When To Use That Door

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In all spheres of the Nigerian labour market, the relationship between employer and employee is a pretty complicated and intricate one, and in many instances, it turns out to be a very touchy subject. This is particularly so, given the notoriously high rate of unemployment in the country, as well as the trigger-happy nature of employers, simply put, their tendency to hire and fire at will. Continue reading

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Sketch: Virgin Wigs

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“Counsel, how old are you at the Bar?”

That question pretty much sums up what has been a long day at the temple of justice. Yes, it’s you, a fresh wig, a green horn, a courtroom virgin (never mind those few appearances you have racked up), standing before a judge whom it seems to you woke up on the left side of the sheets, subjecting you to those words that do not exactly show kindness to your dignity and ego as a young legal practitioner. Continue reading

Case Of The Stockholm

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It was getting to the third hour, but there were no signs of slowing down in the way Justice R. A. Smith paced up and down his living room that late evening, with thrice the restlessness exhibited by a man whose wife was at the labour ward. For him, there was no reason to relax. No, not when he had not received any positive feedback, with respect to efforts made in securing the return of his only daughter. Continue reading

Sketch: Courtroom Melodies

It’s about 8.45am when you arrive at the court premises. It’s forty-five minutes past the time when you were supposed to be there, but you have reasons why, or so you like to think. You slept late after watching episodes of ‘’Suits’’ long into the night. Then again, your family has a way of always keeping you behind schedule, from drab sessions of morning devotion, to mentally manufactured chores, to a tempting recipe you eventually give in to. There was also the matter of being too shy (or proud, depending on how you see it) to get into a bus while in your well-tailored suit and tie, waiting for a flashier taxi cab to come your way. It matters little, you are going to fill in 8.00am as your time of arrival in that logbook which you have to present to that boot-camp of a campus where you have one last hurdle to cross before officially earning the appellation ‘’lawyer’’. After all, lies and logbooks go hand in hand, as you have found out soon enough.

You are barely able to sign in the attendance register before it is taken away. You find out that the chairs reserved for externs (that is what you wanna-be lawyers are called here) are all occupied, but fortune smiles at you, as you get to have space created for you by the lady whom you would later have a crush on, and this kind gesture is crowned by a wink. The cause list (list of cases for that day) soon shows up in limited quantity, and you predictably lose out in the scramble. You inquire why there can’t be enough copies, and the response you get is that you are lucky to get to share (which turns out to be true, as when you visit another court several weeks later, you find that the cause list is on a single sheet without duplicates, and handwritten.)

The judge steps in just when you are done exchanging pleasantries with those around you. The wig he dons is not as white as the hair on his head, and he is reported to be in his sixties, but a good pay package has made the years kind to his looks. Just before he orders the registrar to call out the cause list, a group of haggard, fierce-looking men are brought into the courtroom. They have each been charged for various offences, ranging from kidnap to rape to murder to managing a brothel. They are all bound hand and foot, grouped in twos. ‘’So much for the law on bringing an accused to court unfettered’’, you say to yourself. They are made to sit in front of those whose matters are civil and family related. One of them begins to read a Bible, and you just feel that he wouldn’t be here if he had kept to the words contained therein. While the lengthy cause list is being read out, you notice that one other accused person can’t help ogling the short beautiful extern sitting in front of you. You let her know and she looks away in embarrassment, but not without thinking that there is something dangerously sexy about this man in chains.

The first case  involves a charge of rape. The counsel to the accused is not in court, and as such the case has to be adjourned, since the accused and his counsel must be present at every stage of trial. The next case involves a murder charge. The accused has claimed that the confessional statement he made to the police was obtained by way of torture, and so a ‘’trial within trial’’ is being conducted to prove whether his confession was made willingly. The accused man opens his shirt during his testimony and shows all sorts of wounds, some caused by hot irons and others by gun butts. The prosecution counsel takes him on a cross-examination in an attempt to discredit his words, and all she says from start to finish is a repeated mouthing of the phrase ‘’I put it to you’’. You wonder what she could have possibly achieved by that, and you heave a deep sigh when you learn that she is about eight years old in the legal profession.

