Previously on AS THE COURT PLEASES…
“Sir, but no one knows all the law!” Kingsley was getting a bit pissed.
“Study, my young man! Study!” Ihechi’s boss said with a benign smile. A smile which does nothing to cool Kingsley’s rising temper.
Ihechi gave out a light chuckle, earning her a glare from Kingsley. The Court Jurisdiction she studied on Sunday night before her first day at work, when sleep had refused to come to her, was paying off.
As it happened, Kingsley had filed a writ for the recovery of debt to the tune of N3, 674, 510.00, at the High Court. He had been going to check whether the case had been assigned, and coming back to the office with stories of deferment. His writ was removed from the bulk, and he wasn’t told why exactly.
When cases were being handed to Ihechi in her position as a new staff of the chambers, Kingsley had furtively snuck the file into the pile, happy to be rid of the case that had refused to take off.
One look at the writ and Ihechi had realized that it was filed in the wrong court. The jurisdiction of the Magistrate Court had been upwardly reviewed to 5 million naira, which firmly put this particular case within the ambit of the Magistrate Court.
Ihechi had taken the file to the Head of Chambers to complain, and suggest she be allowed to re-file the case at the Magistrate Court. Following her attention, the Head of Chamber had called in Kingsley.
“So when did you learn that courts’ jurisdiction has been reviewed?” the Head of Chambers asked Ihechi.
“It’s been a while, sir. I can’t remember the exact time,” Ihechi replied, determined to blow her trumpet.
“See?” the man turned back to Kingsley with raised brows. “If you must be successful as a lawyer, you have to read!”
“Yes sir,” Kingsley murmured, his sulky countenance amusing Ihechi greatly.
“Good! Now you can go and finish your tasks for the day,” the Head of Chamber dismissed them both.
“Ehen! I need to ask you something about this other case…” Ihechi started to say, immediately they got into their shared office.
She pulled up a file from her table and turned to face Kingsley, only to see his retreating back as he left the office. He slammed the door as loud as he could manage without arousing the Head of Chamber’s interest in the opposite room.
Just what Chukwudi would do, Ihechi thought, chuckling at her colleague’s show of petulance, which reminded her of her brother, Chukwudi, who she greatly missed.
Ihechi was born to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Okoye, who later changed their surname to Chibiko, after being convinced by some pastor that Okoye was a diabolical name, which perchance could be the root of their childlessness, an odd term to qualify them with considering they’d already had her. She’d never found it funny whenever her parents or others referred to them as childless. It made her feel invisible and unwanted. As she grew, she realized that a male child is nwa in Igbo land, while the female child is mmanya. The culture regarded females as nothing but a source of enrichment through the bride price and bridal drinks.
Her mother’s view however changed when Ihechi turned eleven. She began to treat her daughter more like an nwa, and insisted that her father and other relatives do the same. She also began to rebuke anyone who called her childless. Ihechi wasn’t sure if she’d really changed or had simply given up hope of ever having another child and decided to cherish the one she had.
Then her mother took ill without warning. The ailment robbed her of her strength, to the point that she couldn’t even bathe herself. This scared the child, Ihechi very much. She’d always regarded her mother as this invincible, indomitable person. The woman was 5 ft 9, and had the stoutness of body to fill out the height. So she was somewhat a gigantic woman. It was no surprise that she seemed larger than life to her petite eleven-year-old daughter, who had grown to love, fear and respect the woman.
Her mother was finally taken to the hospital against her wish, when it was obvious that whatever was ailing her wasn’t ‘stubborn iba’, like she had claimed for the four days that she was rendered immobile by the illness. Aunty Rosemary was called on to come to the house and stay with Ihechi, while Ihechi’s father stayed with his wife at the hospital (he would have it no other way; that was how much he cared for his wife).
Ihechi could remember how she woke up to voices in the sitting room, while sleeping under the dining table, her then-favorite spot for the end-of-the-day pre-sleep. Oftentimes, Aunty Rosemary would forget to carry her to bed, and so, she’d end up sleeping under the table for hours, until the chill of the floor would rouse her to stumble her way into her bed.
That late night, she heard those voices. They belonged to her father, Aunty Rosemary and an uncle. They were speaking in low tones. But she could hear them, hear them talking about how there was going to be a baby. Her mother was pregnant. But they sounded glum.
She could not understand their somberness then. However, she understood during Chukwudi’s dedication in the church, when her mother was testifying. She understood that Chukwudi was supposed to have a twin, which she miscarried, and that she’d had something else growing together with Chukwudi in her womb. Ihechi now knew it is fibroid, but back then, she’d imagined all sorts of formless and shapeless ojuju growing with baby Chukwudi and probably trying to scare him into going back to heaven like his twin.
Needless to say, Chukwudi was spoilt rotten, especially by Ihechi’s father. But Ihechi loved her brother too dearly to let the doting of her parents on him bother her. As he grew, people often thought he was older than Ihechi, because he took after their mother in build, while Ihechi remained petite. They are more than siblings; they are best friends, especially when he wasn’t being a spoilt brat.
Feeling nostalgic, Ihechi picked up her phone and dialed her brother’s number. She listened as the automated voice informed her that the number she was dialing was currently switched off. She sighed. Chukwudi should be in school at this time, and his school considered cell phones to be contraband.
Deciding to face her work, she swept her gaze over her table, trying to decide which file to work on first. Then, she remembered the question she’d wanted to ask Kingsley before he sulked out of the room. She chuckled, and decided to work on the case, working around the question, till Kingsley was done with his tantrum.
