On Trial – Episode 5
© Onyinyechukwu Mbeledogu
Kaira was done with court around 11:25am that Wednesday but she didn’t immediately head for her office. She stopped at the Lawyers’ Common room where she ordered a plate of moi-moi and chicken. She would have preferred eba and soup but she would only be able to access that at the Federal High Court or Court of Appeal restaurant. So she made do with what she was served. When she was done with her food, she headed for the new Magistrates’ Court building close to the Station Road gate of the High Court, to attend the FIDA meeting.
In the course of the meeting, her Samsung Galaxy Mega phone rang and she looked at the caller ID. It was Quadri. Thank God for the caller ID App which provided the ID of callers not listed on the contact list of her phone. She ignored him but he was persistent. Her phone was on silent but the screen distracted her as he kept on calling. Finally, she stepped out of the meeting hall to take his call.
‘Hello!’ she hoped her voice sounded polite, although she wasn’t in the mood to be polite.
‘ Ẹ ku ọsan . This is Koje Quadri.’
She would have recognised that husky voice without the caller ID and his introduction.
‘Please don’t hang up.’
I have a caller ID on my phone, duh, she thought, so I already knew at the point of taking the call that it was you.
‘How did you get my number?’ she demanded.
Her annoyance took three giant steps forwards when her voice came out in an annoying squeak, more like that of the pesky little yellow chick in the Tom and Jerry cartoon. She had intended to be very firm.
‘That’s not important,’ he told her. ‘I was at your office like you asked and I spent two hours waiting for you to show up.’
Oh dear! She had forgotten that she had finally given him an appointment for 12noon just in order to discharge him. The lawyer on the other side in her matter was a 1987 call set which made him a very senior lawyer who would mention the matter in time. She had also clearly forgotten at the time she was giving him the appointment that it would be the first Wednesday of the month and a day set aside for the FIDA monthly meeting.
‘Are you still at the office?’
‘No,’ he responded. ‘I left a few minutes ago.’
She could easily make up a story about being held up in an unexpected traffic but what was the need?
‘I’m sorry I forgot all about our appointment,’ she told him.
‘Are you avoiding me?’ he asked her.
‘Avoid you ke? You be witch?’ her little laugh sounded just as fake as the smile pasted on her face, put on in an attempt to keep her tone from sounding rude.
‘That’s the impression I’m getting.’
‘Then please perish the thought,’ she advised. ‘I’ve been wondering, though. Why me? There are a lot of Senior Advocates you can engage, but why me?’
‘You come highly recommended. I want you Kaira Madukaife.’
Kaira wasn’t sure whether his last words were intended to be an innuendo.
‘Look Mr Quadri-’
‘Koje,’ he corrected.
‘Mr Quadri,’ she repeated. ‘I cannot represent you.’
‘You owe me a duty.’
‘I don’t own you jack! Besides, you don’t need me. I am not convinced that you could be innocent. I have played every scenario in my head and in every single one you have come out guilty.’
‘You have a duty to represent me irrespective of your opinion of me.’
‘Oh really,’ she said, tilting her head to the side.
‘ Bẹẹ ni. After all your Rules of Professional Conduct provides so.’
‘And when exactly did you go through the RPC? Before or after you raped the Prosecutrix?’ she asked nastily.
‘I did not rape her,’ he denied vehemently.
‘Of course. I wasn’t expecting you to admit it. No one arrested or facing trial would admit to his exploits.’
‘If that was intended to upset me, it didn’t work. I’m afraid you are backing up the wrong wall.’
‘Is that a threat Mr Quadri?’
‘Why would I threaten you?’
‘Why don’t you tell me?’
There was silence on his own end of the phone for a few seconds, then he asked, ‘Are you always this way or is it just with me?’
‘You don’t exactly inspire nice emotions in me.’
Kaira knew she was being unforgivably rude but she wished this man would stop bothering her.
‘I’ll come to the office tomorrow.’
‘I won’t be around.’
‘Then I’ll see you in court.’
‘There are several judicial divisions in Rivers State, how do you expect to find me?’
