It’s Time To Start Thinking, Doing Things Differently By Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq

Barrister J. O. Esezoobo

Thanks Angela for your remarks on this matter. Most of the questions you raised have one way or the other been answered by you. But one question you did not answer is why government in Nigeria is ‘debt ridden’ such that in ‘reality’ it is not able to cope with the ‘level of infrastructural development’. 

Perhaps, a few personal experiences will shed more light to assist in persuading you to my view point.

1. Debt From Subvention In one case of recovery of debt from a contract duly executed by a client, I had written warning letters and held three meetings with a Federal Government agency and scheduled another when on my way out a staff called me aside to say, “Don’t bother to come again. Oga say you are just wasting your time. How do you expect him to pay a debt incurred by his predecessor from subvention from which he is expected to make his own money?…” This is just one example.Thus, the attitude of public officers in Nigeria is that public funds meant for providing and servicing public amenities are for their private pockets. 

Therefore, for me, it requires more than just providing or helping to build a public institution where the need arises without finding out why Government that is supposed to be the primary provider has failed to provide or service it. I did not go back for the fourth meeting. Rather I went to Court.

2. Unwitting Permissiveness Of Corrupt Practice.  I was before Honourable Justice M.B. Idris of the Federal High Court once.  And the issue was non-service of a Court process. The learned Judge tried to excuse why the bailiff did not serve the process. He advised the Counsel to bear with the bailiff who said he could not serve because of lack of fund, explaining that sometimes before the money we pay for service is appropriated…….………

The learned Judge then went further to say that when he was somewhere, he used to spend his personal money “…from my pocket” to get the bailiffs to serve Court processes for the work to go on. I was intrigued and though I was not in the matter, I stood up to ‘commend my Lord for spending money from my Lord’s pocket to assist the bailiffs in serving Court processes. It is because of my Lord’s zeal to get the job going. But my Lord, it could have been better to assist in helping the process of getting out the payments in good time for use for the official purpose…” I told him that his style would give a boost to corruption when the head of the Court would be misappropriating the payments for service of Court processes. The learned Judge merely nodded his head and continued the proceedings.

Gratifying is the contrast I witnessed Olatoregun J, (now retired) a highly respected, disciplined and forthright Judge who gave worth to law in her time. I was also not in that case in which the process was not served. And the Counsel said “And I mobilized the bailiff…”. The countenance of this great Judge changed. And she said “Go and call the bailiff, both of you will go to jail…”. The Counsel panicked and started stammering, saying “My Lord, what I mean is sir, ma….”, That is my idea of a Judge who knows what the State policy is and is not ready to brook any compromise of it but to hold anybody to account. I refer you to the forfeiture case in Jonathan v FRN…. (Pt.1681).

3. Culpable Cowardice Or Silence In The Face Of Errors. I was once in Ota High Court in Ogun State, in the case of Posna Ltd v Riyet Ltd. before. The Court building was an apology. I was pressed and wanted to wee; there was no toilet. The Registrar led me in a bush path into the bush where I eased myself. During the proceeding rain started falling, Water was pouring down from the ceiling to the chairs and tables, flood all over in the Court room.

The Judge, Lakulo-Sodipo, J. as he then was, advised us Counsel to shift with our files from one place to the other where the pouring water was less offensive. And I stood up and made observations, raising issues as to why such situation should be allowed. I narrated my experience before the proceeding started, how I had to go into the bush to wee, and told him I was going to write to the Attorney – General of the State to draw the attention of the government to the situation with a view to putting things right.

After the proceedings, the learned Judge called me into chambers and said he admired my guts in seeking to influence a correction of things that are not right. He said to me that they, the Judges couldn’t talk, if they did, one could be victimized, one could even be made to be superseded by one’s junior. He concluded thus: “That is what we are facing. So, we just keep quite…” He therefore, encouraged me to continue in that way I was doing. And I wrote to the Attorney-General thereafter to draw attention and to suggest a correction.

4. The Ota Drama And The Judge’s Evil Plan.  But curiously, in the course of the proceeding in my case, the Judge and I fell apart. What was the problem? After the claimant’s witness gave evidence and I was to open my cross-examination, the learned Judge suddenly interjected and asked why the witness was giving evidence in English. And the witness changed his language to Yoruba. And the Judge asked the Registrar to serve as interpreter.

