The New Wig
By Isaac Attah Ogezi (Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Monday, 8 a.m.
I’ve just arrived at the office some few minutes before the alarm wall-clock struck the hour of eight. I didn’t fail to see the slight glow of respect on the secretary’s face. My non-committal uhm to her greeting was enough to tell her that the era of business as usual was over, at least not in the five days that I’ll be at the helm of affairs in this office. The previous weekend, our boss, nay, the Principal Partner of the office, Barrister Umbungadu, had called us together to intimate us of his plan to travel out of the state the following week, specifically, to his village Onda. My heart leaped for joy at this news which I did well to suppress the euphoria on my face. I saw before me five weekdays of freedom, where I could impose my lofty idea of what it meant to practise law in this 18th century law office of my Principal Partner.
Umbungadu Esquire, as he still insists to be called even when the legal community is all agreed that the title is anachronistic and doesn’t reflect any learnedness on the part of the bearer, is a character that your anger against him cannot witness the setting of the sun. Since I was posted to his office two months ago by the NYSC officials, I’ve never seen him without being three-piece-suited. But my problem is not with that. Not at all. If a lawyer insists he must always appear in a three-piece suit of his trade even in the hottest time of the year, what is my business with that? My grudge with Umbungadu Esq., for short, is that his tie is always pencil-thin and in most times the white, long-sleeved shirt has been so used that the collars have all peeled off such that one could see the inner linings! I’ve always had a heart attack anytime I see a member of this noble and hallowed profession attired thus. And to make things worse, he doesn’t appear sensitive to such observations. The white, long-sleeved shirt I bought for him as a gift, I’ve never seen him wear it. His suit too is something else. It looks like something picked from the tripod hearths of our grandmothers in the village after the vultures had shat on it! When I couldn’t restrain my shame of his appearance and pointed it out to him one day, his reply was that even the suit one wears must reflect the years at the Bar of a senior and not only the wig and gown! Can you beat that? Any slight touch, the unwary daredevil will always come away with a pocket of dust on his hand! With time, I’ve learnt to bear my suffering in silence and pray fervently that my service year will soon come to an end and I’ll get out of this nightmare.
Needless to say, he prides himself on being a simple fellow who could even dine on the same table with his housemaid. What I’ve never mustered up enough courage to tell him point-blank to his face is that if one wants to be a simple-minded Marxist like that, the legal profession is definitely the wrong place for him to be. Was that not how he disgraced me the other day in the presence of all those peasant market women going to the remote village of Ogede?
On that fateful day, we had a case at Ogede, a village in the hinterland of the state. Before you arrive there, you may have to take a motorcycle or a car, that is if you’re very lucky, to Oguta village first before making the rest of the journey on a motorcycle, meandering the footpath that runs in-between the hills. After what seemed a century of waiting for a vehicle with the likely prospect that we might eventually make the journey by commercial motorcycles, suddenly, a rickety pick-up van carrying market women and their sackfuls of goods at the back, pulled up before us. It was the market day of Oguta and the pick-up van was bound for there. Two of the passengers sitting with the drivers in the front had to alight to join the women at the back in order to make room for my boss and I, the two learned men in suit. We climbed unto the front with the driver and the vehicle rattled away.
The only pleasure I derive from going to courts in remote villages with Umbungadu Esq. is the beautiful scenery that lines both sides of the untarred road. So picturesque! The quietsome forests, the breathtaking hills, and every now and then, some squirrels or starlings moving with careless abandon in this paradise. Enraptured in this spellbinding and exotic scenery, it was with a rather rude shock that I was forced back to the reality of the present by an explosion. And then suddenly, we saw our driver struggling with the steering-wheel of the vehicle to avoid it running into a ditch in the forest. The vehicle was brought to a jerking stop with difficulty and we all alighted to allow the driver and his mate fix the punctured tyre.
I remember before the tyre-puncture, I was half-listening to Umbungadu Esq. explain some lessons on how to understand the psychology of a judge especially one that was not privileged to hail from a very rich home and was susceptible to some inferiority complex that will make him have some dislike for lawyers who speak Queen’s English through the nose. He’d not stopped his parrot-like diatribe, even when we’d all alighted for the punctured tyre to be replaced.
‘Don’t be deceived’, he continued, ‘the family and educational background of a judge is what makes up the idiosyncrasies of His Majesty.’ He paused with a dewy glimmer on his face, reached for a branch of a nearby dwarf tree and clipped off its ear. He trimmed off the skin to about two inches, thrust it into his mouth, and began to brush the cleavages of his teeth with it, unmoved by the stares of the market women. You’ve never seen so insensitive a man, I bet you. I hid my head in shame like an ostrich. No, not again, God, I cried within myself.
‘The law is in the breast of the judge, accepted, but is the judge a machine? Not at all! He’s human with flesh and blood like every one of us. Don’t expect a judge, whose wife was brutally raped in his presence to be lenient with a rapist accused before his court,’ he submitted with great erudition.
I’ve never seen so insensitive a man in all my life! His words were flitting over my head like balls over the bar, without making any impact because I was too consumed with shame to listen to him properly; shame for the noble profession. What impression would these peasants carry home with them of the legal profession? Of a lawyer who uses chewing-stick publicly without an iota of shame instead of an expensive toothbrush? No, I wished to God that the earth could open up and swallow me.
