August 4th, 2012 - Bolaji S. Ramos
2000 - 2011
My entire life was Mount Everest, hovering over my head, but already sliced into halves by the hanging and dangling Sword of Damocles. The first half was my ‘poetic calling’, a solitary journey that began unplanned in the year 2000 as mere written thoughts about love, longing and loss. The other half, a ‘legal calling’— a conscious decision I made sometime in 2003 that only materialized in 2005/2006 when I eventually enrolled for a law degree in the University of Lagos.
By the first quarter of 2006, my life had already become an obvious manifestation of two interests (poetic calling v. legal calling), respectively seeking a bigger space in my life. I, too, like Robert Frost, had two roads diverged in the (green, not yellow) wood, but, unlike Frost, I continued to travel both at once like a bigamist. Yes. I travelled the rocky and romantic road of poetry and the luring and lonesome road of law till I graduated in 2010, called to the bar in 2011 after rounding off in the Law School and started active legal practice in 2012.
My own Season of Migration to the North was fully manifested in 2012. Though, I did not play Tayeb Salih’s Mustafa Sa’eed in the North as I was not on a vengeance mission of hymen-rupturing, Sa’eed and I have more than a thing in common— we are both poets and we both journeyed to the North. The North of Nigeria was a completely different terrain for me. Having spent all my life in Lagos, I had to adjust to the geography, the sociology and the psychology of the peoples in the North between October 2010 and October 2012, with a few visits to Lagos in between.
My longest stay in the North was from January to October 2012 as a youth corps member of the National Youth Service Corps doing three major things— undergoing mandatory national service; appearing in different courts as a new wig to defend or prosecute my clients’ cases; and going to secondary schools, religious and vocational centres as a peer educator to educate students, widows and religious gatherings on human rights, gender mainstreaming and HIV/AIDS prevention. It was in-between these engagements and in one of my court appearances before a Chief Magistrate that August 2012 happened.
Act 1, Scene 2 (courtroom)
A Chief Magistrate. Two experienced senior lawyers. A new wig. Four witnesses. And the litigants in the courtroom. These were the characters. I was the new wig, standing in defence of the Defendant, and up against two experienced senior lawyers representing the Plaintiffs. They had brought the four witnesses in support of their case. I was alone like Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper, waiting to be devoured by the Plaintiff’s legal team. I too, like the solitary Highland Lass, was harvesting grains to be planted in the mind of the Chief Magistrate, so that the proceedings of the day could be adjourned on grounds that I was not ready and my Principal who was conducting the case would come on the next adjourned date to deal with it.
‘Your Worship, the business of the court today is commencement of trial. We have our witnesses in court, and we are ready to proceed,’ the lead counsel to the Plaintiff said.
‘Very well. Counsel to the Defendant?’ The inquired about my response to what the lead counsel to the Plaintiff said.
‘Your Worship, I am not ready for the case. I do not have the case file with me. In fact, I do not know anything about the case. The substantive counsel, my Principal, who is supposed to appear has travelled. I just had to come to inform the court of my Principal’s unavailability for today,’ I explained my scandalous situation to the court, as a new wig pushed to the war front without a gun and in a war he knew nothing about.
Act 1 Scene 1(office)
The Defendant. Chidinma. Gloria. Me. These were the characters. The distressed and confused Defendant had stormed into our office that morning, requesting to see our Principal, who did not tell us his whereabouts. The Defendant had rushed down to our office from the nearby court to inform our Principal that his case, which our Principal had agreed to conduct for him, was about to be called. All attempts by the Defendant to reach our Principal proved abortive. In that state of confusion for everybody, Chidinma and Gloria (my colleagues and fellow new wigs) started convincing me (supposedly as the best on ground) to go and fill in for our Principal who had told me a day earlier that he was travelling. I agreed. The plan was to tell court the truth— our Principal travelling and I knew nothing about the case.
Act 2, Scene 2 (courtroom)
A Chief Magistrate. Two experienced senior lawyers. A new wig. Four witnesses. And the litigants in the courtroom. I told the court the truth and sought adjournment as planned, but that was when the Chief Magistrate let hell lose. He knew my predicament and he could attest to the sincerity of purpose, but because of the lingering and somewhat personal issues he had with my Principal’s poor handling of cases before him, he transferred all the aggressions to me— abusing our firm, tainting my integrity and expressing contempt for me as a person.
At that hour of disdain and murder of my moribund integrity, I rose from the ashes of disgrace and defended myself in strong terms, reminding the Chief Magistrate that blames should at all times be properly situated in the interest of justice. In anger, the Chief Magistrate ordered that trial should commence and all the four witnesses be called one after the other. They were called. Trial happened. One by one, I crossed examined all the witnesses (relying on evidence adduced in their examination-in chief) effectively, as though my whole story of ignorance of the case was a sham.
It’s been 10 years since I rose like the phoenix from what seems to be disgrace aimed at me. In my solitary moments, I have continued (till date) to appreciate and feel much better about that day that I fought oppression and stood strong for myself.
Bolaji S. Ramos is lawyer, poet, creative writer and facilitator. He is the author of The Battlefield Poet: Elegy for Christopher Okigbo. His poems have featured in anthologies and online in the UK, the US, South Africa and in Nigeria. He's a PhD candidate, and his scholarly articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals in the UK and in Nigeria.
He's a peer educator trainer and advocate of human rights, child's rights rule of law, gender mainstreaming and environmental sustainability. He consults for and cares about charities such as Hope Space Initiative (HSI) and Environmental Law Research Institute.
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