It was while in the pursuit of justice that I crossed paths with Wale. He was the opposing counsel in a court case I was handling. We bonded immediately after the court session, over the exchange of different views and opinions about the legal profession in general. Wale was a smart eccentric fellow, and he had huge ideas and dreams of becoming the best in the profession. He always called himself the Devil’s Snitch.
We had an early court timeout after our matter was adjourned. He offered to drop me off at the office, and then asked that I accompany him to see a client who wanted to assign the power of attorney over his property in Surulere; Wale promised to pay for lunch afterwards. Since the errand was in my route, I conceded.
It was on that fateful day that I met Baba Kay and Chief Okoro. Baba Kay was a 72-year-old pensioner. And Chief Okoro was a semi-literate business man from Idumota.
Baba Kay was a polygamist with four wives and over nineteen children. He had put up his building in Surulere for sale, since his children were, in his opinion, vagabonds. He’d decided to sell his property whilst still alive and relocate to a suburb in Ikorodu, and then apportion the proceeds of the sale amongst his children to forestall any contention upon his demise.
Chief Okoro was a business man originally from Anambra who had indicated his interest to purchase the property for a supposed fee, which was yet to be agreed upon between both parties.
We all got talking after due introductions. The moment the chief got to know that I had Igbo antecedence, he began addressing me in Igbo, telling me how he needed my assistance in the transaction since I was close to the seller’s lawyer. He was of the opinion that I would be the in the position to give him privileged information that would favour him.
As he collected my number, he said quite boisterously, “You will be my lawyer o… You go help me to tidy the loose ends in this matter.” As he stored my number in his phone, he told me he’d be calling me whenever he wanted my assistance. He did call, as he promised, at odd times, and always with his number hidden. He’d have all these questions regarding the property, and once he had his answers, before I could get any query of mine in edgewise, he’d end the call.
On a particular day, I asked Wale about the transaction. Giving me a quizzical look, he replied, “Ogbeni, which one you dey ask me question like this? You wan buy the house ni?”
I told him about Chief Okoro’s concerns regarding some issues in the transaction.
Wale hissed in response. “That foolish man wey go dey come meeting with different lawyers every time. Ogbeni, leave that your broda o, him dey form sharp man. Since this transaction start, na so-so lawyers him dey change like boxers.”
It then dawned on me that I was merely a tool to the chief, being used to retrieve useful information. The man really didn’t need me for any legal expertise. I was slightly displeased to realize this.
Three days after my conversation with Wale, I was in the court premises for a case for my client, when Wale approached me. Upon getting my attention, he said, “Ogbeni, show first. Your broda dey around o. Him call me make we see for court today.”
“Wetin come be my own na?” I snapped irritably. “Biko free me, I get urgent matter to settle.” I had the recorder turned on in my phone, pending the testimony of the client I was here to collect.
Just then, Chief Okoro stepped out into the court foyer. “Lekwanu my lawyer!” he crowed with a toothy grin the moment he saw me.
“Sir, you keep calling me your lawyer,” I said with a wooden expression, determined to cut out the bullshit, “but you never include me in the proceedings of this transaction.”
“Biko, biko, don’t tell me how to goes about my business, enyi,” the man countered, his good humour suddenly disappearing. “Do you know how many lawyers I have under my cares that I pays money monthly, ehn? Shebi because we met by mistake and I wanted to help you, eh? I for like you to mind your business, as I have no business with you. Nonsense!” Turning to Wale, he growled, “Barrister Wale, please sees me outside biko.” And he stalked off angrily.
I stood there nonplussed. I felt a surge of both vexation and embarrassment well up inside me.
“Shey I tell you say the man no be human being,” Wale said with a pat on my shoulder. “Abeg hold my file make I go see wetin him wan talk. I dey come now.”
I nodded and collected his stack of documents, before heading back inside to finish up with my client.
Barely a week later, I received a call from a man who identified himself as a member of the Special Fraud Unit in Milverton, Ikoyi. He asked for my presence at their office; ‘With immediate effect’ was one of the phrases he used in the summons.
I was instantly ill at ease. The man hadn’t said the reason for the summons had anything to do with a client’s case; just that I should immediately come over. When I got to the office, my anxiety, held in check behind a calm exterior, fountained. I stepped up to the front counter and introduced myself to the officer stationed there. I was led to ACP Anti Fraud Unit Department. In the moderately furnished room were three officers standing and a fully decked ACP having a conversation on his phone. The ACP waved me to a seat, while he continued talking. He quickly wrapped up his conversation, and then leaned across the desk toward me with steepled fingers.
“How may I help you, sir?” he asked.
“I am Barrister B. O. Okoji, sir,” I replied. “I got a call about my presence being needed here.”
“Oh, okay, you are the one we are looking for,” he snapped, his demeanour changing slightly to one of mild hostility. “Call the complainant,” he instructed one of the other officers.
My heart began to thump. I was the one they were looking for? “I don’t understand, sir,” I blurted. “What is going on here?”
