HomeMy GrouseMy Grouse: ‘What If...’ Wishful Thinking of a Litigation Lawyer in...

My Grouse: ‘What If…’ Wishful Thinking of a Litigation Lawyer in Nigeria


It is often said that litigation is the toughest aspect of legal practice. Well, as an inhouse counsel or a transaction lawyer in a commercial law firm, you are free to disagree with this assertion. But just before you fight me, I will imagine that you ‘did not do litigation or as loosely put sometimes ‘you did not practice’ before going to transactions or going inhouse. If that is the case, then just try to find out from your colleagues who ‘practiced’ before joining you inhouse, their reasons for leaving litigation. Don’t lie, what was their reason(s)? I won abi? Good. Then, let’s proceed to the topic.

So, as I was saying before you interrupted me with your argument on which aspect of the legal practice is more tedious. I was saying, no, I was asserting that all over the world, litigation is the most tedious aspect of practice, but when you are now a litigation lawyer in Nigeria, the tedious practice will join with the tedious living condition to create a chaotic life for you.

It is that chaotic life that is now capable of making you close your eyes inside a very hot courtroom where, both you, litigants and even mi lord are ‘waiting for them to on the light’ and beginning to imagine a system that works in what would at best be a wishful thinking.

As a litigation lawyer practicing in Nigeria, the following are some of my wishful thinking?

    • What If Notice of Adjournments were sent before court dates?

Ever imagined going to court every time with certainty that ‘your court will sit’ and you would be able to ‘do’ your matter? That is to say, you spend the entire night preparing for trial and not get to court at 8am, sit through till about 10am to 11 am, and in extreme cases 12noon and get to hear the dreaded; “counsel, my lord said I should inform you to take a date”, counsel, court is not sitting today, counsel my lord has an official engagement.

Yes, there are some improvements here and there with this situation presently. Some courts now have WhatsApp platforms where lawyers are informed that court won’t sit (not minding that some of them will still send the message at 8:45am the same day), but a larger number still do not have that courtesy. You still have to get to court and be told that “court won’t sit.”

Asides the waste of time, don’t even get me started with waste of resources. When you drive your car from one end of a state like Lagos for instance to another end. Waste N20,000 on non-subsidized fuel and fight with your client for appearance fee you would pick and choose which of the wastes is more wasteful.

This is an issue that is as simple as Mi lords and their Registrars agreeing to ‘help our lives’. How about we just all have a WhatsApp platform and put as part of the important courts’ itinerary, notifying learned counsel that court will not sit 24 hours before the time?  Circulars have been issued in the past from the desks of  CJs, notices too, yet, we still go to court and go home because ‘court will not sit’ and nobody informed us earlier.

    • What if the Bailiffs Serve Court Process without Mobilization from Counsel?

If you do not mobilize the bailiffs, your originating processes would not be served or may not be served on time. These are some of the aberrations that now seem like normal in Nigeria. Are we even aware that these are not normal? Many of us do not know actually. Even Mi lords sometimes scold us for ‘not following up’ with the bailiffs. Toh! But we all know that “following up” is actually not following up as in following up! (confusion). But what if we have a situation where counsel get to court and are certain that their originating processes have been served and proof of service already in court’s file without having to chase after anyone. And where this is not in the file, the rightful person blamed. Even you that is reading this now will be wondering if I am okay. But you are the one that is not okay because your normal is abnormal.

Talking about these ‘follow ups’, they are usually in layers.

Layer one – mobilize bailiff to serve originating processes (that means pay money).

Layer two – call the mobilized bailiff every day until he serves the originating processes.

Layer 3- where he is unable to serve at first attempt, follow up for him to visit again, (here, you probably need to add to the mobilization fee). It all depends on his/her mood.

Layer 4 – follow up for the bailiff to prepare the proof of service or non-service.

Layer 5 – follow up to ensure he puts the proof of service in court’s file or just collect the thing and put by yourself.

And if you think that these layers are done with just one attempt, then, welcome to frustration! And oh, I forgot, if you did not succeed on any of these layers, Mi lord may still scold you for not being serious with your matter.

At this point if you are thinking that I am talking nonsense, I agree with you.

    • What if CTCs are issued without the Registrars getting in the way?

By the way, if you ‘practice’ in Nigeria, you do not have to register for any course in negotiation. The court’s support staff will help horn your skill. The number of times you have to negotiate how much you need to pay to get some of these court issued papers will make you a good negotiator. Sometimes, you discuss the prices according to the number of pages of the enrolled order or whatever document you are seeking to obtain.

