Not As It Is

By Iloh Friday Okechukwu July 11, 2020

Not As It Is

One of our frailties as humans, is reaching judgment or conclusion upon external manifestations, by appearance. I have always known this is unprofitable. However, l saw the profoundest effect of this not too long after I was called to the bar.

We were at the bar, in one of the high courts, somewhere in Southern Nigeria. My principal, of blessed memory, had a matter in court. It was a civil matter, we represented the claimant, then known as plaintiff. The attorney general, representing the state, was on the other side. The matter was ripe for trial, and we were ready to cross sword with the state.

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In the morning of the day in question, I could not but noticed the scorn with which the counsel, a lady, from the learned attorney general’s office, greeted my principal’s innocuous banter. Instantly I knew the reason for this unprovoked and needless “l’m-not-your-level” attitude. I have seen it played out on a number of occasions. Most lawyers, men and women, who met my principal for the first time in legal combat behaved that way.

He, my principal, an old man of over thirty years at the bar, was not a tall man at all; he was not given to exquisite appearance, a bit of archaic dressing; let’s just say that he was just clean and nothing more. That was his exterior; his inside was the extreme contrariness. In my entire life so far, I’m yet to meet a lawyer who combines deft legal knowledge, clarity of mind, of expression, and humility, in the proportion in which my principal had. He knew the law like the Devil!

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Back to the court room. Both sides were arrayed for battle, as the court registrar called out our case. Appearances announced. Shortly after this, my principal took on the processes filled by the state, punching holes here and there. The female state counsel, pretty, dressed primly, below middle age, stared at him, as a rat would a cat, as he made his submission. “Can this seeming hag of a man, eloquently, in spotless queen’s English, produce this fantastic legal erudition”, was what seemed to be going through her pride-ridden mind. She now saw the man in a different light, the type of perception that effortlessly compels aura, fear, respect and regard. Nobody saw it coming, but she did say it, “my Lord, I’m sorry, to say this, I “ll be asking for an adjournment”! What! Just like that. She was sweating.

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The judge, contrary to my expectations, giggled subtly, but didn’t look like he would grant it. He turned to us, asked my principal his take on the adjournment sought. Guess what, he didn’t object to it. As the judge reluctantly granted the adjournment, he added, off record, at the learned counsel for the state, “…it appears you underrated the counsel on the other side, he can repair a bad case.” She felt small.

On the next adjourned date, she didn’t show up, in her stead was the learned attorney general, commissioner and minister for justice. The learned AG, who, of course, knew my principal, teased him, “ha! Oga, you intimidated my counsel….” In his characteristic humble manner, he retorted, “no o, learned AG, I’m just a learner o.”

Appearance is the witchcraft of deception; often, things aren’t what they seem.