* * *
The rest of the day is uneventful. I while away the time reading Supreme Court cases in law reports. You must never allow a client meet you sitting idle in the office, goes a trick I learnt at the law school. It’s just not simply good for their psychology which you must always work on as a lawyer.
I give Agnes a call to expect me tonight. I could imagine the feel of her soft, fur-like breasts in my palms as I thrust my hands under her brassieres. Agnes of the primordial beginnings. She who must be worshipped.
Tuesday, 11 a.m.
I’ve gone to the High Court today to take a date for one of our contentious cases. Before my boss travelled out of town, he’d given me specific instructions to apply for an adjournment to enable him put in appearance for our client, the plaintiff. It was to my greatest chagrin when I saw the lawyer on the other side, a very old senior at that, stand up to oppose my application for adjournment most vehemently, citing copiously from recent Supreme Court decisions that a counsel holding the brief of another counsel was obliged to hold it properly and could be compelled by the court to go on in the absence of the substantive counsel. What was more, he submitted rather loquaciously, that I was from the same law firm as the counsel in absentia.
Nothing gets my goat as a lawyer when I see a learned colleague at the Bar raising unnecessary objections when all he could do was to concede honourably. Must a lawyer always talk for the sake of talking by playing to the gallery? What is so special about the sound of his voice that he must always talk? That reminds me of a story my friend, Barrister Shuaibu, once told me. There was this law lecturer said to be the first lawyer his village or rather hamlet had ever produced. One day he allowed this fact to get into his head in the law faculty and suddenly began to walk in a rather stylish way like a cripple to his car. His co-lecturer and friend who was watching him couldn’t restrain his curiosity. ‘Yaya, Dantani? What’s wrong with your legs?’ He called out concernedly.
‘It’s the law!’ replied the first lawyer from his village, much to the amusement of his friend. ‘The majesty of the law!’ he added, moving with exaggerated steps.
We laughed ourselves hoarse at this joke. We also laughed at the new wig, who, when called to the Bar, arrived at his village the same day to walk the several kilometres to his family house, garbed in his wig and gown in spite of the hot sun. We could imagine the villagers making way for him as a crowd would some mad man or leper.
In the end, I’d the last laugh when the judge ruled in my favour and asked us to agree on a date.
* * *
My heart always sinks with despair anytime I approach our law office, Umbungadu & Co. (Ondaha Chambers), on a motorcycle. From a distance, it looks like a prison cell, small and unpainted in the entire location. Unlike the other two-room shops of the large building which the law office is attached to in order to save cost, such that its roof is about two or three feet below the parent building, the interior of the office is surprisingly large, partitioned by cardboards to demarcate the Principal Partner’s office from the secretary and other lawyers’ office. In the latter office which I share with the secretary, whenever Umbungadu Esq. is around, there are about six leather-bound, one-seater settees, a table, and a weather-beaten Olympia typewriter in an era of laptop and desktop computers. When I was newly posted to this office, it was without a secretary and I had to wage a war with the dust like Styles in Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead. I was embarrassed anytime I noticed that clients always shook the dust off their clothes after innocently sitting on the dust-covered settees. I went ahead to wash all his dusty suits especially the barrister’s waist-coat which was an eyesore, an ogre.
At the office this late afternoon, I sip Maltina from a glass ostentatiously as I pretend to be very busy, reading the voluminous Black’s Law Dictionary. Presently, Julie, as the office secretary is called, enters to announce that there is a would-be client who desires to see me.
‘Let him come in,’ I instruct, without lifting up my head from the book. You must create a big impression in the minds of your clients the very first day, and first impression, they say, matters a lot in life.
The door creaks open and a man in his fifties is ushered in by Julie. Courtesy demands that I get up on my feet to welcome him and I spring to my feet, all smiles in welcome. He is attired in babanringa of woollen material with the cap of the same fabric to match.
‘You’re welcome, sir,’ I great reverentially extending my right hand for a handshake.
‘Thank you, Barrister,’ answers he warmly after curtseying to receive my hand. He takes the upholstered chair I gesture him to opposite mine. He answers in the affirmative when I enquire about the health of his family, work, et cetera, et cetera.
‘Yes, how may I help you, Mr. …?’
‘Ayuba Jatau,’ he quickly answers. I notice some signs of discomfiture on his part to relate his problem. You’ve got to make them feel at home with you like a doctor before they can open up to you. Then comes your great art of cross-examination, if you possess any, to force the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from their palates, for clients not well probed, lie shamelessly to their lawyers like prostitutes.
‘I know you cannot recollect my face again, Barrister. I’m the younger brother to your landlord,’ he begins, toeing the line of favour.
‘Yes. In fact, I was the first person you met when you were looking for a place,’ he adds. And mark this very well that when new clients begin to talk in like manner, they are indirectly seeking for one favour or the other in the areas of billing – substantial reduction in filing and consultation fees, professional fees, and even down to the appearance fees.
‘Really?’ I feign surprise.
‘Yes,’ he affirms. ‘He was even the one that told me to come to you.’
‘I see. That was very thoughtful of him,’ I observe. ‘What is the problem?’
