ACT 1 SCENE 2
The counsel for the defendant stands before the witness stand, about to start his examination of the defendant, a matronly, bespectacled woman in her mid-forties.
Defendant Counsel: Madam, could you state your name and occupation for the record please?
Defendant: My name is Theresa Anolue, and I am the headmistress at Kingston Nursery and Primary Schools.
Defendant Counsel: And how long have you held this position as the headmistress?
Defendant: It will be two years in July.
Defendant Counsel: Before you became headmistress, were you employed in any other capacity by the school?
Defendant: Yes. I was a teacher in the school for eleven years before I was made the headmistress. I taught Social Studies to Primary 4, 5 and 6, and I was the form teacher of Primary 5B.
Defendant Counsel: Prior to and aside from your employment at Kingston Nursery and Primary Schools, have you been in any other form of employment?
Plaintiff Counsel: Objection! Relevance?
Defendant Counsel: I’m just trying to establish the professional integrity of the witness and to show that she doesn’t make decisions concerning her job on mere whims.
Magistrate: I’ll allow it. Mrs. Anolue?
Defendant: Five years ago, I was appointed a deputy at the Lagos State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, and before I became a staff of Kingston Nursery and Primary Schools, I’d been teaching at Top Tiers Academy in Victoria Island for about ten years.
Defendant Counsel: So all in all, you’ve had a very stellar and illustrious career as an educationist, correct?
Plaintiff Counsel (gets to his feet): Objection! I can understand why the counsel would like to inform the court of the witness’s professional history. But do we really have to take her word on the nature of her career? That would prompt me to yank into this honourable court every and any witness I can find to poke into the veracity of that testimony.
Defendant Counsel: My client is on trial here and I believe –
Magistrate: Don’t bother, counsel. The objection is sustained. Move on.
Defendant Counsel: Mrs. Anolue, do you know the reason why you are here?
Defendant: Yes. That woman – (She lifts her hand, remembers the judge’s earlier instruction and puts it down) – Ms. Dumblone Coker is petitioning me to re-hire her as a teacher in my school.
Defendant Counsel: So we are all here because you fired her…
Defendant: That’s correct.
Defendant Counsel: Can you tell this honourable court how that came to be?
Defendant: Gladly. (She cocks her head slightly upward as though trying to pull out the details of her narrative from a distant memory) It all started on the day the Mbas came to see me in my office. I remember having a full schedule that day. There were several meetings I was going to attend – a staff meeting in the afternoon, an administrative meeting at –
Magistrate: Mrs. Anolue, if you could just skip the preamble and get to the gist of your answer…
Defendant: Yes, Your Honour. So, as I was saying, despite my full schedule –
Magistrate (impatiently): No, not as you were saying, Mrs. Anolue. You were going to talk about the Mbas, right?
Defendant (slightly ruffled): Yes, Your Honour. So, the Mbas came to my office, upset by what they claimed was the incompetence of one of my teachers. I calmed them down and when I asked, I was shocked to hear that the reason they were at my office was to report the outrageous teaching of Ms. Coker.
Defendant Counsel: Did you, at the moment, believe what the Mbas were alleging was true?
Defendant: No. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, purporting that the sun is closer to Lagos than Abuja is what I would expect those Primary 3 pupils to argue amongst themselves, not an adult teaching it.
Defendant Counsel: And was that all the Mbas had to say?
Defendant: Oh no, they had plenty to say, one of which was that they wanted their son’s teacher fired or else they would remove their children from the school – they have three of them in our school, by the way – and also, that they would spread the word that Kingston Nursery and Primary Schools didn’t know how to educate children.
Defendant Counsel: Did that upset you?
Defendant: Yes. But I want to stress that it didn’t determine my decision to fire Ms. Coker. I was determined to keep an open mind during my intended query of her.
Plaintiff (leaps to her feet from her seat at the plaintiff table): That’s a lie! A big lie! You’re lying –
A startled hubbub ripples through the court at her interruption. A horrified Mr. Okhakumhe tries to pull her back down on her seat, a move she resists, while the bailiff calls for order.
Magistrate (scowling): Sit down, Ms. Coker!
Plaintiff: But, judge, that woman is lying. She danced to those people’s tune because they are rich and important –
Magistrate: Sit down and keep quiet, Ms. Coker! I will not repeat myself again!
With a scowl that matches the judge’s, she sits. She looks daggers at Mrs. Anolue who stares stonily back at her.
Defendant Counsel (looking smug): Mrs. Anolue, you were saying…
Defendant: Yes, as I was saying, after the Mbas left, I called Ms. Coker to my office. I was determined to get to the bottom of the issue. I actually believed then that perhaps, Chidalu Mba had fabricated the whole story because, maybe, he didn’t like his form teacher. I simply did not believe that one of my staff was that clueless, to pass that kind of dumb teaching to her students. So, you can imagine my shock and dismay when I called Ms. Coker to my office and questioned her about the Mbas’ allegation, and heard her not only admit that what they said she did she actually did, but try to defend her ridiculous teaching.