‘I know you are not at the High Court, not at the customary court and certainly not at the magistrates’ court. You have a ruling in the morning in High Court 9 and a pre-trial conference fixed for 12. I’m sure your counsel will do a good job of handling it.’
‘How did you know…?’
‘I have my contacts.’
‘Are you stalking me?’ That had to be it because her secretary knew better than to divulge information to a stranger. ‘I could have you arrested for stalking me,’ she threatened.
He laughed. ‘We are in Nigeria, ife mi . You have obviously been watching too many foreign movies and home videos. Besides, I thought you’d say you’d have me arrested for attempted rape.’
‘I’ll unman you if the thought even crosses your mind.’
‘Is that a challenge, Ms Madukaife?’
‘I am serious.’
‘And we both know that I’m bigger than you are. You may have a brown belt in Tae-Kwan-doo, but it wouldn’t help you.’
Kaira knew he was deliberately teasing her but she couldn’t help but fall for the bait. ‘I’m not scared of you and if you want me to accept your brief then you better watch what you say to me.’
‘All right, so it’s settled. I’ll meet you up in court tomorrow. Have a wonderful night and dream of me. O da aarọ’
‘You are a nightmare waiting to happen.’
He laughed and ended the call.
That man is trouble, Kaira thought. Accepting his brief would be like falling into a drainage in broad daylight and with both eyes open and without the excuse of being drunk. She saved his number with the name Quadri. Back in school she would have saved it as Pest, Rodent or something worse. But she had a conscience, which like Gemini from the Pinocchio cartoon which didn’t know when it was appropriate to show up, making her feel like any attempt to do anything like that would cause her name to be struck off the Roll of Legal Practitioners.
* * * * *
‘I believe I’ve been jinxed,’ she thought as her car refused to start the following morning.
This was a car that had been sound last night. It hadn’t given any sign whatsoever that would have alerted her to a fault.
She tried but it wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t even start. Just made this weird noise and then stopped. Kaira was so upset. She looked at her wristwatch. It was 7:25am and she had to be in court latest by 8:30am so that she could have an interface with her client before the court sat by 9am.
She kept on trying until she told herself that she might actually be doing her car more harm than good by her persistence. The car had been imported from Cotonu by a licensed car dealer and she’d had it for three years, enjoying the car without any serious work to be done on it besides the quarterly servicing that came with cars.
‘I give up,’ she slammed her palm on the steering, jerking back as the horn blared. ‘It’s your fault Quadri.’
That was probably a really ridiculous accusation but someone had to take the blame. Mr Nobody had taken enough blame as it was.
She stepped out of her car and returned to her apartment. She hurried into her bedroom where she picked up her Zenith Bank debit card and thrust it into one of the compartments in her card holder. She counted Ten Thousand Naira from the money she kept in a white envelop in the second drawer of her bedside table and folded it into the inner pocket of her handbag.
She locked up and hurried to the gate. She waited for over five minutes but couldn’t get an empty taxi. It wasn’t as though she was averse to joining others in a taxi, but she didn’t want any unnecessary stops considering the fact that a lot of people would currently be on Aba Road and there was bound to be traffic especially around Rumuola, GRA and Waterlines areas. With an empty taxi, the taxi driver could go through Nwaja and link the Eastern By-Pass from there.
Call her paranoid, but she didn’t think what was happening to her was normal. This was Elekahia. There were always taxis plying this route and it wasn’t difficult finding empty taxis. So why the challenge today?
After some time she began to wonder if it wasn’t better for her to simply take a busy taxi to Rumukalagbor, cross to the other side of the expressway, take a bus to CFC or Park and finally a taxi to court.
‘ O Chim! It is well with me today o,’ she thought, looking down at her four inch heeled black shoes.
She respected herself and took off the shoes, tossing them into her bag and replacing them with a pair of fancy slippers. After all shakara no dey for that one! Thank God she was a woman. A man would never think of replacing his shoes with a pair of slippers, she thought with a smile.