‘Erm … Barrister, you see …,’ he begins hesitantly. ‘It was this afternoon when two of my children were returning from school that they saw some people digging around my land, the one close to River Mayo. When they told me this, I quickly rushed to the site and saw them working. I ordered them to stop and that the land was mine. They refused and said they were hired by one Divisional Police Officer to work for him. They described where I could find him and I went. To cut a long story short, Barrister, I met him and he told me that the land was his. Said he bought it from the relation of the man who sold it to me and that I should go and bring my evidence of ownership. That was why I told myself that before I took any further step, I must see a lawyer and my elder brother referred me to you,’ he concludes.
‘You’ve done well,’ I commend, after a slight pause. ‘Are you really sure the man in question is a DPO?’ I asked doubtfully.
‘Yes, I’m very sure, sir. I even made my enquiries. His name is Assistant Superintendent James Chia, the DPO of Danpa Local Government Area,’ he replies cocksurely.
‘I see. That makes my work easier then’, I observe. I’ve always found it much easier to deal with senior officers of our police and the armed forces than the half-literate rank-and-file who only understand the grrah-grrah language of naked force like the agbero boys that cluster our motor-parks. The touts!
‘How long have you been in possession of this land?’
‘For more than twelve years now. When I bought it twelve years ago from the Magajin Gari, I made some demarcations at the edges of the land which are now being destroyed by the DPO’s workmen,’ he laments.
I absorb this fact in silence as my mind is galvanized into action, searching for the possible areas of law that border on the case at hand.
‘Well,’ I say after a ruminative pause, ‘I’ve thought over your problem and my advice is that you show him the sales agreement between you and the Magajin Gari and see his reaction. If he fails to leave your land for you, then let me know by tomorrow, you hear?’
‘Good. I feel relieved that he is a senior officer in the police who would know the implications of his action. We may not only stop at the option of the law courts but explore other avenues such as petitioning him to his superiors even right up to the Inspector-General of Police. We may also give a press release to all the national dailies in this country and beyond for the outside world to see.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ he genuflects. ‘My hope is on you.’
‘Don’t worry yourself unnecessarily. You’ve done the right thing by coming to us,’ I say with an air of finality.
He thanks me profusely and takes his leave. I press the office buzzer and Julie rushes in.
‘I’ve an appointment with a client by 5 p.m. at Mr. Bigg’s. Please if anybody calls, tell him or her to give me a call, right?’
‘Have a nice day, sir.’
I take my black briefcase and leave her to clear the table.
* * *
I can hear Agnes’ light snore from where I lie on my own side of the bed, cogitating over the direction of my life. We’ve just had a bout of sex as usual. What becomes of Agnes when I finish my service year and return to Lagos? No matter how deep and considerate I think, I cannot find a place for her in the scheme of things after this phase of my life. I may sound callous even to myself, but in truth, I feel that every now and then fate throws up some individuals on one’s way to the top to help cushion the effect of any travails that may dog one’s path at a material point in time and after that such individuals cease to be of any importance, if not outright cogs in the wheels of progress. That’s what Agnes may be after this year and I’ll have to be very brave about taking a firm decision to call it quits with her when it is convenient enough to do so, say , a week to my going. I may even slip in the excuse that my mother has vowed to kill herself if I don’t marry any girl of my tribe as the only male child of my parents. I know she may not buy such a fantastic story, but an excuse is more diplomatic than none. After all, I’m not the first man in her life and shall never be the last! ‘Soldier come, soldier go,’ is the slogan of the life of an average corps member or corper. ‘Never love a corper!’ was the stern warning my mother used to pull at the ears of my two elder sisters who are now happily married with children.
Before I made the overtures to Agnes, we’d been meeting at a cyber café, a stone’s throw from where I live. I’d always wondered what on earth this tall, beautiful girl was always doing, seated at the system for hours on end. Engaged in Internet dating or what? What had restrained me from approaching her the first time that we met was the air of piety about her which made me feel the first thing she’d tell me would be: ‘Repent and give your life to Jesus Christ and save your sinful soul from eternal damnation! The end-time is here.’ A week later, fate brought us together. I remember on that day, she was having a problem with her system and I’d to go to her aid. From there, we got talking. I saw the expression of near-worship on her face when I introduced myself as a lawyer, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. That was all, and like most girls in my life, she fell in love with the awesomeness of the profession rather than my person.
The first time we made love, she confided in me of her dream to study law at the university if she made the cut-off points of the State University this time around. I encouraged her dream and told her how beautiful it’d be if we worked in the same law office as man and wife after she had been called to the Bar. One thing I must speak in her favour with no attempt to denigrate her person whatsoever, is her innocence despite the fact that she is no longer a virgin. Anytime we make love, she is always excitable, sending out some delirious cries which have a way of firing my libido unlike most of the Lagos girls in my life. The first night that we consummated our love, she was so excitable that the thistles in her pubic hair made a slight incision on my penis after perforating the condom I wore. Some of the girls in my life, especially the spoilt ones, will either be chewing gum nonchalantly or answering a phone call with their cell phones in the heat of the moment!
Well, I turn on my bed, the future remains to be seen. Why bother myself to cross the bridge I have about eight months to think of crossing it? Let tomorrow come, I muse as I drift off to sweet dreamland.
Wednesday, 1 p.m.
