawa Balewa Square at a distance with the east pavilion of the Square rearing its head to block the rays of the morning sun on the pitch with the Square looking more like a stadium than a square in the European parlance. One could see the parking lot of the High Court several yards away with lawyers and litigants trooping in. You could see the young lads of the Kings College in their executive school uniforms in groups of fours and fives on their way to school. I loved the view.

There were just two court rooms in the Court of Appeal – Court 1 and Court 2. We were in Court 1. We entered the court room and we saw lawyers still jostling to write their names and to sign the cause lists. The Silks were more than ten in the inner bar.

The court room was a square auditorium of around 200 x 200 ft in floor area and about forty ft in room height in my estimation.  It looked more like a warehouse stacked with rows of chairs and several hundreds of documents. The front quarter of the court room was occupied by the Justices, the Registrars and the Recorders. The platform in the front quarter was in two levels. The higher which was about six feet up was where the Justices sat in their eminence with a carved coat of arms hanging on the wall behind them. The second tier was about three feet high where the Registrars and the other court staff sat. The remainder of the three quarter of the court room consisted mainly of the Bar and the litigants’ seats. The Bar had three parts which I would describe as the center, right and left. The center which had the Inner Bar consisted of four rows of long chairs and desks in the center of the court room directly facing the Bench. The second and third parts of the Bar were two rows of long chairs and desks to the left and right facing each other on an elevated two feet platform and both overlooking the Bar at the center. The set of chairs at the back of the centre Bar was for the litigants. The giant air conditioners adorned the front of the walls at designated spots like some kinds of external pillars. We sat down at the right wing of the Bar.

At about 8:50 a.m. Mr. Elesho strolled into the court room looking like an over fed military officer. I wanted to acknowledge his presence but when I saw that the Head of Litigation avoided his side, I copied him. He was wearing a white Lacoste tee-shirt. His head was dotted with several grey hairs and the military punk hair style he carried was still fresh; most likely two or three days old. His thick neck was adorned with his probable eighteen carat gold necklace. The expression on his face was that of distaste. He sat down and started looking all over like a spy. Patience had taken over my chore of attending to the cause list to register our attendance. She made her way to the front swaying left and right on her high heel sandals. Although she wasn’t my type of girl but on a normal day, I would have allowed my thoughts to stray on some ideas about her lower backside and what could be done with same behind closed doors but Okafor v Nwaeke had re-structured my thoughts then.

Our matter was number five on the cause list of twenty two matters. After about fifteen minutes when we came in we noticed the ruffle in the front amongst the court staff which signified that the Honorable Justices were on their way in.

Gboua! Gboua! Gboua! We heard the familiar three thud sounds.

‘Courtttttttttt.’ One of the Registrars of the court announced the arrival of the Justices in his legato voice. The Justices filed out in their traditional style. They bowed to us; we bowed back and they bowed to themselves. Justice Shittem Omobiyi, Justice Caroline Nbakwe and Justice Yahya Nganusa formed the panel of Court 1 at the time. Justice Shittem Omobiyi was the Lead Justice. The business of the day started. As was expected, the Silks took their rights to call their matters out of turn. True to the stories we heard, the striking out began. It was like when an akara seller would be taking out the akara balls in a hurry without getting fried to the traditional color of light brown in threes and fours with her long spoon out of the hot groundnut oil on the fire so that she could quickly sell to her impatient and waiting customers on a long queue. No matter how beautiful your argument was; no matter how much you sought to distinguish your matter from Okafor v Nwake, your akara would be taken out of the oil. In a very compassionate voice, Justice Omobiyi would ask you the magic question – ‘Counsel, so what do you want to do with this application?’

Out of the eleven matters that were called before ours, nine were affected by Okafor v Nwaeke. All the affected processes were struck out save for one where an influential Silk argued extensively citing authorities upon authorities.

At regular intervals, Elesho would shake his head as the processes were being struck out. The curve at the right side of his mouth gave an idea of what was going on in that big head of his. He would throw a look at us in the Bar and would look down and shake his head again. I had a feeling he was shaking his leg too. As for me, I had calculated the interval at which he looked at us and when he looked elsewhere. When he looked elsewhere, I would look at him. The Head of Litigation did not even look his way. Somehow, I was not feeling the pressure like I felt before. Perhaps, because I saw that we were not alone in the crisis.

The influential Silk cited several judicial authorities and was not going to give in easily. The calm Justice Omobiyi and her team patiently allowed the highly revered Silk to make his submissions and in her feeble compassionate voice still eventually asked the most dreaded question – ‘Chief, what do you want to do with this Notice of Appeal?’

The Silk sighed and prayed the court for a date to supply more authorities. His prayer was granted but we all knew the fate the matter would suffer; the influential Silk’s akara would be taken out of the oil.

When they called our matter Mr. Elesho reluctantly stood up and flashed a mean look at the representative of the Respondent, an insurance company. Before the wonder question was asked, our Head of Litigation wasted no time; he begged to withdraw our tripod application and same was struck out. Mr. Muniru, the Respondent’s Counsel asked for the cost of the day. No Counsel had asked for cost that day in all the matters that were struck out on account of Okafor v Nwaeke. Mr. Muniru asked for cost. He made a submission for about ten minutes on the application for cost. He asked for N500, 000. The court granted N30, 000. He was pompous and notorious for being merciless and ruthless especially on costs. I had already taken a dislike to him. We were in two other matters with him apart from the presents. He was the Mr. Perfect type of person and rubbed your fallibility in your face. He had already collected almost N60, 000 in costs in those matters. I craved for a day to deal with him in court. Our case was not that bad, it just happened that Mr. Elesho was in involved.

Before we rose, Mr. Elesho had disappeared. We left the court and headed for the office. When we got to the office, Mr. Elesho was already in the office. The PP was not in the office. I was sure he deliberately avoided the office so that he would not have to deal with Mr. Elesho. Mr. Elesho entered the office of the Head of Litigation and I imagined what was going on in that office. The Head of Litigation would hear the story of his miserable life. But I trusted him; he would not even show any sign of irritation; he would continue to pacify Elesho. I could only think of one more person as professionally composed as he was; a female Judge of the High Court of Lagos State. I wished I could have that level of composure in all situations. It was a rare virtue.

It was a short meeting. I reckoned the Head of Litigation would have assured him that there was nothing to worry about. Elesho came out of the office. His face was totally animated in anger.

‘Do not worry sir. Everything would be sorted out…’ The Head of Litigation gently assured Elesho in his ever passive voice.

He raised his eyebrow and looked back at the Head of Litigation who paused midway into his statement. Elesho looked like Mombasa, the Lion King.

‘I should not worry, eh? Why did you have to act against the law?’ He interjected.

‘As you saw in court, we were not the only firm affected.’

‘No o. Don’t tell me that, please. That matter may not go on this year again. How could you be wasting people’s time like that? What if the insurance company went under tomorrow? Don’t tell me that, please. Are you telling me every Lawyer in that court room had this problem? He asked the Head of Litigation.

‘What is that name they used to call this your firm … James Bond abi double o seven de ni or what? You should be called Baba Suwe or triple zero.’ He snapped as he made his way to the door.

Mr. Elesho was a winner. It was useless arguing with him. The Head of Litigation just nodded and looked away.

We prepared another application and re-filed. We did not get the hearing notice until after three months. We were going to have another day in court with Mr. Muniru.

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.

                                                                             The End

 

 

 

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Oludare
Oludare
Lawyer, Bibliophile, Polyglot, Traveller
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