Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. – Marilyn Monroe
I was not much of a good student when I was in the university. I got distracted easily. I could never maintain focus on academic studies for too long except the subject or topic mesmerized me. Academics bored me. Although I loved to learn but learning certain things could be boring. I knew the way I saw things and reflected on them was a bit childish but I was me.
LL. B Part V – When Perception Matters
He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help – Abraham Lincoln
First impression matters, they say. I could say that again and again. I remember my first Jurisprudence class at the Annex of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG).
It was a windy morning in the Harmattan of November, ‘05. The class was mildly rowdy and noisy when the gentle Professor walked in. He was of average height and average size. He was light skinned and carried an afro. He went on to the two metre high platform and stood behind the rugged lectern looking at the documents he brought with him. Five seconds had gone and the noise had not subsided. He looked up from under his patently fragile glasses and looked one at a time at the students; those moving about, the ones sauntering in and out of the class and the ones chatting. Persistently, his gaze would not leave you until you saw him and shut your LL. B part V mouth or someone nudged you and you sat your undergraduate bottom gently in a seat. Gradually, the noise subsided, the movements stopped and the class became still. It was so still you could hear the subtle whizzes of the Harmattan and the occasional orgasmic sounds of the parliament of monkeys having early morning sex in the swamp nearby.
‘I was trained in three jurisdictions, Russia, USA and Canada. I have been around. You don’t come by people like me every day. When someone like me enters your class you should pay attention,’ the erudite Professor with his gap tooth stated gently but emphatically. The words penetrated the class. It appeared as though, the monkeys in the swamp could hear him too; they stopped what they were doing and listened. Then he gave some sheets of paper to the Class Governor to distribute to the class. The paper contained a conversation between Plato and Aristotle. He allowed us a couple of minutes to look at the paper and a moment to digest the dialogue between the two iconic western philosophers.
One would think the lecture was going to be centered on the paper he just distributed, but no. He started his lecture and did not refer to the paper he distributed to the class. It seemed the paper was a session long appetizer of some sort.
On that first day, he bought us over. He got our attention not just that day but for the whole length of LL. B year V. It suffices to say that the impression he created that day survives with most of us till today. Yes. First impression matters.
LL. B Part III (The Locus Classicus)
It is not wisdom but Authority that makes a law. – Thomas Hobbes
When I was in LL. B part III, Environmental Law was still a relatively new course at the time in UNILAG Law. I gathered my class was the third set in the life of the course taking same as an elective in the faculty. We had three lecturers to guide us through the course in the second semester. Let me refer to them as Cool, Shorty and Dongo. Cool was cool and the first of the trio to come to class. He was of average height, soft spoken and did not waste words. I should say whatever he said in class was useful in the examination. In the six weeks that he came to class, he mentioned the case of Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd v Councillor F.B. Farah and others  3 N.W.L.R (pt. 382) in every lecture.
Next, was Shorty. Shorty was short, flamboyant, pompous, assertive, boastful and elegantly dressed. In the four weeks that he came to class, he mentioned the Farah’s case once. He made heavy whether on Rio Declaration, Stockholm Declaration and a couple of other International Instruments. Next was Dongo. Dongo was a replica of Cool. The only difference was that he was lanky. In the four weeks he lectured us, he mentioned Farah’s case every day. So for me, Farah’s case was germane that semester for Environmental Law since the case was chewed in the mouth of two of the three lecturers like a bubble gum.
I must read the whole report, I concluded.
I seldom read the whole report of cases given to us in class. I made up my mind to read the Farah’s case, summarize and digest it. It turned out that if you had not read the case (not necessarily the full report), only heaven knows how you would have survived the course that year. In that year, Farah’s case was needed in all the six questions of the Environmental Law examination out of which you must answer four. A friend and classmate with whom I normally chat before any examination had a chat with me on the morning of the examination and I asked him what he made of the decision in the Farah’s case. He said casually that he had not read it.
‘Are you kidding me?’ I asked him. Eventually I gave him an overview of the case before we went into the examination hall. He managed to get a 3 only on account of our chat on the Farah’s case and he was grateful for the exercise.
I got a 5, a distinction; my first in a law course and the only one ever in the pursuit of my LL. B degree. That was, if Conflict of Laws was not added. A distinction in Conflict of Laws would not count in UNILAG Law during my time because almost everyone got a distinction in the course, even those who do not come to class regularly. Thanks to the magnanimity of the Santa Claus Professor who was the Alpha and Omega of the course. It was an elective course but, everyone took the course, it was a de facto compulsory course. Everyone knew, especially those, whose Cumulative Grade-Point Average (CPGA) was already sinking from the early years. Conflict of Laws was one course that could help in salvaging a drowning CGPA in UNILAG Law. The stories we heard about the course from some faculties of law were terrible, students avoided it like a plague but in UNILAG Law, the legend preceded the course. If you had any doubt when filling in your course form at the beginning of the semester, by the time the Santa Claus Professor lights up your life with his smile and theatrics in class, any iota of doubts would be erased from your mind.