In the courtroom of the Upper Area Court, Wasara. The court has been in session since 9 a.m., hearing one case after the other of learned senior counsel while the junior ones like myself wait meekly by the byline to have a bite before the court rounds up the sitting for the day. It’s some minutes past 1 p.m. before my case is called: Commissioner of Police Vs Duada Waya. I announce my appearance for the accused person in court after the police prosecutor has already announced his appearance for the prosecution. The case is for hearing, Your Worship, he begins in his usual hesitant manner, however, we’re afraid to intimate this honourable court that we’re not ready. This is predicated on the fact that we’re not yet through with our investigations of the offences by which the accused is standing trial. In view of our predicament, my Lord, we shall be asking for an adjournment to enable us finish the investigations and to be ready to call our witnesses at the next adjourned date. That’s our humble application, my Lord. Thank you. He sits down.
‘No objection, Your Worship’, I half-rise and then sit down.
The sole judge asks us to agree on a date. We consult our diaries briefly. A date is agreed and the case is adjourned to that date. The police have a way of saving me from the endless embarrassment of applying for adjournments as a new wig holding the brief of my Principal Partner. They always beat me to it. Endless applications for adjournment at the instance of a lawyer do not speak well of his practice. It smacks of slothfulness and unseriousness on his part.
I bow reverentially to His Worship and take my leave. I’ve to go and see the Zonal Inspector of Area Courts right away and deliver my boss’ message to him.
* * *
I meet Barrister Zawo and the Inspector, Comrade Mohammed Danjuma, discussing by the roadside in the front of the general car park and the footpath that one must negotiate before getting to the Zonal Inspectorate Office, sandwiched between two mud-houses.
‘How is the practice?’ asks an amiable Zawo, one of the few learned senior lawyers that command my respect in this jurisdiction.
‘We thank God, sir,’ I reply optimistically.
‘It’s well. We were all at that level before we’re where we are today,’ he encourages. ‘That’s the spirit.’ There is a brief pause.
‘How is my friend Umbungadu?’ This is from the Inspector.
‘He’s fine, thank you.’
‘I understand that he has travelled outside the state?’ he states rather than asks.
I listen to their desultory conversation after this exchange of pleasantries. Suddenly, Zawo’s attention strays to a figure behind us, about four footsteps away, separated by two stationary cars, parked in-between, and calls out after him rather familiarly.
‘Pepper! Pepper!’ His voice is tinged with mockery.
We turn curiously to have a look at this object of Zawo’s excitement. Behold, it’s an old man in his seventies, dressed in rags. He has a hunch-back which makes his movements a pitiable staggering on one side. In spite of this physical disadvantage, one can see that this man who could pass for some mad man in the street, is driven by some unseen fire of determination to achieve his mission. I cringe within myself with shame at the attention Zawo is drawing to us by calling this man in the open.
‘Pepper! Come and let us fight!’ continues Zawo, teasingly.
The man called Pepper, obviously a nickname, stops in his tracks, swaying in a drunken fashion, and calls out to Zawo, chest pushed out in counter challenge: ‘Come if you want us to fight!’ He waits briefly for his challenger to come over and engage him in a fight but when none is forthcoming, he slouches on, swearing under his breath, much to our laughter.
‘He’s going to your office, Comrade,’ Zawo informs the Inspector.
‘Yes, I know. An Area Court judge must have offended him and he’s going to my office to lodge a complaint. Poor him, he didn’t know I was here or rather didn’t see me.’
‘Yes,’ concurs Zawo. ‘Not with the way he seemed consumed with fury.’ We nod our agreement.
‘His face is familiar, though I cannot recall where I knew him,’ I observe.
‘There’s no lawyer within this jurisdiction who doesn’t know Pepper. He’s a professional litigant,’ says Zawo.
‘You can say that again,’ agrees the Inspector. ‘His real name is Ede Eji but because of his toughness and passion for litigations, people nicknamed him Pepper.’
‘Come to think of it, I can remember now where I once met him!’ I exclaim suddenly at the recollection. ‘It was at the Upper Area Court here.’ They look at the me inquiringly.
I go ahead to relate to them how I was accosted by Pepper one certain morning. It was about the most embarrassing moment of my life in this profession. The court had just adjourned the case I went for in the open courtroom, and I was at the court premises explaining the proceedings to my clients when Pepper intruded to request that I should represent him. According to him, his case would be mentioned in the next few minutes and that he was given time at the previous sitting of the court over his case to replace his lawyer who’d withdrawn from representing him. I told him politely that it was not my culture to accept briefs at the court premises and that it was unprofessional. Why not follow me to one of the law offices in town right away? He squirmed at this frightening suggestion and blubbered something about his case being called any moment in his absence. I saw reason in that.
‘All right, do you have up to N5, 000 for filing and consultation fees?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he pleaded.
‘Not even N1000 as my appearance fee?’ I pursued.
‘I don’t have any money on me now, ranka shi daidai. I am expecting my son to bring some money for me from the village today. Please help me! If he does not come, I’ve some melon on the farm that I shall sell to pay you your fees,’ he pleaded, almost on his knees. I wasn’t moved at all by that.
‘I’m sorry I cannot help you,’ I said coolly, moving out of his way. I’ve heard endless stories like that before and from experience, after you’ve helped such desperate clients, the next time they see you, they’ll be dodging you because of your fees.