Besides the next case which involves jumping bail and the surety called to show cause why he should not forfeit the sum of #500,000 which he signed as bail bond, the other criminal matters witness adjournment after adjournment for all sorts of reasons, from  ill-health to bereavement of the lawyers involved. By this time the court orderly has taken position and is subtly taking a nap, his eyes concealed by a pair of dark sunshades. The first civil case is called for mention, it is a land matter, and the only interesting thing about it is that the two lawyers representing the plaintiff are husband and wife. Whispers are heard round the court as they announce their appearance, and as they leave, you recall your contribution to an opinion poll in a student magazine a year ago, where you stated that you couldn’t see yourself waking up next to a lawyer.

The next case is one for breach of a contract to supply cartons of milk. The lawyer representing the defendant asks for an adjournment. He explains that he could not prepare his statement of defence all the while because he had been preparing for his best friend’s wedding, and maybe he would have made more sense if only this was not his 5th adjournment in a row. Predictably the plaintiff’s lawyer does not buy it, and soon a fierce argument ensures. It soon gets into questions of who is older at the Bar, and culminates into one of them saying ‘’You dey mad ni?’’ The judge soon calls them to order, but not before directing them to see him in chambers the next day. ‘’Ghen ghen’’, says Miss Future Crush in a low voice, ‘’they will hear it tomorrow’’. At this time one extern sneaks in, managing to squeeze out some butt space at the back. He is not even fully dressed, and you say to yourself that he is lucky not to be in the neighbouring court, remembering how one extern in that court was ordered to stand throughout proceedings for not wearing a suit.

The next case involves a petition for divorce. By this time two other registrars can’t take it anymore, as they brazenly put their heads on the table in a state of  slumber. The woman has filed her petition papers, and today the man is to reply, but his lawyer is nowhere to be found. After a long wait the judge loses his patience, and the man steps into the witness box to defend himself. It is a pathetic story involving stillbirths, animal sacrifices and mixing food with water from a woman’s privates, with knowing glances taken at the woman from you and the others from time to time. You find out that the man’s lawyer failed to show up because outstanding appearance fees were being owed.

‘’But Rule 21 of the Rules Of Professional Conduct says lawyers should not withdraw from employment once assumed’’, you say.

‘’Dey do RPC for there, ‘’the extern without a suit cuts in, ‘’na when you never fit change shoe for like four years, na then naim you go know how far.’’

Next up is another land dispute. That is the major cause of litigation in this part of the country, and this case is one of those which make you want to walk up to the witness after his testimony and say, ‘’Cool story bro.’’ Beyond the courtroom drama, what amazes you is that the lawyer to one of the litigants had to borrow a wig and gown from another lawyer who had concluded his case earlier on, the exchange occurring away from watchful eyes of course (except yours).  You wonder why a practising lawyer cannot even afford the major apparel he wears for his trade. ‘’What then did he wear for his Call To Bar ceremony?’’, you muse. You choose to stretch your bored legs outside and you find a lawyer who graduated from your former university when you were in your first year; it was her who represented the guy charged with murder and claiming torture. You both get talking, but you don’t know when your hands keep unconsciously pointing to your pocket in the course of your catch-up discussion. She eventually greases your palm with ‘’something for lunch’’ which you accept thankfully, but which you feel should have been more, given her number of years in the game.

The judge eventually rises for the day one hour later. Besides the age factor, his other reason is that his book of record on which he writes has exceeded the day’s allotted space, and you are tempted to ask why electronic means of recording court proceedings cannot be allowed in this 2nd decade of the 21st century. He soon calls you externs into his chambers, and asks you all what you gathered from the day’s proceedings. He notices that you are all visibly tired, and is seconds away from bidding the day’s goodbye when one of you ruins the moment by asking a long question. Yes, it is that overzealous extern, the very one who chose to ask a ‘’jurisprudential’’ question on your first day here when you were all touring the court premises, and right now his face looks ever ripe for a punch as it did on that day. You all eventually leave the judge’s chambers, and while Miss Future Crush gets a lift home (her gender gives her that edge), you have to walk a few metres to the junction.

The blazing sun and the terrible traffic act in concert to ensure that you get home totally exhausted. And yes, you put your swag aside and take a bus home this time. You give muffled responses to your father’s inquiry on how your day was, and you don’t even get to change clothes before pouncing on supper. You eventually retire to Dreamland, too tired even to take a shower, but not before some mental stock-taking and pondering on whether all the trouble to bag the title ‘’Barrister’’ is actually worth it in the end.