As a law student, the Farah’s case defined for me what a locus classicus meant.
The Law Annex and the Monkeys
I confess freely to you I could never look long upon a monkey, without very mortifying reflections. – Sir William Congreve
The Law Annex was the lecture and examination venue for the UNILAG Law compulsory courses and for LL.B part IV, the venue for Land Law. The Law Annex was stationed at a distance of about 50 meters from the Faculty of Law. You would need to traverse the Senate Building Street that leads to the Faculty of Business Administration and pass by a wooden building of the Faculty of Arts before you got to the Annex from the Faculty of Law.
The Law Annex had an architectural design that had the semblance of a theatre only that it did not have the typical theatre arc shape at the sides; the whole length of the building was rectangular. The only semblance of a theatre in the insipid design of the Law Annex could only be seen on the inside with the angle of elevation at the rear and the angle of depression at the front. From the array of the long chairs with the flipping separate wooden, mixed with metal seats and the long desks, one could easily estimate that the Annex was built for a crowd of five hundred.
The Law Annex on the right was next to a large swathe of swamp which stretches from the Arts block to about one and a half kilometer up north to the university gate and west wards up to Ilaje in the Bariga area, a distance of about 2 kilometers on the road from UNILAG. The principal lords of that swamp were monkeys. Of course there were other lesser inhabitants in that tract of swamp but the monkeys were the main guys of that territory. I had a couple of friends in the Ilaje area and on a few occasions I heard them lament that there was no monkey to eat in the swamps anymore. They ate all the monkeys at their end of the swamp! All of them!
The remainder of the monkeys did not go to Ilaje anymore. It seemed they figured out that they were endangered species at that end and that their missing cousins and nephews had ended in the pots of soup in the cluster of shanties built on and off the coast of the Lagos lagoon at that end. They had learnt to restrict themselves to the safe enclave of the university swamp where they dwell in peace and happiness. A Dean of the Faculty of Law once said in a Law of Contract class that the University should make something out of the flora and fauna of the university’s ecosystem but she sighed at the futility of the idea.
The monkeys that dwell in the swamp were agile and daring and during the early hours of the day, there was nothing they would not do.
For early birds like me who lived off campus for the most part of my stay in the university, I loved to beat the regular work day traffic by coming to the campus before sunrise. There were three main benefits of coming early to campus at the time for me; the first was that the transport fare was about half of the normal fare, the second which was the main, I avoided the stress occasioned with hustle and bustle of the regular Lagos traffic, and third, I observed nature in a relaxed atmosphere. I treasured the last benefit so much because there were a few places in Lagos I could go as of right at that hour of the day to tune in with nature.
I usually got to the campus around 6:45 a.m. I had a spot by the side of a wooden building of the Faculty of Arts. I should call it the Faculty of Arts Annex. The building was small, about 60 meters long and 25 meters wide. There was a large parking space and sidewalks between it and the Law Annex which was at the edge of the monkey swamp overlooking the Arts Block. It was made of some type of wood that looked to me like the type locally called mazonia and I should add that the wood made the small building artistic and in tune with the name of its proprietor faculty.
I would seat at my vantage position and be lost in the world of the flora and fauna the swamp had to offer with the monkeys being the main attraction. Save for the difference in size and when the monkeys ventured near enough, in which case, you could see the pink nipples of the female ones peeking out of the white furs of their chest, the monkeys all looked alike. And the easiest way to know the sex was when they chased one another. The males chased the females and occasionally a male would chase another male away from a female only to go back to start chasing the female. They had light brown furs on their back from the back of their head to the base of their back and cream white from the neck down. They had dark faces which were always vigilant and dark fast hands and feet for mobility.
They had the mischievous look of the family of the Diana Monkey (Cercopithecus diana), the lean and agile body of the family of Sooty Mangabey (Cercocebus atys) and the tiny standing tail of the family of the Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus Oedipus).
Between 6:45 a.m. and 7: 20 a.m. the monkeys owned the whole area that stretched from their swamp to the back of the Arts block to the Law Annex and the Arts Annex. They came from the kingdom of their swamp to as close as ten feet from me. They knew I could not outrun them. They dared me sometimes. They were so sure, ‘this guy cannot catch us’. If you made a move for them, they would pounce away so fast you would just abandon the idea of the useless endeavor and before you made up your mind whether to have your seat or try again, they were back prancing closer to you again temptingly until they were bored.
They foraged as high as the third floor of the Arts block which had a window design that allowed them to display their acrobatic prowess in the glare of observers like me. The males would chase the females as high as the windows of the third floor of the Arts block and only at that height would the females allow the males access to their bodies. Same goes for the forages to the Law Annex building; it was only at the roof top that the females would surrender their bodies. Even the ones that would not venture out of the kingdom of the swamp, the females would only allow any action at the top of the fledging bamboo trees. Sometimes you would see them and sometimes they were out of sight. It was only the rhythmic movement of the fledging bamboo trees that would give you an idea of what was going on within that enclave.