She worked on the file for close to two hours, and the question could no longer be ignored. Ihechi decided to ask Comfort, since she was the one who maintained kept the office diary. The office kept a really detailed diary.
Stepping out into the reception, she saw Kingsley seated there, murmuring and fiddling with his phone.
“Thank God you both are here…” Ihechi began.
To her mild astonishment, Kingsley got up at once and stalked out of the reception.
“What is that one’s problem sef?” Comfort said, rolling her eyes.
“Long story, my dear,” Ihechi chuckled. “Abegi!” She set her colleague from her mind with a dismissive wave of her hand, and turned to Comfort. “This Vitus Limited Versus Festus Ojenabo case, I need you to check the office diary for me for the ruling on our preliminary objection. I can’t find it in the filed records.”
Ihechi glanced at the wall clock hanging in her office. The time was 1:03pm. She had been waiting for Kingsley to come in, so that they could go and file some processes at the High Court in Maitama. But the incident at the Head of Chamber’s office early that morning had Kingsley sulking all through the day, refusing to share the same room space with her. She was beginning to get irritated by the man’s childishness.
Ihechi had company name availability to enter at the Corporate Affairs Commission, which was directly opposite the High Court, and she’d already planned on using her lunch time to go for it. Then she was asked to depose an affidavit, which would be filed in the High Court. She was torn between ignoring Kingsley and going to CAC, and placating him so that she could do the availability on official transport allowance.
“I thought you guys were going to court today?” Barrister Susan’s voice came from the doorway of the office that Ihechi shared with Kingsley.
She was roused from her musing and turned to the other woman. “Err…erm…” Ihechi scrambled to gather her wits about her. “Er…yes, we are. But Kingsley…I don’t know what he is doing.” She gave a small shrug.
“Is he still sulking over what happened this morning?” Susan asked with a chuckle.
“You know about that?” Ihechi said, part surprised and part amused.
“Of course, I do,” she said, smiling conspiratorially and moving into the office to sit on the chair across from Ihechi’s table.
Ihechi frowned a little, wondering why Susan was being all chummy, while recalling her first one-on-one encounter with the woman.
They were seated in the conference room, reconciling the facts of a new case, one for which they’d just concluded the client interview. The Head of Chambers was setting out the facts, Susan was listening in and adding some clarifying points of her own, and Ihechi was taking down notes. Sometime during the process, Ihechi ran out of paper. Glancing around, she saw some plain sheets of paper in the printer tray, within Susan’s reach.
“Excuse me, ma,” she said softly, looking at Susan, “can I have one sheet of paper from that printer, please?”
“Are you talking to me?” she asked Ihechi, her face hardening around the flinty tone of her voice.
Ihechi was momentarily taken aback, wondering what she had said wrong.
The woman continued, her tone staccato, “My name is Susan Olayemi. That is Mrs. Olayemi to you.” Then she snatched up a sheet of paper from the tray and flung it at Ihechi.
Why is she pretending we are friends now? Ihechi thought dourly as she stared at the woman. I’m still unmarried o, just so you know, Mrs. Olayemi.
Susan sat across from Ihechi, the conspiratorial smile firmly in place. She crossed her legs. “I was coming to ask Baba something, and I heard it all,” she said, her eyes gleaming. “It was funny sha.”
When Ihechi did not say anything in response, her smile dulled some.
“But really,” she continued, “you shouldn’t put a guy down like that –”
“Sorry, can you give me a minute?” Ihechi interrupted her as she rose from her chair. “I need to ease myself,” she explained, before walking away without waiting for the woman’s permission.
She rolled her eyes immediately her back was to Susan. She had no intention of coming back to chitchat with her. She had no interest in her friendship, period!
“You client is lucky oh,” the court clerk declared after observing the content of the case file, before proceeding to file the process. It was going to be a statement of defence, motion for the extension of time (as they were out of time), and a memorandum of appearance.
“Really? What happened?” Ihechi asked.
“This case is supposed to come up tomorrow for the plaintiffs to move their motion for default judgement. In fact, they would have moved this motion three weeks ago, but my lord did not sit, and everyone had to take a date off-record.”
“Oh!” Ihechi raised an eyebrow and turned to look at Kingsley for a possible explanation as to why the statement of defence was being filed this late.
He turned away and walked out of the court clerk’s office, obviously still miffed at what happened in the morning.
After the filing, Ihechi stomped out of the clerk’s office, her lips set in a straight line and determined to either talk Kingsley out of his funk or have a major falling out with him.
“So, why did you follow me to court?” Ihechi asked angrily, tapping Kingsley’s back.
“What does that mean?” he turned to say waspishly.
“It means that you were of absolutely no use to me on this trip. I would have ignored you and come here since morning.”
“I wasn’t –” Kingsley started to say.
“Save it!” she snapped before storming away from him.
He followed her out to the compound. Once through the gate, he called out, “Where are you going now?”
Ihechi had stopped on the kerb in front of the High Court to flag down a taxi.
“None of your business,” she snapped again as she recommenced walking and reaching into her bag at the same time. She came up with her CAC ID card and hooked it to her shirt.
“You are going to CAC? It is not official oh…” Kingsley said from behind her, startling her just a bit. She did not know he’d continued following her.
She stopped and whirled around.
“Guy, just do me a favour. Go to hell!” she raged before wheeling back around and crossing the road, headed toward the gates of CAC.
Written by The Counsel