I found the development odd and I informed the Court that the witness upon being sworn in said he understood English. I said that we had letters the witness wrote to us which we pleaded and were going to tender. The Judge said “Well, there are some people who can write English well but cannot speak it well”. I then replied that we are not looking for fluencing in English. His Counsel is here and is not saying the man cannot speak English. “My Lord, the man can even speak pidgin English”. It was a drama of a kind. But the learned Judge refused and asked his Registrar to serve as interpreter. And more than that, the Judge himself took over the interpretation; he would interject and tell the Registrar “Is that what he said? You don’t even understand Yoruba yourself”. He would then proceed, interpret my question to the witness and record the answer accordingly.

Things got to a head when I asked a question that was damaging, and apparently to prevent an answer to it, the Judge said, “Mr. Esezoobo, I have appointment with my dentist for 12. I have to rise now”. And I said “My Lord can record his answer and we can call it a day here”. Before I finished this sentence, the Judge rose. That was how we fell apart and from then the proceeding took a hostile trend. From the above the Judge bottled up misgivings against me. Unknown to me he had planned to stir me to anger such as would enable him put me in the dock for alleged contempt and transfer me to another Judge who would send me to jail. This was revealed later by his Registrar.

Aborted ill-fated contempt proceeding But on the day of the ill-fated contempt proceeding, I did not go to Court. I sent my junior. The Judge descended on my junior and said so many unprintable things about me. Incidentally, Femi Osundahunsi Esq, one of our tutorial lecturers Ife was in Court. The ex-lecturer stood up and said “My Lord I know Mr. Esezoobo….”.

The Judge reportedly heaved a sigh and invited the ex-lecturer into his chambers. And listen, the Judge said “Esezoobo sent somebody with some money to bribe me. The person met me at a social function. And because I refuse to take the bribe, Esezoobo became hostile and rude in Court”. The ex-lecturer pleaded with him and promised to bring me to him to resolve the crisis.

When the ex-lecturer came to my office to tell me all this, I asked what the Judge said was the reason he did not arrest the carrier of the bribe. I told him it was a simple matter, “I will call a press conference and demand for full details of this allegation…” As for bringing me to him, it was an error of undertaking; I couldn’t do that.

The short point of the foregoing is that many of us are silent and not able to talk, condemn what needs to be condemned to correct things because they are either doing things that are not expected of them on which they can be taken up should you raise issues or they are benefiting from keeping quiet; what you call skeleton in the cupboard.The principle of ‘Skeleton in the cupboard’

When certain things were going wrong in the National Industrial Court and the Federal High Court at some point in time I wrote Honourable Justice Babatunde Adejumo, the then President of the Court. I also wrote Honourable Justice Ibrahim Auta of the Federal High Court. The former wrote back to threaten to deal with me if within seven days I did not furnish particulars of the allegations I made against him. He went further to say to somebody that he was waiting for my application for the silk. All I said was if he knew of any cupboard where I had skeleton, he had my permission to break open the cupboard and bring out the skeleton. But before then, he attend to the issues I raised. As for the silk, he would wait long. 

The same attitude I put up for Auta who as Chief Judge went visiting and paying courtesy calls on Government agencies and thereafter he made such funny Rules as THE AMCON Procedure Rules through which corrupt practices are still being perpetrated to date. Is this what we are giving back to the society or leaving for coming generations?

Back to the main point, Angela, you have made reference to the situation in the US. I do not know how it works there. But I want to believe that the circumstances are not the same. Each time I go to the US, I try to watch the people’s reaction to tax payment. I also observe a difference. A top political office holder friend once told me that a tax was passed to him by the tax authority. He called the man to his house and adjusted the figures. And I said to him that tax is part of one’s contribution to development.

Summary, there are various levels at which an average Nigerian in public service needs to be corrected rather than taking up and fixing what he has failed to do. 

It’s time therefore, for us to start thinking differently and doing things differently.

Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq Could Be Reached Via +234 803 320 0595