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‘When Arrogance Interfaces With Ignorance the Result can be Humbling…’, Major (Barr) Aburime Ben Takes a Swipe at a Lagos Magistrate

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In this write up, a Lagos lawyer and retired Army Major, Major (Barr) Aburime Ben recounts the experience he had while appearing before a Lagos Magistrate sitting at Ikeja Magisterial District. Aburime had also written a letter to the said magistrate expressing his grievance over the attitude of the magistrate towards his person.

Read below:

WHEN ARROGANCE INTERFACES WITH IGNORANCE THE RESULT CAN BE HUMBLING: THE COURT SYSTEM IN NIGERIA TODAY.

For a very long time now, some learned colleagues who have read some experiences I shared on some common platforms have graciously request I write a book essentially sharing my experiences. Needless to say, I have been reluctant to do so before now. My experience before two separate magistrates today has set me thinking if I really shouldn’t author such a book. I was before two separate magistrates today. One of my two cases was a pro bono case premised on small claims and the presiding magistrate was not only beautiful as a person, but very dutiful, humble and educative. Not only did she, yes she is a lady, and sits in court 6, sit at 9 am prompt, she also dealt with all persons and matters before her with noticeable respect. There was no case that she handled today that she didn’t guide and assist both parties and the competing counsel to conduct their cases properly. Fairness and empathy was in open play, and there was no room for parties or their counsel to go for each other’s jogular. She was on top of her game.

I was sitting at the court in the floor before waiting for my case to be called when my client rushed down to inform me the case before this civilised and decent judex had been called, and I rushed upstairs, which occasion my panting for breath, and I struggled to announce my appearance. The trial magistrate stood down the case and she insisted on my first sitting down to regain my breath. She didn’t even bother allowing me apologise for not being before her at the time the case was called. Thereafter, we concluded the proceeding before that court. The court and its proceedings reminded me of the days of very respectable Judges like the soft-spoken E F Longe, J, the workaholics like Kekere-Eku, J, and Dotun Adefope-Okojie, J, (as they both were), Oloronimbe, J, the one we elected to call the old school headmaster, because of his penchant for teaching. I shouldn’t forget the likes of H. Oshodi, J, and MA Lawal, J, who by their conduct and expertise, immediately let you know they had a good practise at the bar before their elevation to the bench.

One point I need to make here is that several anti-hypertensive and/or cardio-vascular drugs are targeted at not allowing excess fluid build up in one’s body, hence they induce frequent urination. To combat that issue most days, today inclusive, I needed not eat or take the medication, and the result is the strain on the heart, and that effect was visible today, and it is the uncharitable comment at the other court that has largely informed this writeup.

In contradistinction to the other court and claim, the business before court 2 (Ikeja) was a tenancy matter and though we had today for trial, as the defence counsel asked for a possible amicable resolution, the matter was adjourned to today for report of settlement or trial. That no trial commenced today isn’t the reason for this writeup either. Rather, as soon as I announced my appearance as Major O B Aburime, the trial magistrate went on spree of what she considered to be impersonation. To her understanding, I can be picked up for that. She even suggested that if a camera was functional in that court, I would be in a lot of trouble, and after my failed attempts at explaining anything to her understanding, I finally informed her that I’ve always announced my appearance at every level of court from the customary court to the Supreme Court, and except for magistrate Olanrewaju and herself of the same Ikeja district, no one has ever challenged the competence of my appearance as announced. Then, there was the fallacy that I was appearing from outside jurisdiction, because her very next statement betrayed her further ignorance when she impliedly said that Lagos State is different. Finally, I was able to suggest she took a look at my stamp and seal, and the signature block on my process. Much as I tried to cover the court’s ignorance of certain facts, the tirade did not abate. Finally, she asked whether I was once in the military and when I retired, I reciprocated her arrogance at that stage and told her I was a regular combatant commissioned officer and that I have been in retirement since 1979. The way I said it was probably not different from saying I’ve been in retirement long before certain persons reached the age of puberty, but that will be returning insult for insult, which is uncalled for.

Aside the harsh word for everyone from sheriffs of court to litigants and counsel alike, I’m unable to pickout any case that went on today, of the 24 or so cases listed for the day. Even trying to inform that her learned sister or sister-magistrate slated the case for trial was another ground for agitation, as I learned in that court today that there are no learned brothers or sisters at the bench, but the other magistrate or judge ….

Just like the sister case that I have been able to list the like qualities, I shall also be quick to remember the likes of Akin-Fernandez, J, who granted possession to the landlord and signed the warrant of execution on an exparte application in a matter in which we were plaintiffs then. I also recall Kayode-Ogunmekan, J, who insisted I should go put the other party on notice in my exparte application for substituted service. Of course, I refused to appear before that court until she retired from the bench.