I made to leave because I was visibly ashamed to be seen with an old man in rags looking more like a mad man and, what was more, all eyes were on us. He simply refused to let me go. I turned this way to escape this desperate litigant and he blocked my path stolidly like the Rock of Gibraltar. What’s this again? I thought within myself. Meanwhile, street urchins and other litigants outside who had seen what was happening between us started calling him by his well-worn nickname: ‘Pepper! Pepper!’ I was greatly embarrassed and at sea as to what to do next.
‘If you don’t get out of my way,’ I fumed, ‘I’ll forget that you’re an old man and beat you up!’ I threatened with the most gravelly voice I could muster. That did the magic, and he turned wearily to look for another unsuspecting victim to prey on. I later learnt that his case was for definite hearing and that if he could not go on with or without a lawyer, the judge might strike it out for want of diligent prosecution. All the same, I wasn’t ready to cheapen the profession, no, not for anything in the world. Not with those grand professional ethics I was armed with fresh from the law school. I left without any stab of conscience.
‘That’s Pepper for you! He doesn’t have money yet he wants to hire lawyers to represent him,’ enthuses Zawo.
‘As you are seeing him, he could trek from here to the Headquarters on foot just to petition me if I refused to listen to his complaints against any Area Court judge,’ chips in the Inspector, wearily.
Truly, I’m amazed at the extent people in this part of the world could go in litigations. The distance of the Headquarters from where we are is about one hundred and seventy kilometres and a man could cover it on foot just to press for his rights! It’s only in this part of the country that a man could farm only to use the proceeds for litigations. It’s become a form of sport, a warfare for the villagers. And in most cases, the subject-matters don’t always go beyond land and women. ‘The accused enticed my wife to leave my house and later married her and that was why I’ve sued him to deal with him,’ ‘My would-be in-laws have married off my wife to another man without repaying me my bride-price and all that I’ve bought for them. That is why I’ve brought them to court along with the wife-thief who married her for the offences of cheating and enticement!’ ‘The farmland in question was deforested by our ancestors several centuries ago. Now the defendants are claiming it to be theirs! etc.
‘Pepper? You don’t know that man yet. There’s nothing he cannot do to fight for his rights,’ says Zawo. ‘I was once at the Upper Area Court of Oguta where the judge nearly cited him for contempt. He was being openly rude to the young judge. Addressing him derogatorily as a man would his recalcitrant son. He was the complainant in that case and his grudges against the judge were that he was taking sides with the accused person. Anytime the judge asked him a question, he’d reply him with insolence. This continued until the young judge could have none of it. He immediately ordered Pepper to go into the Accused’s Box and give cause why he should not be convicted for contempt of court. The old man looked here and there, the sky was too far away and he knew the judge was serious and if he couldn’t think up of what to do next, and very fast at that, he’d be sentenced to prison by the no-nonsense judge who was not older than his first son. Suddenly, Pepper began to blink his eyes like a child on the verge of having a convulsion. A hush fell over the courtroom.
‘I’m feeling sick!’ he cried deliriously. ‘I’m feeling sick!’ he repeated faintly, twitching epileptically, and slumped down on the wooden Accused’s Box. The entire court was thrown into confusion. Pandemonium. Even the judge who was a while ago about to convict him for contempt of court was visibly rattled and had to order that he should be rushed quickly to the nearby hospital before the old man died on him in the court. Pepper was borne bodily outside to get a motorcycle that would rush him to the hospital. While a policeman had gone for an okada man, Pepper gradually came to or rather pretended to, brought out his clay-pipe from his tattered robes, tapped it gently against his right knee, and set it alight. Gently, he began to inhale the smoke into his lungs contentedly. We were all amazed and watched him, speechless. Was this not the man that was a few minutes ago feared to be dying? Meanwhile, the court had adjourned sitting for the day for him to be taken to the hospital.
‘Small boy wants to send me to prison!’ he said with a smirk, exhaling a cloud of smoke from his lips and nostrils. ‘That’s the madness of this age.’
We all burst into laughter, holding our sides.
Thursday, 7.30 a.m.
I receive a phone call this morning from the Registrar of the Chief Magistrate’s Court, Waziri Kefas, that the judicial staff of the state have begun their industrial action today. That means no lawyers will go to court within the state until the judiciary has called off its strike. All the same, I leave home attired in the paraphernalia of the profession – black striped trousers, a long-sleeved, white shirt with winged collars, topped with a barrister’s waistcoat. I arrive at the office at 7.30 a.m. to meet Mr. Jatau waiting for me. He springs to his feet as I enter the office. The secretary is still cleaning up the inner office of the Principal Partner when I enter, with Mr. Jatau on my heels.
‘Good morning, sir,’ greets Julie.
‘Morn,’ I reply laconically. ‘Please, suspend the cleaning of this office until later. I intend to have a tete-a-tete with a client right now.’
She quickly obliges and withdraws to her office with the dusting rags and broom. I wave Mr. Jatau to the seat opposite the desk and I sit down. There is a slight pause as I regard him, his face is marked with lines of worry and sleeplessness.
‘Yes, Mr. Jatau? How did it go?’ I ask.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you this early morning, Barrister,’ he begins rather apologetically.
‘It’s all right. That’s the nature of the work. I’m here to listen to you.’