Defendant Counsel: And that upset you, I’m sure…
Defendant (looking properly upset): Yes, it did. I was not happy. And I wondered if she’d been teaching similar nonsense at other times to her pupils. The thought horrified me. Those poor children – going home, believing the nonsense their stupid teacher was passing on to them.
Plaintiff Counsel: Objection! I would ask that the witness give her testimony without maligning my client.
Magistrate: Noted. Mrs. Anolue, keep your answers clean and refrain from the use of any defamation.
Defendant Counsel: So after your questioning of Ms. Coker, what did you do?
Defendant: It was a simple decision to make. I had to fire her. She was simply unfit to teach in my school, or anywhere else, for that matter. So I fired her.
Defendant Counsel: You didn’t let her resign?
Defendant: She didn’t want to, she was too busy ranting about how I was calling her integrity as a teacher into question. As if she has any.
Magistrate (warningly): Mrs. Anolue…
Defendant: Sorry, Your Honour. I actually canceled the option of her resignation. In my opinion, letting her resign meant she could easily get a job elsewhere and an opportunity to inflict much more of her ridiculousness on other pupils. In all good conscience, I couldn’t let that happen.
Defendant Counsel: So you fired her…
Defendant: I did, and I didn’t regret it. I still don’t. Besides, I was within my rights as an administrator of the school to do so.
Defendant Counsel: Tell me, Mrs. Anolue, is it your job as the headmistress to hire teachers?
Defendant: It is the job of every school head at Kingston Nursery and Primary Schools to hire teachers.
Defendant Counsel: And in your tenure so far, how many teachers have you hired?
Defendant Counsel: Six teachers, you’re sure about that…
Defendant: Absolutely. I retained two National Youth Service corpers last year who now teach Integrated Science and CRK. I accepted a transfer from St. Michael’s College into the Social Studies department. And I hired three graduates of the teachers’ college; one teaches English Language, and the other two, Mathematics. That’s six. (She gives a small self-satisfied smile) I know my job.
Defendant Counsel: And all six of them sat through interviews with you?
Defendant: Of course. I can’t give my endorsement on your employment if I don’t personally access you, to test your professionalism and your capability as a teacher.
Defendant Counsel: And since you’ve been a headmistress for two years and Ms. Coker has been a teacher in the school for four, it’s safe to say you didn’t hire her.
Defendant: No, I didn’t. The headmaster before me did. I don’t know how come he did, but if her kind of person had submitted an application to my office, I wouldn’t even need an interview to tell me she’s an airhead, a moron and doesn’t deserve to be a teacher.
Plaintiff (jumps to her feet again): Objection! (Laughter and the hum of voices break out in the courtroom again) Judge, can you see? She’s insulting me again! What is wrong with this woman sef? You miserable, old woman –
Bailiff: Order! Order!
Plaintiff (furiously): Is it my fault that I’m fine and you’re not –!
Magistrate: That’s enough out of you, Ms. Coker!
Plaintiff (still on a roll): All your generation, you will never find anyone like me, you shameless, stupid woman –!
Magistrate (rises from his seat and roars): Ms. Coker, you will sit back down and keep your mouth zipped up! Or I will have you removed from this courtroom and held in contempt! IS THAT CLEAR?! (The court is silent. Dumblone stares mutely at the judge) HAVE I MADE MYSELF CLEAR TO YOU, MS. COKER?!
Plaintiff (in a small voice): Yes, Your Honour.
Magistrate (turns his blistering look to Mr. Okhakumhe): And counsel, get control of your client, or else her next outburst will incur a citation of contempt for you as well!
Plaintiff Counsel (with a mortified expression): Yes, Your Honour.
Suitably chastened, Dumblone sits back down. In the ensuing silence, the magistrate takes his seat and nods for the defendant counsel to continue his examination.
Defendant Counsel: Mrs. Anolue, you are well-versed with the contract for employment at Kingston Nursery and Primary School, right?
Defendant: That’s right.
Defendant Counsel: And some of the terms of that contract is teaching from the authorized syllabus and not teaching falsehood, correct?
Defendant: That’s correct.
Defendant Counsel: What is the penalty when one doesn’t follow through?
Defendant: Instant dismissal, except in the case of not teaching from the authorized syllabus. You see, the clause states that you can only be fired when you ‘repeatedly’ teach outside the syllabus. That means, you have the luxury of a second, perhaps third, chance.
Defendant Counsel: And that’s the only offense that merits a second chance?
Defendant Counsel: And with any other offense…
Defendant: Your employment gets terminated at once.
Defendant Counsel: And was Ms. Coker aware of this when she signed the contract for her employment?