Don’t mind, both the typing and printing would be done with court devices, so, it is not like they are deploying their own computers and printers for the work. Even the printing papers are provided for by the judiciary. The effort deployed in typing are paid for as salaries, but you get to pay to motivate the typist to type because in Nigeria, you cannot just come and collect CTC just like that. And don’t forget that these documents won’t walk on their legs into the judge’s chambers to get signed. It is somebody that has to take the risk of moving from his seat to the judges’ chambers, greet Mi lord, stand and present the document and request for him to sign it. And if he says go and come back, he still has to take that stress to go back inside to check if Mi lord has signed. What if he does those three or four times? It is a lot of work that you have to pay for abeg.

But, have you imagined what it would be like to just walk into the court and approach the Registrars and CTC of your judgments, rulings, records of proceedings etc are handed over to you without stress? Or even, going on the court’s website to print your CTC already processes? I bet you never imagined. Alright, I charge you to always imagine these things, they may well form part of your prayer points because it is what is normal.

    • What if Hearing Notices are Issued without Me

I ordinarily would have joined hearing notices and obtaining CTC of judgments, rulings and records of proceedings and serving them, but for one very significant issue that bugs my mind. Have you ever imagined what happens when all the parties and their counsel are absent in court and the court orders hearing notices to be issued and served on them? Sure, you haven’t. I will tell you. The Registrars issue those hearing notices and the bailiffs serve them. These are done without anyone mobilizing anyone. Abi, na Mi lord go mobilize registrar and bailiff?

    • What if Courts sit at 9am and not so soon thereafter…?

Some of you will now start asking me if I don’t know that criminal courts have to wait for the prison to bring inmates. Don’t anger me please. I know one judge like that in Lagos State, boya he has retired? By himself, he scheduled his sitting time for 10am. Mi lord sits at 10am; his own rules of engagement. I also know that not all courts are criminal courts. This is not my point. I just want you to imagine entering the court room at 9 and Mi lord coming out at 9am or at any time that the court fixes. I guess we get to start with removing that part of prayer on the motion paper that reads “…or so soon thereafter”. Let’s just say 9am or 10am.

Mi lord I get to court before 9am, you too can. Okay, I take that back. But, 9am for 9am would be a great idea.

    • What if we don’t have to wait for them to “on Gen”

Just few days ago, I was in court. Mi lord was also around at exactly 10am. (criminal court). The court room was filled with lawyers and litigants, including inmates from both maximum and medium prisons. At a point, Mi lord’s police orderly stepped into the courtroom and whispered to the Registrar who joined him into the judge’s chambers. Shortly after, she came out to announce to us Mi lord’s apologies for the late sitting. She says we should all wait for them to “on the gen” since she may not be able to see well without light. We all waited until around 11:30 when Mi lord stepped out to use her phone torchlight to hear some matters, just so everyone’s time was not wasted. Mi lord did not hear any motion nor did she take trials. She simply adjourned most of the matters and rose. The point is “gen don spoil” and business of the day for an entire judicial division was frustrated. Well, this happened in Lagos but it can happen anywhere in Nigeria since there is no state that has steady power supply. The point is, can we have a judiciary that makes provision for generators and alternative generators in addition to the epileptic power supply of power holders of Nigeria? The answer is no, because the judiciary budget is not enough. Even the justices of the supreme court that were appointed since have to wait to be mobilized to start sitting. No money! And that is why it is imagination that we should all console ourselves with. Just keep imagining being in court and not having to sweat like Christmas goat.

    • What if Female Judges in Lagos are Nice

This is personal to me and you don’t have to agree with me. If not because they will beat me, I for don mention names. Dear majority female judges of Lagos, please be a little kinder. Help those who were not created with follow come boldness. It won’t harm to be a bit patient like the few of others who are kind and like majority of your lordships’ male counterparts. Like I said, this is personal to me. You can argue with your wig and gown.

Finally, if you are asking why I am saying things that are impossible, you are right. If you are angry with this, write up, you are right. If you are thinking I am wasting my time thinking this way, you are right. If you are asking why I am playing the ostrich, you are damn too right. And if you think I am being malicious against Registrars and Bailiff and saying things like; “do I blame you, do you know the paltry sum they collect as salaries, you are also right.

While you stay right, let me go and continue with my imagination.

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