By 7:20 a.m. when humans start to come in twos and threes the monkeys would retreat to the safe enclave of the swamp.
The monkeys reminded me of the Law Annex. I did quite a number of examinations at the Law Annex and the one I would never forget was Land Law I.
Land Law I – The Leg Over
A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment. – Douglas Adams
There were two lecturers to guide us through Land Law I. I already told you about Shorty. Let me refer to the other guy as Authority. Authority was an authority in real property law. His book on law of real properties was one of the leading texts in that area of law. One could describe him as short too but not as short as Shorty. He had a baritone voice that matched the legend that preceded him. Unlike Shorty he was slightly bald and round in the middle and his bulging stomach leaned heavily against the belt of his trousers every time he came to class like it was going to burst anytime, it never did.
Authority was the first to come to class and he lectured like an authority that he was. He would regularly refer to his book like we did not know its importance. Of course, we did. He concluded his eight weeks of lecture and I enjoyed it.
When Shorty came to class for the first time, he was wearing a well starched light brown short sleeves shirt made of a material locally called nino. He was not a tie guy. He wore ties occasionally though. The topic of the day was ‘Right of Occupancy under the Land Use Act’. This guy had barely said four words when Savannah Bank (Nig) Ltd & Anor. v Ajilo & Anor.  ANLR 26 started spurting from his mouth like dragon fire. The guy was just savannah banking us anyhow. Well, he savannah banked me, do not let me speak for my more intelligent classmates. Perhaps the smarter guys did not pay too much attention to his tone and body language but I did. I made a mental note of reading the whole law report. Over the few weeks that he came to class, he mentioned Savannah Bank v Ajilo almost every day even when the topic was not right of occupancy.
‘Another ace up my sleeve like the Farah case’, I smiled and said to myself. I was delighted I got me another ace. I seriously banked on Savannah Bank v Ajilo.
The semester flew by and the examination day came like the day. The examination day was a sunny morning; the type of sun some people say gives one vitamin D. It was not scorching. I felt my body full of vitamin D that morning. You should have seen me when I walked in to the Law Annex that day, I held my shoulder high. My friend, with whom I normally chat before an examination, came along and we discussed. We already had a previous discussion before the examination day and we were on the same page. He had read the whole law report of Savannah Bank v Ajilo too. He would not forget how Farah’s case helped him. He had come to respect my judgment on exam day areas of concentration. We felt prepared.
We went into the Law Annex one after the other and we settled after a few minutes of waiting for the examination materials. I felt the examination day invigilators were wasting time in distributing the examination materials. Neither Shorty nor Authority was amongst the invigilators in the annex. The examination papers were shared. At first, the papers had to face down until everyone had his question paper and answer booklet. And when that was done, there would be a reminder of examination day protocols – read the instructions, do not do this, do not do that, bla bla. I was getting irritated; ‘I needed to start this exam before I forget the damn ratio decidendi and the important dicta of Obaseki J.S.C. who delivered the leading judgment in the Savannah Bank case. I was going to mesmerize Authority and Shorty, dem go take,’ I thought.
Eventually, we were told to start the exam. I turned the paper over slowly. I looked at the first question. No. Savannah was not applicable. I looked at the second question, Ajilo was not relevant. By the time I got to the fourth question, my hand was trembling. After going through the six questions and it appeared that Savanah Bank v Ajilo was not useful, I started all over again. Perhaps, I was reading under pressure. I read the questions four times and I was convinced that Savanah Bank v Ajilo was not needed.
I looked outside to my right, straight into the swamp through an opened door. For the first time that morning, I felt the sun was scorching and the vitamin D was ebbing. I looked into the hall, my classmates were actually writing.
I stared into the swamp again. A monkey came along and stared back at me. The face of the monkey oscillated between its face and that of Shorty. I could see on the face of the monkey, Shorty’s face on that first day of lecture, savannah banking me and then it would change to the face of the monkey and then Shorty’s. The monkey was like, ‘see your life. You and savannah bank v ajilo.’ The monkey and I held each other’s gaze for what seemed like eternity before a horny male came along to chase. Yes. It was a female. A couple of minutes later the fledging bamboo trees around the area where they disappeared moved rhythmically.
I wrote the exam and I got an LMPG, ‘Let My People Go’, a 1. It was not as if I did not study generally, I was just in shock that Savannah Bank v Ajilo was useless. I should have known better. I forgot the first impression Shorty made on me in LL. B part III that he could not be relied upon on statements on which he made heavy weather. First impression matters indeed.
These days, I see Shorty in court once in a while; of course he does not know I was once his student. His face reminded me of the exam day monkey. The years gone by did no damage to my imagination and anytime I hear the case of Savannah Bank v Ajilo, it never fails to remind me of the monkeys of UNILAG.
UNILAG Senate Building adapted frpm image by Cupid04 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59107305
UNILAG Arts Block adapted from image by Cupid04 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59106656
Image of clip art monkey by “Brehms Tierleben”, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78987