‘Thank you. I came here several times yesterday to see you but your secretary told me you’d gone to court. I waited and waited for hours on end. I even tried your cell phone number but the thing wasn’t going. At one point, I contemplated going to your house but I’d to kill the idea instantly. I know how busy you lawyers are, and felt it was not good to go to your place without an appointment.’
‘That was thoughtful of you. I was at the Upper Area Court of Wasara for a criminal case. Thereafter, I branched off to the Zonal Inspectorate Office to deliver a message and that took much of the day. I’m sorry I’d to put you through so much anxiety.’
‘No problem, sir.’ A pregnant silence.
‘So how did it go? I mean your meeting with the DPO?’
‘The thing didn’t work out well. The DPO refused to leave my land for me even after I’d shown him the sales agreement entered between the Magajin Gari and myself twelve years ago. The person who sold the land to him was there at the site when we met. In fact, he is the nephew of the Magajin Gari and when he discovered the mistake he’d made, he pleaded with the DPO that he didn’t know that his uncle had sold the land but that he’d give an alternative plot of land to him in lieu of that one. This didn’t go down well with the DPO who flatly refused the offer on the ground that he’d already spent money in hiring some men to dig around the land. To allow peace to reign, the Magajin Gari’s nephew also offered to return the money the DPO had spent on the workmen but the latter also turned it down. This is the position of the case. It’s obvious, Barrister, that this man wants to take my land by force from me because he’s a DPO,’ he concludes resignedly.
‘You don’t have to give in to despair yet. The law is there to curb his excesses. Cheer up! Why, is anybody above the law? At least not in this civilian dispensation that we’re in.’ I assure him. ‘When last were you at the land in question?’
‘I was there this morning and I saw the men working on the land feverishly. If something is not done to stop them, I’m afraid they may finish developing the land in less than a month.’
‘That we must never allow. We’ve to stop them immediately!’ I state vehemently, getting to my feet. I take my briefcase. ‘Take me to the land,’ I order.
At the secretary’s office, I tell Julie that I won’t be long. I’m on my way to inspect a land in dispute within the town and shall be back in a couple of minutes. Should any client call to see me, let him or her wait for me.
We hail two commercial motorcyclists by the roadside and take off.
* * *
On arrival, Mr. Jatau pays the two motorcyclists and they ride off. I see seven men working on the land – digging and shovelling out the loose red earth. The land is situated at the outskirts of the town and measures about one hundred feet by fifty feet. The untarred road we took terminates there, for by the northern side is a streamlet from which a footpath passes through and disappears into a nearby forest. Save for some uncompleted houses by the southern and western parts of the land, the only houses inhabited by human beings are about some hundred metres away, close to the highway. It is an eerie place to confront seven illiterate men armed with diggers and shovels when one is unarmed. The only saving grace is that they’ll see my barrister’s outfit and have a rethink in whatever they will say or do now that the law is involved.
Confidently I approach them, brandishing my briefcase, and order them to stop work immediately or else whatever that comes their way, they’re the ones who invite it upon themselves. Little do I bargain for the bare-faced impudence they reply me with. A DPO has hired them to work for him and they can only stop when he has asked them to and not by anybody. What audacity! The Igbo are right when they say that a boy sent by his father to steal does not go stealthily but breaks the door by his feet. For when you see the little bird ekwe dancing on the footpath, know it that something is behind the forest beating the drums for it.
I can see that they’re adamant about it and no any amount of talking can make them change their minds. I call Mr. Jatau aside and instruct him to go and get some policemen from the Police Area Command to come and arrest these riffraff who are obviously tired of their freedom of movement. I sit under a big tree while he goes off. I notice one of the workmen fiddling with his cell phone, perhaps, to call their boss. To while away the time, I bring out Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God from my briefcase and begin to read it.
About half an hour later, the sound of a car jolts me to the present. A Cadillac convertible is driven to a stop close to where I sit and a uniformed senior police officer with a pistol in his belt-holster with two uniformed police bodyguards, equally armed, alights from the car. My heart sinks a little when I realize that these are the forces that I’ve to contend with but is just momentary. For I remember the speech of the Chairman of the Body of Benchers to us, the new wigs, on the day of our Call-to-Bar ceremony. ‘As you go out into the world, I send you as the emissaries of truth and justice. Remember that your duty is of public service to your society and you cannot achieve this gargantuan task without courage. Always remember the Latin maxim: fiat justicia ruat coalem – justice must be done even if the heavens must fall. You must be ever ready to wreak justice among a savage society even at the last drop of your blood. Refuse to be intimidated by anybody, be it an individual or the state for the sake of immortal truth and justice. Your service to the society is a noble one. Remember the dictum of Lord Alfred Denning in his book, The Due Process of the Law …,’ he’d continued with passion like a general about to send his men to the war front.
Now I see myself faced with a tricky situation that requires the greatest chivalry if I must earn the respect of my client. No, I tell myself, I must never let down the legal profession. No, not at this great trial. Bravely, I get up to my feet to meet the DPO.
‘Good morning, sir,’ I greet.
‘Morning,’ comes his curt reply.
‘My name is Kunle Daramola. I’m from Umbungadu & Co. …’
‘I know that you’re a lawyer by your mode of dress,’ he interrupts.
