Valentine Obienyem

Permit me to start with the story of Lucius Laus Licinius Luincus, Lucullus, a heavy armament of name. His dinners were the culinary events of the Roman year. Cicero tried once to find out how Lucullus ate when alone. He asked Lucullus to invite him and some friends to dinner that evening, with the plea that he should not send warning to his servants. Lucullus agreed, merely stipulating that he be allowed to notify his staff that he would eat in the “Apollo Room” that evening. When Cicero and the rest came they found a lavish repast. Lucullus had several dinning rooms in his city palace, each selected according to the splendour of the feast. Apollo Room was reserved for meals costing over the equivalent of our three hundred thousand naria. By a strange verbal odyssey that characterize philology, to feed one “lucullarily” entered our vocabulary. It is now out of use.

But what has Lucullus to do with Law dinner? It might interest you to know that Lucullus was noted for hosting dinners. Likewise the Law School students are statutorily required to eat three dinners before they are called to bar. Dinner- taking, to put it correctly, is part of the soul of the profession, and could hardly be taken from her without violating her spirit. The talk of that dinner moves on campus as the ancient Romans talked about Lucullus dinners. Preparing for dinner, students wondered if they would be fed lucullarily. Were they fed lucullarily?

Law School dinners usually take a week, in batches. It does not disturb the usual flow of lectures which the school does not compromise. Unlike Lucullus dinners, it is not an Epicurean feast characterizes by eating, drinking, loss of self and general hilarity. It is, as a law School student, Mr. Patrick Ikedigwe, (as he them was) said, “one of the initiatory rites into the profession.”

With members of the Bench and other lawyers in attendance, the dinner one of the fora where students interact with these men, thereby learning at first hand the niceties of the profession. Thus, during dinners, a distinguished member of the Bench often gives dinner talks to students. Besides, it equally offers an opportunity for students – aspiring Barristers – to learn table etiquette, for as Barristers, they will definitely be invited to dinner, lucullous or not.

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Beyond etiquette and its likes, Law School students look forward to their dinners longingly. It is a welcome interlude to the circumscribed academic rigour of the monastic type that the Law school demands. It is one of the fora at in which Law students can momentarily show their wits and humour.

As a students of the Law school myself, I particularly wished to use the opportunity of the dinner to gauge students wits and humour. Seated at the same table with me were Eddy Omoruyi, Kelechi Nwaigwe, Okpara Chidi and Okere prosper. Before the dinner proper, we – all of us – as if thinking alike, protested the composition of our table. Why all men, when we had enough ladies in the dinner hall, was the recurring question. Some of us actually wanted to leave for other tables more evenly composed. That sense of incongruity haunted us till the dinner lasted.

Each table had a bottle of wine, 2 bottles of coke, I big bottle of eva water, what looked like an old German bread interspersed among neatly laid cutlery. The tables were neatly covered with white covers. The whole place looked like where Angles were preparing to dine. But the black suites, black stockings, black shoes and black tires on the contrary, gave it a semi – appearance of a hell. The devil they say, arguable though, is black in colour . Meanwhile, we pretended as if we did not see the German bread, the wine and the coke. In this profession, breach of decorum is regarded as felony, and the felon is treated accordingly. Who are you to touch anything until the Benchers come in and declare the dinner open?

While waiting for the Benchers, the Director of students Affairs, Mr. B M. A. Orenuga (as he then was, now retired) was at hand to direct events. He instructed us to sign attendance register under his watchful eyes. Looking at Orenuga at that period, he deserved to be pitied. Besides the dinner, his office had quite a handful. I find in him the old Roman qualities of solid judgement, required ability, and quiet courage.

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Shortly, the Benchers entered in files, following the order of seniority. After the usual punctilious protocol, prayer before meal was said; it was so short a prayer that Prosper Okere said that a zealous Pentecostal would protest to so short a prayer.

After the prayer, we entered a “demolition” session. You are expected to send whatever were set before you to their grave – stomach . By now the soup had also been served. Eddy had eaten his first dinner, I made it known to him that he has to lead the way. Not that one had not dinned a million times before, but you really cannot tell whether gentlemen dine differently.

Living up to expectations, Eddy explained the proceedings to us. “The bread, soup and Coke,” Eddy said, “are called John the Baptist. “Remember the Story of Him who was to come. John in the Desert to prepare the way for Him who was to come.” A three course meal, the Baptist are to prepare the way for the main course which Eddy told us, was the messiah. Seated at the middle of the hall, we were served last. While the servers passed us by repeatedly, we became apprehensive. Repeatedly, Eddy said “Oh, the ‘messiah’ passet!.” When we were finally served, he said, “Our flight has arrived.” The messiah was rice and Chicken, the main course.

The disadvantage of being served last was that you would not have the time to really deal satisfactorily with your food, as the dinner was meant to stop at a particular time. But since some of us deliberately skipped our lunch to leave enough room in our stomach for maximum intake, we resolved – five of us – to do maximum damage to the messiah even if we had few minutes. I cannot recall under how many minutes we did that, but it was a success story. Girls, as usual, pretended as the food did not appeal to them. We looked on in exasperation as some of them seemed not able to confront the messiah head-on. Not surprised, Kelechi said that ladies must remain ladies. He assured us that they are quite capable of crushing even the bones of the chicken were they alone in private. In contrast, we observed that almost all men, like five for us, tugged at the meat.

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After the Messiah, what Eddy called the “disciple” – the last course – came. It was meant to take the message (messiah) to the stomach for absorption and consequent nourishment of the system. The disciple was a freshly squeezed grape juice mixed with water melon.

While the disciple was busy doing its duty, one of the Benchers gave us a talk bordering on the dignity of the profession. He enjoined us to dress becomingly for the dignity of the profession is half sartorial.

Whilst the disciple was still active, transversing all the parts of the body with the messiahic message, Mr. Onedeko, the secretary to the Council of Legal Education and Director of Administration(as he then was) introduced the members of the Bench present. His voice, as usual, resounding through the hall as if he just came back from Oxford University, fresh from course in Phonetics. Last to be introduced was our own Chief Kayode Jegede (SAN), the Director General (as he then was), under whose sturdy shoulders, the general administration of the school rests. He looks like Mr. Wisdom himself.

At the end of the dinner, students went about merrily taking photograph, and exchanging ideas. Disappointed that the three course meal, though enough, was inadequate to fill the gap left in our stomachs by a deliberately skipped lunch. But we do not expect the Law school to feed us as to develop absurd stomachs, the type, as seen in some Nigerians, that threaten to tumble over the knees when seated. Lucullus dinner could afford to do that, but ours was a gentleman’s dinner.

What are your thoughts?

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