Fortunately, just as she was she was about to join a passenger on the front seat of a taxi, an empty taxi stopped in front of them. Immediately closing the door of the first taxi and ignoring the insults that followed, she hurried to the empty taxi getting into it before someone else could beat her to it. She negotiated the price as the driver steered the car back into the busy road. She insisted on his avoiding Aba Road and talking the short cut she suggested. Unfortunately, the free route suddenly had a lot of traffic because of the presence of the men from the Federal Road Safety and the Nigeria Police Force who were stopping cars and checking papers. The taxi driver had to turn around and take a longer route. It turned out that his papers were not complete!
Kaira don vex tire but there was nothing she could do about it. She arrived late in court, and guess what? Her matter had already been mentioned by the time she rushed into the court and she had to quickly apologise to the judge explaining that she had car issues. She didn’t have a good rapport with this particular judge. Hon Justice Bereweriso was just a big bully. He was about six feet one and thickly built and he loved to intimidate lawyers in court. He was disliked by most of the counsel who appeared before him. He liked to give the impression that he knew everything and woe betide you if you didn’t automatically bow to his ‘superior knowledge’. And Kaira was known for stating her case whenever she felt she was right.
It didn’t help that that the Claimant had been adopting his originating process at the time Kaira raced into the courtroom, her wig askew and her gown almost falling off her slender shoulders. She had to adjust the collaret she had hurriedly put on. She always had her collaret on when she was driving to court but didn’t bother with it this morning because she was using public transportation. Law enforcement agents barely ever stopped her when she had it on.
The matter she had before this court had been brought under the undefended list proceedings and Kaira had brought a motion for extension of time within which to file a notice of intention to defend on behalf of the defendant. This was one of the problems she had with some clients. They wasted time in responding to emails not realising that every process had a timeline for filing and there were penalties to be paid for not meeting deadlines. People expected lawyers to perform magic! She’d had to pay N2, 600 as penalty for the thirteen days she was out of time to file her processes. She had also filed the notice of intention to defend.
The judge went on and on about how lawyers would waste the time of the court and give excuses up and down; how if he was the Chief Judge, he would via the practice directions increase the penalty from N200 a day to N1000 a day as was applicable at the Federal High Court. If, God forbid, this judge was mistakenly made the Chief Judge of the state, Kaira had no doubt that three-quarters of lawyers practicing in the state would relocate to other jurisdictions. Even if the lawyers had offended the gods of the land, that kind of punishment would be excessive.
Kaira just stood watching him, trying not to glare at him as he ranted on and on, keeping her on her feet. This did nothing to soothe her already sore mood.
Finally the judge allowed her to take her motion which was granted, and to adopt her process. The case was adjourned by the court for Ruling. Kaira sat beside the counsel on the other side, endorsing her file. She completely ignored him, upset with him. She had called him earlier to let him know that she would be a bit late to court, having lifted his number from the court process that had been served on her client. He had sympathised with her, saying that it was one of those things, promising to wait until she arrived before calling up the matter. And yet he had mentioned the matter in her absence! What had he hoped to achieve by that? Get an easy judgment that would be quashed on appeal?
‘I forgot about the call,’ the goofer-who-had-been-surprised-to hear-her-call-out-to-the-court-that-she-was-in-the-matter said.
Kaira ignored him. She hated senior lawyers who tried to play a fast one on younger lawyers. At thirteen years at the bar, Kaira was herself a senior lawyer and this was the last thing she would do a fellow counsel, including one just called to the bar. This man was called to the Bar in 1982 when Kaira was still putting on napkins. He should have known better. And people would be expecting young lawyers to see him as a role model! Role model ndi mmoo, she thought, holding back a hiss.
Done with the endorsement of her file and her diary, Kaira bowed slightly before the court and turned to leave the court room. She paused with a start as she saw the handsome man seated at the back. Quadri! Damn! He had to have witnessed the judge’s attempt at humiliating her.
Like her problems weren’t enough!
* * * * *
Kaira hurried out of the courtroom and down the large hallway. She would have gladly waited until the judge rose just to make sure Koje didn’t approach her. However, she had another matter outside Port Harcourt. Two of her lawyers had matters in other courts. This was not the best time not to have her car with her! Fortunately this file was a flat one as was the second file in her bag and it fitted into her laptop bag. She had a pre-trial conference fixed for noon at the High Court in Nchia. Talk about another journey. God help her.