‘Thank you. I came on behalf of my client, Mr. Ayuba Jatau …’
‘That enemy of progress?’ he asks interruptedly. I’m slightly taken aback by his rawness, bereft of the tiniest semblance of diplomacy.
‘Erm ..., sir, I’m afraid I’m not in a position to say that of him’, I politely tell him.
‘He’s an enemy of progress!’ he states dogmatically in a voice that brooks no contradictions. ‘He don’t want my progress and I’m going to deal with him, the bloody civilian. I swear. He think he can come and stop me from going ahead with my building, eh? It’s not only a lawyer that he can call for me, let he go and bring the army! I’m waiting for him.’ He rants on while I hold my peace. It’s better to err on the side of wisdom when dealing with a daft man armed with a pistol. Meanwhile, I keep my eyes firmly clasped on his breast-tag. Our eyes meet knowingly.
‘Go ahead and read it! There is nothing you can do,’ he barks at me, gloweringly. With that he angrily walks out on me to survey the work being carried out by the workmen. After some minutes of desultory walk around the land with a proprietary air, he takes the direction of the streamlet and is soon out of sight in the forest, leaving his two bodyguards behind.
Presently, Mr. Jatau and one other man, obviously a plain-clothed CID officer from the Police Area Command, arrive on motorcycles. I walk up to them while the former is paying the motorcyclists who drive off after they’ve been settled.
‘You’ve taken so much time,’ I say to Mr. Jatau.
‘It’s not my fault, Barrister. The senior officers said that most of their men were out on the field. It took them time before they decided to send the Inspector here,’ he explains.
‘It’s all right.’
I notice the attention of the Inspector who has come to arrest the workmen has strayed away from us. He regards the parked Cadillac convertible meditatingly. It is the make of cars the federal government has recently given to senior police officers in the country from the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police and above. I watch the sudden change of his countenance as he approaches the two police bodyguards cautiously, speaks something to them and they point across the streamlet. Leaving the assignment he has come to do, that is, to arrest the workmen who have not stopped working since he came, he takes the direction of where the DPO went. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, forty minutes, no DPO, no Inspector. What are they up to? The Inspector who should have arrested the workmen and their boss, the DPO, has gone to consort with the person he should have arrested.
My client and I wait in silence as the time drags on. When I can’t contain the shame any longer, I tell him that we should go and meet them wherever they are.
‘The Inspector cannot keep us waiting for him while he consorts with the DPO. That cannot happen,’ I say, shaking my head vigorously. ‘We’ve to know if he’s going to arrest the DPO and the workmen or not.’
Together we set out in search of the DPO and the Inspector in the nearby forest. The two bodyguards appear suspicious of our move and decide to follow us. There is a tense, pin-drop silence as we move from one part of the forest to another, looking for the duo. After about ten minutes’ search, we find them sitting on the stump of a felled tree, cooing away like two lovebirds. When they see us, they ignore our presence.
I egg my client on; to go and meet the Inspector with the message: ‘If you’re not going to arrest the workmen, let us know so that we will give you the return fare and leave.’ I know the unfavourable and tricky circumstances that we are in – faced with a semi-literate, armed DPO with his two bodyguards, equally armed, his seven workmen and an obsequious Inspector that is ever ready to clamp a criminal charge on us at the slightest opportunity instead of the real culprits. Even the cockroach cannot plead to be innocent in the gathering of chickens.
Mr. Jatau approaches the duo, with me behind him to give him confidence, and delivers the message. If we had tossed hand-grenades in their midst, the effect wouldn’t have been so effective. There is a stunned silence as they regard us more of beings from a different planet.
‘Are you the one to teach me my job?’ barks the Inspector ineffectually to save his face.
‘He‘s right, Inspector,’ I feel it timely to intervene. ‘We want to know whether you are going to arrest them or not,’ I add rather bravely. There is a stunned silence.
‘How much did he pay you, Barrister?’ asks the DPO derogatorily. The bodyguards are now restless and eager to defend their boss or effect any order such as to manhandle us if the need arises.
‘How much I was paid should not concern you in the least, sir. It’s irrelevant and immaterial here. I’m here for justice in my client’s issue.’ I say boldly with my eyes on the same eye-level with him.
‘Justice?’ he spits out the word. ‘What justice! Is that justice to you when a man say I should not build on my land? Say you are here because he paid you some fucking change. Who don’t know you lawyers in this country? You can even say that black is white if some criminal pay you well,’ he mocks.
‘I’m not here to bandy words with you, sir. Besides, you’re entitled to your opinion. But I assure you, if we can’t get justice here, I know the direction to Abuja,’ I threaten.
‘What?’ he shouts, unbelieving. ‘Holy mother of Christ! Are you threatening me, eh you small rat? Okay, if you like, you can go to the Headquarters, but you know what I will do,’ he drops his veiled threat.
I notice the tension is mounting at this volatile exchange and the bodyguards are increasingly becoming visibly restive, and to forestall any accidental discharge, especially when we’re not surrounded by friends but his cronies, I turn to Mr. Jatau and say: ‘Let’s go.’
‘Wait a minute,’ pleads the Inspector, suddenly afraid. ‘Where are you people going?’
‘Since you’re not arresting the men we brought you to arrest, what are we still doing here? We’re going,’ I reply him with a sneer.