It is not as if my cases and experiences are unique. Unlike in the golden eras of the Supreme Court Justices like Karibi Whyte, Chukwudifu Oputa, Obaseki, Irikefe, Kayode Eso, Niki Tobi, etc, JJSC, we were not only sure of what principles were established by cases, but also how the law of precedents operates. Today, sadly, we have seen a CJN struggling to explain what technicality means. In an attempt to explain the distinction between judgment on the merit and judgment obtained on technical grounds, we heard the said esteemed CJN telling a bewildered nation about pilots driving aeroplanes and maybe Napep drivers sailing or flying their tricycles. We also see a Supreme Court that could suo moto make a Hope Uzodinma a Governor in Imo State against the natural order of events and things. The same Supreme Court that will sadly tongue-lash the Court of Appeal on decisions where the Court of Appeal is the final court in those certain matters, and the matters were not even before the Supreme Court. Isn’t that what the Bible tagged the speck and log story?

Finally, for a magistrate to tell a senior counsel that if he isn’t healthy enough, he should quit practice speaks volumes of her nature. For one, I will remember today when certain persons apply for upliftment. I hinted at that when I made allusion to Barr Bayo Akinlade and his platform for the Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary, and the supporting role we played.

Two, notwithstanding running between two courtroom and pausing to catch my breath, I may be much more physically fit than those who think they’re healthier on account of their youth.

Three, I respect people, but can never be intimidated by anyone, no matter their status. I’m also ready and willing to expand my scope of persons I can say go and verify from.

Four, I will announce my appearance as I have always. Anyone who elects to be misguided into believing that I may still be in [military] service is solely responsible for their level of appreciation. In a similar vein, anyone is entitled to take up the perceived case of impersonation or even insult and I’m ready to meet them at any level.

Five, the likes the current Chief Judge of Lagos State and others before him, addressed me simply as Major. So does Justice Hakeem Oshodi and others, and that title neither diminished from their person and/or office nor did it mean they were ignorant and uninformed. Rather, it shows their superior level of intellect and understanding.

Finally, being a lawyer or being trained in law doesn’t make anyone a grandmaster, whether you operate from the bar or the bench. So, people should learn to function within the scope of their learning. For, you can’t use your limited knowledge to ground or establish universal principles. If not for arrogance or the unwarranted attempt at throwing weight around or flexing muscle, by what stretch of imagination will anyone think of impersonation or whether I implied I was still in service, when my process was before her. Also, I do not recall adding or stating I was of the 2nd British Regiment or 14 West African Frontier Force or Infantry or Queen’s Regiment. It is intellectual laziness that will not let someone open a process before her, just so she can justify what she has purposed to do. Similarly, another problem I see is in some persons reading things not otherwise contained in a statement into those statements. It is called padding and distorts gravely. To conclude this passage, I’m a very sound and successful person by every reasonable standard and will have no cause for impersonation, and I shall proceed to state how and why briefly:

  1. I had a flambouyant military career whereby in my 20’s I was already a Major and being a military police officer, I had direct contact with not less than three Heads of State. Two are still alive today. Still on military cum security affairs, the United Nation through its ICAO organ trained me in both Kenya (1980) and then West Germany (1982) as Aviation Security Officer, an anti-terrorism program aimed at preventing hijacking and other unlawful acts. This was my post-military calling.
  1. I took interest in Theology and obtained my PGD under the RCCG after which I was zonal principal of the Bible College.
  1. I have a successful law practice, practising to retard the aging process, not for the money.
  1. I’m today a student of the School of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Ikeja, where my foundation course is in Web and Software Designing. Soon, I’ll proceed to learning to build robots and drones. When I’m not idle or indolent, who is there to envy or impersonate?
  1. There’s a healthy spirit of competition between father (me) and his seven blessed children, whereby our emphasis is on achievements and not on money or wealth. That’s why every one of them has a minimum of a masters degree, in addition to some other professional courses, including aircraft pilot and engineering.
  1. There are privileges that retired service officers are entitled to such as medicals or requesting assistance of a driver or an escort, and that has nothing to do with impersonation. The status of such a driver or escort is very much verifiable. If my learned magistrate Layinka (court 2, Ikeja) wants to engage me openly on this, then it’s game on. I shall be open for the engagement, not forgetting to add the fact that my next door neighbours are a serving High Court Judge, a sitting Chief Magistrate, and a senior counsel with the Lagos State Ministry of justice.

Sometimes, I wonder how we’re able to sleep at night when, as one kain people, we always act one kain, indiscreetly denying other people justice (apologies to Honourable Attorney General Emeritus, Boms Worgu). If some judges and magistrates spend half the time and energy in tongue-lashing everyone who appears before them, into conducting the cases before them, court and case congestion will be a thing of the past.

Concluding, not forgeting too that I’m also a member of Amnesty International, I’ll henceforth shine my eyes wider.

I remain Major (Barr) Aburime Ben.

Ps: If a Professor who retired as Dean of Law appears before you, dear respected magistrate, is he required to announce his appearance as Professor (rtd)? Need to know.

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