Without a word, he handed me a sheet of paper. I glanced at it. It was a petition. On it, Barristers Wale and Okoji were accused of defrauding a Chief Okoro of 30 million naira.
There were other frivolous allegations in the petition, but my head had crowded with alarm at the 30-million-naira fraud allegement. I had barely finished reading the petition, before a sorry-looking Chief Okoro was led into the office by the officer who’d been sent out to fetch him.
The moment he saw me, he came alive. He began shouting, his hand pointing accusingly at me, “Officer, he’s among them! Arrest him! Detain him! Shoot him! Lock him up!” As he spouted his rage, he lunged at me, his hooked fingers reaching for my neck. I staggered back from him, and he managed to grab at my tie, before the other junior officers leaped forward to pull him back. The man looked positively demented as he kept on yelling his vituperation at me.
At the ACP’s command, he soon quietened. Then the senior officer turned to me and said, “So, Mister Okoji, now you know why you are here.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I still don’t,” I said, my befuddlement apparent on my face.
I was quickly brought up to speed. It would seem that several weeks back, days after my last encounter with Chief Okoro, Baba Kay had eventually assigned the power of attorney to Wale to depose his property on his behalf. Baba Kay held fast to the asking price of 28 million naira. Since the old man was unwilling to give Wale a percentage of the proceeds, Wale decided to sell the property for 30 million naira, unbeknownst to Baba Kay of course. In the course of the meetings, Baba Kay fell sick, but managed to encourage the parties involved in the transaction to proceed without him around at the meetings, stating that he was solidly behind whatever decisions Wale made on his behalf.
Thirty million naira soon changed hands. Barely twenty-four hours later, Baba Kay died in his sleep. This was most unfortunate, because the documents turning over the ownership of the property hadn’t being signed by him before he passed away. A couple of days later, Chief Okoro had gone to inspect the property with his entourage, and met a wailing crowd in the house he was supposed to be the owner of. He got quickly infuriated and tried to bulldoze his way into making the people around understand that he owned the place. He wanted everyone out. His apparent lack of regard for the people’s grief incensed them and he and his people were beaten and thrown off the property. The chief thereafter sought to reconnect with Wale, seeking explanations. But Wale could not be reached. He’d simply vanished in thin air and was nowhere to be found. Realizing that he’d lost both his money and his purchase, Chief Okoro had decided to vent his grievance on the next available culprit – me.
I listened to this narration in horror, unmindful of the air conditioner humming in the office. I could see the pickle I’d just been put into. I could protest that I had no foreknowledge of Wale’s fraudulent intention, and that I had no hand in duping the chief. But depending on the man’s clout, the uniforms may not believe me. Thirty million naira was at stake here. I was starting to sweat with fountaining anxiety as I contemplated my situation.
Then I suddenly remembered something. I remembered that day in court that I last saw Chief Okoro. Feeling a spark of hope, I asked the ACP for permission to retrieve my phones, which I’d dropped at the reception. He gave his okay. I soon returned with my phone, fetched the recording I was interested in and played it back for the audience in the office.
Soon, the raucous voice of Chief Okoro cracked its way from the phone into the room.
“Biko, biko, don’t tell me how to goes about my business, enyi. Do you know how many lawyers I have under my cares that I pays money monthly, ehn? Shebi because we met by mistake and I wanted to help you, eh? I for like you to mind your business, as I have no business with you. Nonsense!”
“Play that back please,” the ACP instructed.
I gladly obliged him, all the while, staring with vicious pleasure at the chief, whose expression had started to sink.
“Chei!” he finally burst out. “Ogini ka’m mere onwem! Heu! What have I done to myself!” He raised his hands to his head as he lamented loudly.
The ACP replayed the recorded conversation a few more times, before giving a sigh. Turning to the other man, he said, “Chief Okoro, it’s quite unfortunate that Barrister Okoji does not have any business in this whole saga. You are heard here clearly telling him he has no business in the issue. It’s an unfortunate situation we have in our hands now, seeing as we now have to concentrate of finding the actual criminal, Barrister Wale.”
With a smirk, I rounded on the chief. “Chief Okoro, as you can see, I am not among the several lawyers you pay money monthly to, inugo? Is it because we met by mistake that you now want to drag me into this mess? I will appreciate it if you mind your business and keep me out of it, because it is none of my business.”
Oh, it gave me such pleasure to return the man’s admonishment to him.
Turning to the ACP, I asked, “Will that be all, sir?”
“For now, yes,” he replied. “But we might still need your attention once in a while to aid our investigation.”
As we shook hands in farewell, Chief Okoro burst out in anguish, “Bia, Oga Officer, will you not detain and arrest him?” The ACP replied tersely, “Is he not the person you denied in the recording?”
I was wearing a smug smile as I stepped out of the office. I was just beyond the threshold when I heard a muted thud. I didn’t stop walking, not even when I heard someone shout for a doctor. I presumed Chief Okoro had fainted. But I kept on walking, because it really was none of my business.
Written by B. O. Okoji, tweets @bertokoji