She hopped there wouldn’t be traffic. It would be a terrible omen for her to be late twice in a day! The Rivers State Government was working on the road. Rashidat was initially meant to handle the pre-trial conference but they had received hearing notices the previous day for two of their appeals pending at the Court of Appeal and so that was where Rashidat was. This pre-trial conference was going to involve some serious arguments from both parties. Kaira had filed and served a motion seeking an order of the court to enter judgment for the sum admitted by the Defendants to be in dispute in line with the requisite Order in the Rules of Court, and then proceed to hear the matter and determine whether or not the Claimant was entitled to the outstanding balance of the money claimed in its statement of claim.
She paused to take off her wig and gown. She pushed her wig into her hand bag and held onto the gown. She had to get another taxi to take her to the office to drop the file she had used in this court as well as her wig and gown especially since the judge in Nchia conducted pre-trial conferences without being robed. And then she would proceed to Nchia.
Kaira heard footsteps behind her and rightly suspected them to belong to Quadri. She paused to take out her phone and call her mechanic to check on her car in the house. She had been utilising his services for a year now and so far he had been honest with her unlike her previous mechanic who had made over 100% profit from the purchase of everything he said she needed to change in her car! Fortunately for Kaira, she had insisted on keeping every part that was replaced in her car and that was why she was able to discover that the parts the mechanic had taken out weren’t bad as he had made out. Her current mechanic had been introduced to her by another lawyer. She had left her car key with a neighbour’s domestic help just in case she was able to get the mechanic to work on her car today.
Kaira gasped as Koje took her laptop from her grip as well as the black gown she had draped on her arm.
‘I wouldn’t be much of a gentleman if I left you to carry your bags alone,’ he told her with that beautiful annoying smile of his.
‘May I have my bag please,’ she told him. ‘I don’t remember making any complaints.’
‘You didn’t have to.’
When she saw that he had no intention of giving it back to her, she turned and hurried down the staircase and out to the car park. Quadri followed her.
‘I know you are running away from me,’ he told her. ‘But you can save yourself the stress by simply accepting my brief.’
She glared at the palm he placed on her arm but he did not withdraw it.
‘I don’t like being stalked.’
‘I wasn’t stalking you,’ he returned. ‘I actually had a case in that court. But it didn’t go on. I was about to leave when I saw you rush in. I guess God answered my prayers.’
‘You had a case in that court! That means you have access to another counsel. Why bother me, for crying out loud?’
‘Because you’re good,’ was his simple response. ‘I need your services and I intend to stick to you like your shadow until you say yes.’
This was weird. Usually, when a counsel said no, litigants went in search of other counsel. They didn’t go around insisting that a particular counsel handle their matter unless it was to be done pro bono and they felt the counsel in question had a soft spot that could be penetrated with persistence. But this was not the case. Koje Quadri was willing to pay whatever she asked for. She just didn’t want to get caught up in his criminal case. She wanted to be an observer, rooting for the Prosecution. A civil case and she would have gladly represented him. After all he was going to pay a lot of money.
He could afford any lawyer he wanted. There were so many of them in Nigeria and bringing them to Port Harcourt every time the case came up wouldn’t be a problem for him. Aunty Wunmi had given her reasons why she should be Quadri’s lawyer in this particular case!
‘You do know that if I accept your brief, I might be ruining my career.
‘Or setting up yourself to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria?’
‘True. But I’m a woman. I cannot be seen defending a man accused of rape! That’s the worst offence a man can commit against a female!’
She was trying to make him see reason why this wasn’t a choice. But he refused to see things her way.
‘I intend to be a paying client. That’s what should count.’
She was silent for a long time. Then she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, saying, ‘I know I’m going to regret this but I can’t have you following me around. So, yes, I accept your brief.’
Ẹ ku ọsan (yoruba) – Good Afternoon
O chi m (igbo) – O My God
ndi mmoo (igbo) – spirit people
Bẹẹ ni. (yoruba) – yes
O da aarọ (yoruba) – Good Night
ife mi (yoruba) – My love
To be continued