Fireworks reigned Wednesday in a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Benbella Anachebe, and Regina Okotie-Eboh, a junior lawyer from the chambers of Ricky Tarfa (who is also a SAN), engaged each other in an open court exchange of verbal insults.
During the heated exchange, the legal combatants flung epithets such as “useless woman,” “idiot,” “worthless SAN” and other unsavory words at each other to the consternation of the presiding judge, Justice Abdul Kafarati.
One of our two primary sources, a lawyer who was present in court, said trouble started as Ms. Okotie-Eboh attempted to guide her senior colleague, Mr. Segun Jolawo, in the course of a breach of contract suit instituted by Intermarkets Nigeria Ltd. against Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
Mr. Anachebe, who is UBEC’s counsel, turned to her and shouted, “Will you shut up! A senior silk is talking and you are talking! Who do you think you are? You are not as educated as my wife and I kept her at home, so shut up!”
“Mr. Anachebe’s sexist comments greatly unsettled the court, particularly the women therein,” said our source, adding, “Ms. Okotie-Eboh kept her cool.”
However, once the court session was over, Mr. Anachebe, who walked past Ms. Okotie-Eboh, drew the attention of the judge (who was retiring to his chambers) to some critical comment the female lawyer reportedly made about him.
Another source told SaharaReporters that no sooner had the judge retired than Ms. Okotie-Eboh, a few female lawyers present and other women, descended on Mr. Anachebe, excoriating him for his outburst against Ms. Okotie-Eboh.
“They called him ‘useless SAN’. They asked, ‘Who gave this useless man such an award?’ ‘How much did you pay for it because you know you don't deserve such a prestigious award?’ ‘Your wife must be very useless to marry such a useless man like you.’ ‘Idiot!’” The irate women reportedly pelted him with other such reprimands.
Saharareporters gathered that a humiliated Mr. Anachebe sent a complaint of misconduct against Ms. Okotie-Eboh with her boss, Mr. Tarfa. However, another source said Mr. Tarfa blamed his SAN colleague for instigating the rain of insults on him.
Mr. Tarfa was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2000; Mr. Anachebe received his SAN elevation seven years later. Our source disclosed that Mr. Anachebe was upset that Mr. Tarfa “is not taking action" against Ms. Okotie-Eboh. “The matter has put a lot of strain on their relationship,” said a source.
Mr. Anachebe's open-court scolding of Ms. Okotie-Eboh has also drawn criticism from even his male colleagues. A lawyer who witnessed the drama told Saharareporters that he was “thoroughly scandalized” by Mr. Anachebe's conduct.
“The silk (Anachebe) may or may not get away with it, but I do know that in the United Kingdom and some parts of the European Union, salacious putdowns and sexist comments have become criminal offences. So I wonder why he resorted to that behavior in open court,” said the lawyer.