I have a special client. He is an elderly man in his late 70, I call him Baba. The reason why I say he is special is a story for another day. I know that Baba has a property in Lagos that is being managed by a Lawyer but I never bothered to ask about the lawyer handling his property since he did not mention anything beyond informing me that he has the property in Lagos and a lawyer is managing it.
Yesterday, I got a panic call from Baba. “Lawyer, please it is very urgent, how can I see you?” Baba said in disturbed tone. I was worried. I immediately made arrangements to meet him. “Lawyer, I want you to take over the management of my property.” Baba said as soon as we finished exchanging pleasantries. I guess it would have been better for me to have just accepted the brief than ask Baba why he was changing the lawyer. That why question opened what seemed like a healing wound. In a very sober tone, Baba told me a story that could pass for a Nollywood movie script, yet, it was a true life story of the strange things lawyers who are practicing law in Lagos State in 2018 did.
“Lawyer”, Oniro is the third lawyer I brought to manage my property” Baba began to narrate his experience. He told me that after he finished building the house, he decided to engage a lawyer to manage it because it had many flats. So, he instructed a very senior lawyer who started managing the property immediately after the completion. He said senior lawyer only took him to introduce as the Landlord to the tenants because he made it clear to the lawyer that he does not want to deal with the tenants. He said he recalled that a certain woman was introduced as a widow then. From the initial stage, all the tenants were very diligent with the payment of their rent except the widow. Baba said expectedly, he was considerate of the woman’s plight and would always agree with the Lawyer to give her time. He said at a point when it was as if the widow was living in the house rent free, he called the Lawyer and asked him to evict the woman because he felt she was taking advantage of the situation. The Lawyer kept pleading with Baba to give the widow more time and would sometimes fabricate stories on her behalf until one day. One of the tenants visited Baba and told him the widow was bragging that she is living in the flat free and nobody can evict her. he further told Baba that everybody in the compound knew that the widow is even having an affair with the Lawyer. He further told Baba that the Lawyer was a regular visitor to the widow’s house and the widow to Lawyer’s office which by the way is not too far from the house. Baba said that initially, he didn’t take the story serious, but when he wasn’t able to comprehend why the lawyer would make some baseless excuses for the widow, he put in place a machinery to find out the truth. Long story short, through his spies, Baba found the Lawyer and the widow in the lawyer’s office in a compromising manner. There and then, Baba got angry and debriefed the lawyer and got the second lawyer.
The second lawyer got the widow evicted immediately and was managing the property. Just when the old man was beginning to repose some confidence in the second lawyer, he brought out his own drama tools. Baba said that suddenly, all his tenants who were very diligent with the payment of their rent started “defaulting” and whenever it was time for the lawyer to remit the monies collected from the tenants, he would only declare half of the monies paid. This continued for about five years. So, on a fateful day, Baba ran into one of the old tenants in the house and decided to find out why he now pays his rent by installment. The tenant was shocked. He told Baba that his rent is paid in full every year and timely too. He went ahead to show Baba receipts of his 5 years rent, including that of the year that lawyer already told Baba was still outstanding. With this, Baba visited the other tenants and demanded to see their receipts Almost all the tenants had their receipt showing one off payment over the 5 years period. Baba took copies of all the receipts straight to lawyer’s office. The moment he showed the lawyer the receipts, he could not hide his shame and embarrassment. He started pleading with Baba to forgive him and give him time to pay up. Baba did not know how and where to report him for the misconduct. The only thing he could do was to take over his property from him and for a while was managing it by himself.
Sensing that Baba is now the one collecting rent by himself, some of the tenants started defaulting with payment of rent. In a particular year, three tenants were in arrears of rent. Baba felt this was a deliberate frustration and decided to give another lawyer a trial. His brief to this 3rd lawyer was simple. Evict the tenants who took advantage of the situation to default in their payment and take up the management of the house. After the instruction, the lawyer told Baba that he would be back in seven days. Baba told me that he thought “I will be back in seven days” means to come with letter or even police that will chase the people away from his property.
Seven days after, Lawyer came back to Baba with the story that, giving tenants quit notice and taking them to court is a very long process. He told Baba that to evict tenant in court will take up to three years and if he is unlucky to have smart tenants and they engage a lawyer that is also smart, the case can go to the Supreme Court, meaning the tenants will remain in the house for more than 10 years. Baba was shocked and scared and could only ask Lawyer what other option he has. The next option proposed by the lawyer left my mouth open for five minutes.
Lawyer told Baba that he has a Babalawo that will quicken the process. He then explained to Baba how the Babalawo has helped him several times. While Baba was still trying to grapple with the Babalawo part, Lawyer brought out a small bottle containing some powdery substance and instructed Baba to just sprinkle the substance at the doorstep of the tenants. According to him, the tenants would pack out within the seven days following the sprinkling. He charged Baba N30,000 with an option of paying half and the balance after the tenants must have moved out, to prove the potency of the substance. It was at that point that Baba could not take it anymore.
After narrating all the stories, Baba asked me a simple question, “Is that the way lawyers behave these days?”