Chief Wole Olanipekun’s Golden Calf (I) By Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq

I read this aberration with some concern; that in a Country that is so richly blessed, the resources can be so mismanaged that one individual can get so wealthy that he can now take the place of Government and be financing it. Ordinarily, what we say or do shape the thinking and attitudes of the listening and watching masses. 

In a country like ours where corruption is the game, a gesture of building a Court house will make Government and people in Government to lose their sense of duty to the people who voted them into power, and the people their sense of right to demand accountability from the Government. Such a situation leaves people in Government to go looting the treasury completely dry because the Wole Olanipekun, SANs are there to take up the responsibility of building the public infrastructures.

The further implication is that certain individuals get elevated above the Government. And when this happens, Government itself will find it difficult to bring to book such individuals who become ‘untouchable’, when the need arises. A sign of this is the current crisis in the legal profession in which the Body of Benchers is passing a vote of confidence in the Chief in the face of NBA’s call, albeit amateurish, for his removal of the philanthropist. This is what makes the whole scenario scandalous; that a Governor who failed in his duty to provide the infrastructure for which yearly budget may have been made, and Senators and other dignitaries who ordinarily should talk to the Governor to do his job, felt satisfied to commission the project, applauding it as a good gesture. This is a great challenge of essence and relevance of Government in Nigeria. 

According to the story, the Court had fallen into such a state of decrepit as made the people and some colleagues to go appealing to the learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria and erstwhile President of the NBA to do something. And moved by the cry of the people and colleagues the learned Chief and Senior Advocate of Nigeria decided to take up the responsibility of building the Court Complex. It is not the right thing for an individual to serve as an alternate Government because he has made so much wealth and acquired so much influence from the system. A better way helping the Society is to ensure faithful performance of civic duties as spelt out under the Constitution which include faithful payment of tax and helping public institutions like Government or Government agencies to perform their duties. See S. 24 of the Constitution.  By paying tax regularly on the wealth acquired, and encouraging other lower or less influential beings to do so, a wealthy and influential citizen of the class of many of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria can help this Country better. A situation where from their general apathy to matters of governance save to just ‘practice’ or do business whether or not the environment is made conducive for the people, Government is allowed to shirk its responsibility to the people who voted it into power, and yet the people are made to feel that there can be an alternative source will not help a corrupt nation like Nigeria to do the right thing and find its feet.

It is reasoned that it is still better to help the people by educating and enlightening them, and indeed leading them, to hold their Government to account rather than deal like Aaron in the Bible who allowed the people to push him into making the golden calf as alternative to God, in preference to seeking out what was happening to Moses and their only true and living God who brought them out of Egypt. For that sin alone, Bible records that God wanted to ‘consume’ them in the wilderness but for the plea of Moses.

It is in the light of the foregoing that the ‘gesture’ of building a Court complex is viewed as a misapplication of wealth and influence. The right application could have been to influence the NBA and some of the colleagues who reportedly were crying to him and some members of the community to meet the Governor who, without scruples, accepted, shamefully too, to commission the complex, to do what the State under the Constitution enjoins him to do. With this new development in the act of ‘philanthropy’ by a lawyer, another vent has been created for corrupt practices in Nigeria by which the vice will be taken to the next level where a Governor or local Government Chairman will be given to believing that he can now take all the State funds, neglecting the services he is meant to provide for the people because some private individuals are there to fix the social amenities when the people are dying. This is unacceptable.

Public Perception About Lawyers. This new aberration also has a way of affecting public perception about lawyers in Nigeria. Comments in public domain have been rife that lawyers now launder money for politicians and other top public officers. Such comments have gone to the extent of adding that “Unless you kill all the lawyers in Nigeria, the Country will not move forward”. This was the exact remark of somebody some years back who called me from the US. And he said to me while I tried to defend the lawyers and explain their role to disabuse his mind of the negative remarks from activities of some bad eggs among the group. He mentioned some specific names not necessary to recount here. It is clear from this kind of remark why the likes of Chief Richard Akinjide SAN of blessed memory said “The problem of Nigeria cannot be solved”. 

Positive Use Of Wealth And Influence   There are issues with the administration of justice that a passionate Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN can use his wealth and influence to look into and help resolve for Nigeria. For example, it is common knowledge that administration of justice particularly at the Supreme Court is not enviable; it is far below the expected standard having regard to the constitutional requirement of a ‘fair hearing within a reasonable time” under S.36(1) of the Constitution.  

Last year alone, I was at the apex Court four (4) times to do some matters. Any lawyer in Nigeria who has this feat can be credited with some level of active practice in the litigation process. But what did I come out with in all the four cases? Ask me again; I came out with nothing. Indeed, while the second to the last encounter the case was adjourned to some date in 2025, in the last one, I only spelt my surname to the panel because the presiding Justice said “Mr. Esezoobo, spell your surname”.

And the learned Justice of the Supreme Court turned to the appellant to ask if she obtained leave before appealing because the appeal was on mixed law and facts, the crux of my opposition. The next question was “What do you do, What do you do…?”. And the appeal was struck out with admonition, “You have to start all over. And if you are coming again, you have to come under a new appeal number…” whereupon I said “My Lord, they should not be allowed to come again. They are a mere Garnishee in a judgment that was obtained in 2003…” 

  Dear colleagues, let me raise this alarm in the case in which I had the above encounter: the case was filed in 1995. We got judgment in 2003 after a long period of trial. And after having failed in enforcement processes, we got a garnishee order absolute in 2012. And yet at the apex Court, I returned to Lagos after spelling my surname. How proud can any serious lawyer in litigation consider himself to be? I think the Supreme Court needs to stem up and give worth to the litigation lawyer and value to his client. And the Chief Wole Olanipekun SANs who are almost daily at the Court should use their influence to look into this.

At the Court of Appeal, the situation is becoming more embarrassing by the day with uncertainty of dates for hearing, with files or processes therein getting missing thereby forcing shifts in hearing dates ad infinitum. And one of us here is the President of this Court, and we cannot influence her to look into the anomaly of delay in the administration of justice at the Court of Appeal. Then, why are we here? 

It is totally unacceptable that a case should be in our Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal for more than three (3) years. I sincerely believe that with a conscious judicial policy and proper management of the appeal process, this is attainable. A situation where judgments obtained at the trial Court, particularly money judgments are held down for as long as six (6) to eight (8) years, is totally unacceptable. For some of us whose sole business is litigation, this is an invitation to hunger. And this accounts for why some of us have become desperate and get into some unethical or unprofessional practices to make ends meet.

Still on the Court of Appeal, when the President who is one of us here, made the new rules in 2021, she added a clause for compulsory payment of N50, 000.00 as security for costs. The manner of administration of this payment was viewed as capable of boosting a corrupt practice: no receipt for the cash payment. When I insisted on a receipt, the collecting officer who said the instruction was that “There is no receipt”, tore a sheet of paper, wrote that he collected N50, 000.00 from us and stamped it. How does this level of dealing correct the lower beings in the service? I told the client who gave me instructions to recover the money. Sadly, the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal did not reply to my two warning letters; the usual ministerial snootiness. More sadly, the client whose consent I needed to take up the matter in Court, even at my expense, said “Oga, don’t worry, you know how the Country is…”. 

How can we continue like this and hope to leave a better Nigeria to the coming generations?  

Barrister Johnson Odion Esezoobo Can Be Reached On +234 803 320 0595