By Prof. Pius Adesanmi
I have very long legs in the Nigerian judiciary. If you are a Judge of any consequence, including at least one current Judge on the Supreme Court, there is a good chance that I know you and we have had nkwobi together. That I know you is not the issue. The issue is how we met. Some of my friends who are aware that I am friends with many Ogas at the top in the judiciary often wonder: Payo, na wa o, how you take sabi all these people?
Well, don’t blame me. Blame my great friend, Obijiofor Aginam!
Obi and I were inseparable as PhD students at the University of British Columbia. We were admitted the same year. As a lawyer, he came for his PhD in Law. I came for my PhD in French. After graduation, Obi did not want to be a poor teacher like me. He joined the UN and is now a big UN Oga at the top. A few years ago, I was sitting down jejely in Ottawa when Obi phoned from the UN University in Tokyo. A friend of his, who was then Chief Judge of Kwara State, was visiting Ottawa. Obi wanted me to pick him up at the airport and give him the red carpet treatment.
I agreed. Obi linked us up. The Chief Judge and I exchanged a few phone calls and emails. I told him he didn’t need a hotel in Ottawa – Obi’s person was my person.
Role tape. Ottawa Airport a few days later.
The flight from London had arrived. I was waiting for the Chief Judge of Kwara state. An elderly man wheezed past me imperiously like he owned Ottawa Airport. Like he personally appointed the Mayor of Ottawa. The unmistakable trade mark of the Nigerian. I was going to hail him and ask if he was my guest. Needless effort. He had already turned back and was approaching me, his every step smelling Nigerian. We greeted, me bowing slightly and instinctively as we shook hands. God will save the Nigerian from culture. My unselfconscious bowing in public was occasioned by my assessment that he must be in his late 60s.
I asked if he was the Chief Judge of Kwara State.
No, I am the Chief Judge of Cross River but my brother the Chief Judge of Kwara state is also on this flight.
Ok sir. Is anybody here to pick you?
No. That is why I came back to you. How do I get a taxi to a hotel?
Don’t worry sir. Once my own guest comes out, we will go to my place first. I was expecting only the Chief Judge of Kwara state but you know that Madam would have cooked enough for at least two extra guests.
Ah! This is what I like about our culture, Prof! (by now, we were sufficiently acquainted.)
Two other imperious Nigerians emerged and my new guest from Cross River hailed them. There was the usual screaming and hugging and back-patting. They were all expressing surprise that they were on the same flight.
I was introduced to the Chief Judge of FCT Abuja and the Chief Judge of Benue State.
It was getting weird. It was starting to rain state Chief Judges from Nigeria. And my own guest, the Chief Judge of Kwara state, wasn’t even out yet o.
We are going to Prof’s house to eat first before he takes us to the hotel, my new friend from Calabar announced to the party. I approved his Nigerian announcement and stepped aside to rush a phone call to madam at home. A situation was emerging and rapidly evolving. She was expecting me to come home with one Chief Judge. It was looking like I would go home with a truckload of Chief Judges. Her food preparation had to enter emergency mode. Finally, my guest from Kwara emerged from immigration in the company of yet another state Chief Judge! More riotous Nigerian salutation and back patting. It was he who finally explained to me that His Lordships were in Ottawa for a conference.
We now needed an extra car, a taxi. We drove to my place, the taxi behind my own car. Somehow, Madam had worked magic and there was more than enough food and drinks for the party of eight by the time we arrived. It was a grand occasion. The Judges were very pleased by this unexpected Nigerian reception and they kept thanking their brother, the Chief Judge of Kwara state for their good fortune. I was pleased to host them but I was also mentally processing certain things.
I was processing certain Nigerian ways of doing things. All these Chief Judges had descended on Ottawa to attend the same conference. Yet they didn’t even know that they were on the same flight. No airport pick up arrangements. Nothing. Strange, really strange.
After poundo, egusi, plenty of socializing and gisting, I drove the Judges to the hotel. Madam had to come as we needed two cars. I will never forget the scene that greeted us at the Lord Elgin Hotel! It was raining Nigerian Judges! It was chaotic. It was only then that my own party of eight revealed to me that all Chief Judges from the 36 states were in fact in Ottawa for the conference!
I swung into crisis mode. My own party of eight introduced me to the whole group. I frantically phoned my very good friend, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, who was then Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada. The High Commissioner received my call and said he was in Atlanta! Atlanta ke! Prof, hurry back to Ottawa o. I’m at the Lord Elgin Hotel. The entire Nigerian judiciary is here! I went to the airport to receive only one of them and now I am playing host to all Chief Judges. That is your responsibility.
Professor Hagher was livid after I summarized the situation for him. How on earth could such a high-level delegation be coming to Canada and nobody contacted the Nigerian High Commission? Pius, are we ever going to make progress as a country? What sort of thing is this? Well, you are the High Commissioner now. You tell me if we are ever going to make progress.
Pius, I am telling you, nobody in the Federal Ministry of Justice communicated with us. How can I, the High Commissioner, be hearing from you that such a large delegation of senior Nigerian officials has arrived in Ottawa? What if we weren’t friends? What if you hadn’t called me? Anyway, please do whatever you can do. I will catch the next flight back to Ottawa today. I will phone and mobilize some staff of the High Commission to come over to the hotel right away and help you with logistics.
Professor Hagher arrived from Atlanta that evening and organized an emergency reception at the Nigerian residence for the delegation from Nigeria. The High Commission rented a bus to ferry them but I still went to the Hotel to pick my own guest, the Kwara Chief Judge, who had finally decided to stay in the hotel with his brothers. Because it was a Friday evening and the High Commissioner’s domestic staff had already left, Mrs Hagher and Mrs Adesanmi had to take on the task of serving all the Ogas from Nigeria. Some of them naturally assumed that Mrs Adesanmi was an aide to the wife of the High Commissioner and were hailing her loudly the way big men hail their domestic staff and waitresses in Nigeria.
Hey, ksi ksi, come here, bring more beer!
The High Commissioner’s embarrassment was palpable. Your Lordship, this is Professor Adesanmi’s wife o!! She is my wife’s friend, not a domestic staff here. The team we had hosted at home was also embarrassed and whispered to their brothers…
In the next two days, more revelations would unfold.
There was some form of international conference of Judges from the Commonwealth countries that Canada was hosting. Each Commonwealth country was allotted a delegation of three judges if I remember correctly. Nigeria sent the Chief Judges of all states and the FCT. Nigeria sent the Grand Khadis of all state shariah courts. Never mind that the Canadians made no provision for shariah law in the conference. Nigeria sent the leadership of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Nigeria sent representatives from the Federal Ministry of Justice.
For three days, the High Commissioner and I were driving people, bussing people, hosting people. It was tough but I frequently had to single out Obi’s friend and the original 7 and bring them back to the house for the personal treatment I had promised Obi. The man Obi insisted I give personal hospitality now sits at the Supreme Court as one of the Judges. To my friends who have been curious about the source of my powerful connections in the Judiciary, now you know.
It is because I was a driver, aide, cook, and tour guide, in tragic Nigerian circumstances.
…Prof. Adesanmi was one of the Nigerians that died at the recent Ethiopian plan crash