‘But I can’t just make an arrest without making any investigations. All right, do you have any evidence of ownership here with you?’ he asks my client.
When Mr. Jatau makes to reply, I wave him to keep silent. I’ll reply him.
‘We’re not in a court of law, officer. And I won’t watch you convert this forest into one, Inspector. No, sir. The constitutional duty of the police is to arrest offenders and not to turn themselves into a kangaroo court to dish out cloistered justice. Good day.’
With that we walk out on them, and never turn back. I can imagine the empty-headed DPO, his two hefty bodyguards, and the Inspector staring at our backs, pop-eyed and with their mouths agape at the same time.
* * *
This is my fourth call at the Police Area Command to see the Area Commander. The previous times had been unsuccessful and I was told that he was not available, ‘not on seat’, to use their expression. A police officer with three stripes of a Sergeant armed with a deadly AK 47 gun, re-emerges from the office of the Area Commander to tell me that I can go in now. Their oga is expecting me. I follow his direction; pass through a maze of offices until I arrive at the office of the Area Commander. The office is enveloped in a haze of smoke from the cigarette he is smoking like the dusky atmosphere of my village when the twilight approaches with bluish smoke from the firewood kitchens of many households.
‘Good afternoon, sir,’ I greet.
‘Uhm,’ he mumbles in reply, engrossed in his smoking. I can hardly make out his face very well, wreathed in the smoke of his cigarette. I sit down in the vacant chair opposite him without waiting to be invited to do so.
‘I’m Kunle Daramola from Umbungadu & Co, a firm of legal practitioners based here,’ I begin after a pause.
‘We’re counsel to Mr. Ayuba Jatau, the complainant who was here to lodge a criminal complaint this morning against one of your officers based at Danpa Local Government, specifically, ASP James Chia, the DPO of the Division there. I’m afraid, sir, that the IPO …’
‘Go ahead and tell me what you came here to see me for,’ he says, impatiently, rudely interrupting me. ‘I don’t want to hear anything that transpired between the IPO …’
‘But, sir, …,’ I mildly make to protest but cut short again.
‘Let me finish, young man,’ he says snappily. ‘I’ve heard how you embarrassed one of my men detailed by the CID office to investigate the allegation made by your client. So I don’t want us to go into that again. Just go ahead and tell me what you came here to see me for,’ he concludes in a most unfriendly tone.
‘Well, if you say that I shouldn’t give you the background of what actually …’
‘Yes,’ he cuts in sharply. ‘Go straight to the point.’
‘Well, that’s all right by me,’ I shrug. ‘What I came to see you is still about your officer in question. I want to implore you to use your esteemed office and stop him from further acts of trespass and mischief on my client’s land.’
‘Take him to court!’ he says matter-of-factly.
‘Yes, that would’ve been the best option but I guess you’re not unaware of the fact that the courts in this state are on strike?’
‘Just a minute, Barrister,’ says he, with his face creased in deep thought. ‘Is it only the police that you feel that can help you stop him from developing the disputed land?’ he asks.
‘No but you can still help us especially now that the courts are on strike. What will happen if he finishes the building before the strike is called off by the courts?’
‘You have already answered my question. I don’t have anything further to say again.’
‘Perhaps you’re saying this because he’s a senior police officer. If he were an ordinary civilian on the street, wouldn’t you have ordered for his immediate arrest and detention, and for him to be taken to court after the strike?’ I ask challengingly.
‘I’m afraid I cannot help you. Take him to court,’ he says dismissively.
‘It’s all right. I’ll take that as your stand. When I go before the Commissioner of Police, I’ll tell him that that was what you said.’ I fire the disguised salvo at him.
‘It’s not only the Commissioner of Police, if you like you can even go to the IG or the Supreme Court. Nonsense!’ He flares up, highly agitated.
I feel that I’ve outstayed my welcome now that tempers are flying. It is about time I took my leave. I get to my feet and stretch out my right hand for a handshake.
‘It has been a great pleasure meeting you, sir,’ I say with a mock-heroic bow to him. He pointedly ignores my outstretched hand and I walk out of his office, still amazed at the chain of events of the day. What a day!
Friday, 9 a.m.
I arrive at the office today to meet Umbungadu Esq. seated at his desk. He gestures me to the seat opposite him when I enter. After the usual enquires as to whether he had a nice journey, the state of health of his people at home, and what have you, I give him the low-down of what took place in his absence – the outcome of all the court proceedings in the cases I went to apply for adjournments and eventually the latest brief involving our new client, Mr. Jatau, and the DPO. He appears highly impressed by all the efforts I put into it and tells me that I will have a great future in the profession if I continue at this rate. He commends my courage at so tender an age at the Bar.
‘Keep it up!’ he says proudly.
I thank him and leave for my desk in the secretary’s office. I feel at the top of the world like on the day I was called to the Bar. The Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Justice Sylvester Umaru Onu of the Supreme Court, shook my hand warmly and said: ‘Congratulations! Congratulations!’ I really needed that after burning the midnight oil to pass the Bar Final Examinations with a second class, upper division.
Julie is nonplussed. She insists to know what is making me to smile to myself like some clown and I tell her to forget it. It is curiosity that makes the monkey in the adage receive a bullet in his chest.