Plaintiff Counsel: Objection! It befuddles me when I wonder how my learned colleague can expect the witness to give an opinion of an event she wasn’t even a part of.
Magistrate (shoots the defendant counsel a stern look): Counselor…
Defendant Counsel: I’ll rephrase, Your Honour. Mrs. Anolue, in your opinion and given your expertise with hiring staff, do you think anyone who signs the contract of employment ought to be aware of the clause that will determine his or her termination from that job at your school?
Defendant: Of course. Who wouldn’t want to familiarize himself with the rules governing his employment? Such a person would have to be a dumb blonde.
Dumblone instinctively begins to get up, gets a look at the severe expression on the judge’s face and stiffens back down on her seat.
Defendant Counsel: That will be all. (He turns back to his table) Your witness.
The counsel for the plaintiff advances on the witness stand with a stomping gait and a stony look. The witness watches him approach with a wary expression.
Plaintiff Counsel: Mrs. Anolue, have you ever given another erring employee a second chance before?
Plaintiff Counsel: You have in fact pardoned three teachers since you became headmistress, correct?
Defendant: That’s right.
Plaintiff Counsel: The circumstances surrounding one pardon was the fact that the teacher, Mrs. Adetutu, a Homec teacher was absent from school for a whole week and didn’t go through the appropriate channels for the obtainment of permission for such an impromptu leave of absence, correct?
Defendant: She was indisposed, it was understandable –
Plaintiff Counsel: The answer I needed was ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The second pardon came after Mr. Obinze, the Physical and Health Education teacher, propositioned one of the female teachers and she reported him for sexual misconduct, correct?
Defendant: She grossly exaggerated the circumstances of their contact –
Plaintiff Counsel: Again, yes or no, Mrs. Anolue. And the third pardon you gave to the football coach, Mr. Philips, after he went overboard with his caning of one of the pupils in his team, is that correct?
Defendant: Mr. Philips expressed deep remorse over that –
Plaintiff Counsel: Yes or no, Mrs. Anolue.
Defendant: He even apologized to the parents –
Plaintiff Counsel: YES OR NO, MADAM!
Defendant: Yes! Yes, I pardoned all three of them. And I let them keep their jobs, but I couldn’t do the same for her.
Plaintiff Counsel: Why, because she’s young?
Defendant (indignant): No!
Plaintiff Counsel: Pretty?
Defendant (outraged): No!
Plaintiff Counsel: You don’t like her?
Defendant: No – not that –
Plaintiff Counsel: Then why, by all reasonable standards, did you fire her when she made a mistake that appears on equal footing, if not less, with the mistakes of these other teachers?
Plaintiff Counsel (is furious now, spittle flies from his mouth as he snarls): Because why? Mrs. Adetutu flouted the rules, indisposed or not. Mr. Obinze may or may not be a womanizer. That’s not an influence you want around children. And Mr. Philips abused a child. Yet you saw a reason to give them all second chances, but not my client. WHY?!
Defendant Counsel (jumps to his feet): Objection! He’s badgering the witness.
Magistrate: I’ll allow it.
Defendant Counsel: Your Honour –
Magistrate: Your objection has been overruled, counselor. Now take a seat. Answer the question, Mrs. Anolue.
Defendant (flustered): Well…it’s that…I don’t – she’s just not a qualified teacher.
Plaintiff Counsel (arches condescending brows): And you would know this how? Where you present with her throughout her years of study to become a teacher?
Defendant: No, but –
Plaintiff Counsel: Is there something in her resume that points to her unqualifiedness as a teacher?
Defendant: No, but –
Plaintiff Counsel: Are you then questioning the circumstances of the former headmaster hiring her?
Defendant: No, but –
Plaintiff Counsel: Then, pray tell how it is you know she’s not a qualified teacher. (The witness glares mutely at him; her lips tightens into a grim line) Mrs. Anolue?
Defendant (after a moment): Because she said the sun is closer to Lagos than Abuja is.
There is a smattering of muffled laughter in the courtroom.
Plaintiff Counsel: Could your dismissal of her employment not also have come from the fact that you thought her not penitent enough to deserve a second chance?
Plaintiff Counsel: In her words: ‘I raked for her.’ And in your words: ‘Mr. Philips expressed deep remorse…’ I put it to you, Mrs. Anolue, that if my client had expressed deep remorse – (he puts a sneering stress on the last three words) – she’d still have her job.
Defendant: Well, we’ll never know now, will we?
Plaintiff Counsel: No, I guess we won’t. But we do know that there’s clemency for all those in your staff who are appropriately remorseful over their wrongdoings, don’t we? (She opens her mouth to refute the remark) No answers required here, Mrs. Anolue. That’ll be all, Your Honour.
Magistrate: We’ll adjourn the case now and reconvene tomorrow morning by 9 am for the closing arguments and my ruling.