In French, “Assizes” means lawyers having sittings to decide cases. When cases are decided on material benefits to members of the assizes as against duty to a nation then Nigeria is about to be conquered by materialism and in turn headed to breakdown of the system of trust.

Ojo experience as it affected me really proved that even if the magistrate remained the presiding officer, the feeling of some lawyers who constitute his “gang” matter. And when you hear the lawyers chorus “as the court pleases”, it is either in majority—watching their lips—or in minority.

This might be for another day, as I observed the weak chorus when no fewer than 50 women were made to appear for contravening environmental edict. The lawyers chorusing “as it pleases the court” seem permanent feature for that particular magistrate and you wonder whether they have no cases elsewhere than that place. I appeared there 20 times and the assizes never held for seven times, à la adjournment syndrome.

I was taken there by a landlord who vowed that he would never appear there and that as a Customs man he would show me how Nigeria works. He gave a man who, seemingly, was operating with his father’s license a power of attorney. A power of attorney for a property in Festac which is a national heritage bequeathed to him on N5 lottery ticket. As a Customs man, he felt he had no obligation to any civic duty.

He does not pay electric bill, he does not pay security levy, he does not pay LAWMA bills and that I should be paying him those bills to add to his retirement benefit and as part of slighting the government; and he, in turn, knowing how Nigeria works, will make sure he covers me. Observing him for the first year I shared the T.8 house with him and as he claimed ownership and reminded me that I must always obey the order of the landlord, receipts were never issued from either NEPA/PHCN, LAWMA or the Close Security Management.

Avoiding to be accessory to “crime”, I decided to make arrangements on my own to pay those bills. I also informed him that without disobeying him, I will cover the expenses of both of us, till he repented and became a good citizen.

From 2002 to 2012 he increased his rent four times. On the last increase, he was advised by the man who claimed to be a lawyer that it was low and that he was going to get someone to occupy the place at a higher price, hence the need for him to get a power of attorney and eject me from the house. Power of attorney, he got and started the process of ejecting me.

What the Assizes in Ojo did not care to know is that the real person under the veil of the power of attorney is “dead” to Nigeria—no responsibility and remains perpetual snub of the Nigerian state and had to be forcefully retired by the customs.

 

It was my first time to be a respondent in Assizes. As I appeared and had no lawyer, the magistrate rebuked me of being a drunkard, spending my money only in drinking and could not afford a lawyer. Murmurs from the lawyers in the assizes proved that their services were available, hence I quickly asked to be given time to get a lawyer among them.

I approached one of them and she told me it was N2,000 for merely appearing for me and requesting for adjournment. I paid. She consulted with the man standing for the plaintiff. They prepared a document and asked me to pay N5,000 to be presented in the next assize as “out of court settlement”.

Reading the document, I told the two lawyers that I was not a drunkard as adduced by the magistrate, that I am indeed a teetotaler and a professor for that matter. The document was not acceptable by me. They told me that in the Ojo Assizes, the man in charge does not condone “grammar” or “trials”; it is either you pay his charges ranging from N5,000 for bail cases to N30,000 for curtailing trials and getting judgement. I tried four lawyers there and they all avoided me, hence the need to look outside the members of that assizes.

The case ran through, about ten assizes (sittings), before judgement was pronounced; and, indeed, a man “dead” to Nigeria won the case.

He came to me one morning after seeing me announce my result as the returning officer in one of the Lagos constituencies, and handed a note well signed by him that he had increased my rent; and that evidence was discounted by the magistrate as untenable. My subsisting rent had not yet expired and a new rate was given to me, for merely seeing me conduct an election. The same magistrate asked me to vacate the premises, by November 30, 2013.

I think Governor Babatunde Fashola and Chief Judge Philips should visit this place called Ojo Assizes opposite a police station. Its outlook, alone, gives an impression of abattoir for slaughtering poor people.

 

*Dr Ariole is a lecturer at the University of Lagos

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