Two weeks after I was done with the National Youth Service, I was back at the city of my birth. I joined a law firm that would be considered amongst the first-tier law firms in the city. Located in one of the choicest areas in the city, the law firm is housed by a duplex solely erected for that purpose. The office environment is not only aesthetic, it is tasteful. From the reception, the conference room- fitted with video conferencing gadgets, the lawyers' offices, to the kitchenette- all are fully air-conditioned. The firm's library is sui generis. It is the most sophisticated law library that I have seen in that city. The law firm embodies what a 21st century law office should look like. And I fell in love. Especially with the well-equipped library. You see, a lawyer's library is his workshop and the books therein contained are his tools. Nothing gave me more joy than finding the materials with which to do whatever I had to do.
Not long after I started, the principal seemed to like me. Truly, I admired him for his knowledge of the law and rich experience. After about three weeks or so of being there, he invited me to the Sports Club where he is a member for an evening of entertainment. I was so happy. I felt we had hit it off; that sooner than later, we would be well-bonded. He complimented my effort. He said I was smart. That what he liked most about me was that I had an idea of anything I was asked to do. In his words, that was "splendid". I felt happy. I worked harder- to impress him and above all, to further equip myself. He called me one day and said, "in this profession, two things will stand you out. They are- Knowledge and Courage." He emphasized these two attributes with a bulge of his often roving eyes. He said I had exhibited those attributes.
It then astounded me when months later everything became the opposite of what they were. I became to him- as he often called me- every noun and was qualified by him, with every adjective unfit for a human being. From idiot, to stupid, beast, bastard, fucking monster, nincompoop…. He would always 'accuse' me of trying to be too smart or 'doing big boy'. There was nothing that I did that found favour in his eyes. If I was fast he would complain, same thing took place if I try to be a bit slow. He would nag and call me unsavory names.
He never encouraged me for once. I have no memory of that, no matter how I try to remember. He once said to me, "You will never do well. So, stop telling people you are a lawyer." Insulting me in front of clients was his forte and seemed to give him joy. Surprisingly, he never queried me for once nor suspended me. Maybe I was not that bad after all.
To make matters worse, I was practically the only lawyer in the office with him. The other lawyer was not always around because she lectures. Therefore, I was stuck with him from morning till night; Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturday. I was always in the office (latest) from 8am till 9 or sometimes 10pm. All for a paltry stipend of #15,000.00. He usually told me that he was not supposed to give me any money. Rather that I should be the one paying him for teaching me. To make matters worse, private practice (ie when a lawyer can do his personal legal hustles) is completely abhorred by him. That way, one only 'earns' the #15,000.00 monthly stipend. By taking all of one's time, he makes sure that one do not earn anything extra at the end of the month. He had twice threatened to make sure I have no money to change my underwear. He almost succeeded!
All these started affecting my work. I made mistakes that I would not ordinarily have made. He would shout, nag and say, "You see it now? I told you that you are not a lawyer!" As sad as it sounds, I started doubting myself. When people asked me what I do, the usual refrain was- "I am an apprentice in a law firm".
Soon, the verbal and psychological abuse turned physical. Well, that did not come as a surprise to me as I have learnt that he has a history of beating and fighting…even lawyers who work with him. He had also beat up the secretary- a married woman- in my presence. That day, the respect and admiration I had for him nosedived.
So, on the 25th day of November, 2015, he pounded me so hard in the face. It was almost 8.30pm. I was famished and exhausted from the day's work. Therefore, it was normal for me to hit the floor like I did- like a vase that fell from a height. My face instantly became swollen as I bled from the nose. The picture I later took that night with my phone showed my eyes were red.
I had made a mistake in a process we were preparing to file the next day. It was not really a mistake. I had added somethings on the part of the process that he prepared himself. He did not fancy the fact that a little brat like I, -with little or no significant knowledge of the law- edited his part of the process after his three decades of practice. "You bastard! How dare you edit my work?!", he blared. He was hardly restrained in his uncouth attitude towards me that night by the fact that he vetted the work before I printed it.
"Who asked you to do that?", he queried. I was mute; nursing my pains.
"If you do not answer my question, I will make sure you bleed to death and nothing will happen", he threatened. He then reached to the table beside him, brought out a little knife, kept it on the table and shrieked, "Answer me!".
"It was not you", I answered, after some more seconds of familiar threats.
A thousand and one bad deeds came to my head. If I had proceed to at least put any of them in motion, either or both of us would have ended up at the hospital. On a second thought, I had to tow the path of reason. We were alone; there was no third party to recount how it all started and ended. Then I prayed- "Jesu di nwayo, di obi umeani…." (Jesus meek and humble of heart….). The prayer sustained my reason and kept the fiery rage in check. He pronounced that the event of that night was going to cost me my monthly stipend of #15,000.00. Well, at this point, I left the law firm. I did not think twice about it.
What really pains my heart each time I remember all that transpired is the fact that I was not just a lawyer at that law firm. I was the gateman. I manned the generator's house. I took his shoes and wristwatches for repairs. I warmed and served his food (not all the time though. The secretary- the one he beat up- always did that. But in her absence, I did). I was the one moving flower vases in and out of the office. I was the person running around to pay utility bills. I picked up his parcels and also ran some bank transactions for him. Asides being a lawyer, I was also his 'boy', in the Nigerian context. Maybe it was my fault that I wasn’t specifically professional. Was it also my fault to seek mentorship and a father figure in an elderly person?
In all these, I now have a glimpse of what an abusive relationship looks like and how it actually feels to be in one. You wake up daily, wishing and praying that the abuser will change. Sadly, that hardly ever happens. A friend of mine once said jokingly, "May be God is preparing you for a nagging wife". Well, that woman will be gone or I will, before she knows it.
Now, I have come to the conclusion that- Hell, most times, looks like heaven…from the outside.
This is a glimpse of what a regular blog reader experienced at his workplace late last year. When we talked about it weeks ago I suggested we share it on the blog. This post is rather mild in comparison to the harsh reality. My first question was why does everyone who works with this supposed senior lawyer get violently assaulted yet remain silent? We really need to kill the culture of silence in Nigeria, but can I honestly say I blame them...