Fashe Olakunle is a lawyer who lives who has his practice in Abuja. He shared below, his encounter with officers at the registry of a Federal High Court in Nigeria where corruption has become institutionalized. Olakunle’s story is just one out of too many. The image of our judiciary is being tarnished and the stakeholders are folding their arms. This is sad!
Olakunle’s experience is worrisome. Please read below
I travelled out of my state of residence to do a transaction on behalf of a client. Things went relatively well until I needed to take out an affidavit in court as one of the final stages of the transaction.
So I walked into this court, a federal high court, to do the affidavit. I had in mind that a day earlier, someone had told me in a colleague’s office how she spent #4 000 to do an affidavit in court. I was furious. I know that only #100 of that #4 000 will go to government purse, the rest will go to some thieves who pose as government workers.
So I stepped into this court wishing that the thieves would try to play pranks on me. I file affidavit regularly in court but I have never experienced such extortion. May be it is because the court workers in the town where am domiciled (ABUJA) know me to be a lawyer. May be now that I am out of jurisdiction and dressed casually, the ones here will try to play a fast one on me. Just May be.
So In the court, I was directed to a certain lady. It seems she is always the first contact person in this web of extortion. I entered the room. She asked me to sit. She was attending to someone, a captive I should say. The man was begging that he did not come with 4k, but the lady would have none of that. She asked the guy to go and come back to complete. I was eavesdropping. The guy had just lost his certificate and wanted to make an affidavit to that effect. This is what is supposed to cost him N100. The guy even begged to pay N1000. But she refused. She insisted on the “full price”.. In the end, the guy left to use ATM and come back. I was next in line!
I hold the belief that even if one should extort me, it should not be in court. The very thought of being extorted by a “Non-Lawyer” in court is annoying to me. It is like a civilian slapping a Soldier in the barracks! If you must slap a soldier, must you do it in the barracks ?
So I took my turn in front of her. “What do you want to do, sir”? She asked. Affidavit of course, I replied. She asked what type of affidavit, bringing out a plain sheet of paper and pen, with an air of fake seriousness. She said she needed to know the type of affidavit because they will help me to type it.
At that point, I brought out a copy of the affidavit as typed by my secretary a day before I traveled. I told her that all I needed was to make the oath before a Commissioner for that purpose. Seems she was taken aback. Seems see didn’t expect me to come with my affidavit already written and typed out. She excused me and left with the document. I guess she went to consult with her superiors.
She did not stay too long.
“Sir, are you a Barrister”?
“Yes, does it matter”?
“I mean a real Barrister”?
“sir are you based here in town”?
I think she wondered if I was really a lawyer as they have not seen me in their court before . May be her superior had suggested that I just claimed to be a lawyer in the affidavit just to evade their extortion.
I told her to go straight to the point. That I still needed to travel back. I told her to show me where to pay and get the oath Commissioner’s stamp. At that point, she cut a piece of paper and wrote on it. She signed a complicated signature. She made the stealing to seem official. Unlike how she handled the guy before me, she didn’t say a word about the amount I was to pay. She could not speak to me about it . She wrote it down and signed and then showed me where to take it to.
So I took it to whom I was directed. The man took the piece of paper from me and studied it as if it was a graph or some complicated map . Then, as if he had suddenly deciphered a hidden code, he said out loud : “two thousand”, I paid the two thousand Naira and waited. The man stamped on the document and wrote on it with red ink. I noticed that he did not write the amount received by the Court on behalf of government, as is the custom. He directed me back to the lady who sent me to him. He said she is the one to take me to the Commissioner for oaths.
I was irritated by the unnecessary back and forth, but I was determined to see the end of it.
After the Commissioner had put his stamp on the affidavit, I went straight back to the guy who took 2k from me and demanded a receipt. He looked lost when he saw me again.
He said they don’t give receipts. I said its not possible for the federal government of Nigeria to take #2000 from me and not give any evidence of payment. He then said their receipt has finished. I told him to use his red pen and write 2000 on the affidavit. He Shrugged his shoulders, as if to say “God forbid”.
I told him, Point blank, that he has trouble on his hands. That he should not think that I will leave without evidence of payment. That if he cannot handle it he should bring in his superior. I threatened to go to the court Registrar if he continues to waste my time. It seems the mention of the Registrar was frightening to him. He said to me “please sit down” and stepped out, running.
He returned with a woman I presume is his unit head, a woman in her late forties by my estimation. She asked what the problem was. I told her there was no problem. That I am surprised the guy brought her. That all I want is receipt or some evidence of payment.
She said that their receipt has finished. She brought out a big book and said they enter all the payment entries made by everyone and at the end of the day, they issue one receipt!
Hear lie. One receipt to whom? She did not even seem like an intelligent thief to me. Seeing that her explanation meant nothing to me, she collected the affidavit from me and looked. The next thing I heard was:
“Who typed it? Who asked you to type it”?
She said they will give me my money back and take ‘their affidavit’. That I should go elsewhere and make the oath.
At this point, I lost my patience and temper. It became clear to me that I was dealing with an ignorant crook. Who told her that she had the power to stop me from doing the affidavit? Who told her that private affidavits must be typed by the Court. I mean she made it so clear with her actions that she is fantastically corrupt.
I stepped out of their office and headed to the Registrar’s office. They started pleading. The guy who took the money started running helter skelter.
He took me to the office of another oga. The oga was polite. Cool office. He took the affidavit document from me and read. He screamed: “they not even read this thing to see that this man is a lawyer”? He stormed out and left me alone in the office.
It became clear to me that the oga was not necessarily angry at what they did. He was angry that they did it to a lawyer. He felt they were daft to do so to a lawyer. They should have done it only to other members of the public. They should have known that a lawyer is “bad market”.
The oga returned with the woman and asked her to apologize for saying I should get my #2000 and go elsewhere to do the oath. She did. And I accepted the apology.
The oga thought that was all. He looked happy, as if everything has been settled. As if he had just resolved a conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. I brought him back to reality by saying that I am still waiting for receipt. You can’t extort me and apologize and bid me farewell, without a refund.
At that point, he asked the lady to excuse us. As soon as the room had only Me and him, he removed the masquerade. He said : “BUT BARRISTER, YOU AND I KNOW THAT THIS THING IS HUNDRED NAIRA. How do we give receipt for 2 thousand”?
I did not bulge. I told him that it was either he gave me the receipt for 2k or I go to the court registrar.
At that point, he went out quietly without a word. I did not know if he went to get the receipt or my money. I looked through the window and saw him outside calling the staff to gather my money. It was then I knew that the loot had already been shared (it was close of work and I was the last customer). They had to send someone to call one of the staff at the gate to bring his part before entering a taxi home.
The oga soon returned to the office with my #2000 and asked for hundred Naira. I gave him #100. They wrote #100 on the affidavit with red ink and gave a receipt reflecting #100. The same receipt they said they didn’t have.
I walked out of the court feeling sorry for the country. I mean this is a court of law! A place you would expect to see the strictest adherence to probity. Yet people openly engage in extortion. Government charges #100 for something, but corrupt government workers make it #4000 (I believe I was charged #2000 cos I had mine typed already).
People no longer do subtle corruption in this country. Corruption is the norm. They make you look stupid if you don’t join in. Every sector is involved, not just the political class. The civil service stinks.
And someone wants me to believe that Nigeria is not fantastically corrupt. Please keep sharing until it gets to the right people. Nigeria must be saved from ALL forms of CORRUPTION.
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