March 18, 2019

The day I landed in court – Peju Akande

The day I landed in court – Peju Akande

All my life, I have never been to  court before. I mean a law court.

‘The court is made for humans, not animals.’ I often heard a client of mine repeat over and over again whenever she felt slighted and needed to put someone behind bars or address an issue. I’ve heard people also say they just go to court to hear cases and get lessons on issues of life.

Hmm

For me, the court had never held any attraction for me. Perhaps because I failed to make the cut-off point to study law, maybe that’s why I lost interest in anything that has to do with a court or because courts suggest a prison sentence, I’m not sure why I have never taken any interest in going to court; to do what sef?

Our people have a saying, ‘May we not see anything that will bring us before the judge’

I say an Amen to that.

Anyway, last week, I did. I mean, I went to the court. Igbosere court, in Lagos. I followed a friend to court. It’s a long story on the why. It is a story for another day but my fear of courts was confirmed that day.

The ‘hallowed hall’ was, well…hallowed. There was no light, so we sat in the dark; the high windows were shut and the swinging doors couldn’t be held open because a court was supposed to be in session. So we sat in the dark, using our phones to look around or even engage with our devices.


The judge wouldn’t even show up because there was no light; we were informed by those who are regular court attendees that this particular judge may move all cases to another date because she hates holding court in the dark.  I wouldn’t either if I was a judge. If the system cannot provide alternative electricity, then I won’t be wearing all of that heavy gown to soak in my sweat just to hear hundreds of cases and make balanced judgements.

I couldn’t hide my surprise as I blurted out to no one in particular, ‘Have you been here before?’ To which a male voice behind me replied in the affirmative.

Issorait.

So the waiting game began as I eventually took my seat among people who’s faces I couldn’t decipher and after what seemed to ages, after my eyes had got accustomed to the dark, after I had been able to tell that a talkative man who’s age I was unable to ascertain was sitting behind me, a call came out that the judge had finally arrived and we were all to rise to our feet.

To think I had seen this part so many times in movies and shows made it surreal; I rose. After sitting, the female judge complained about the heat and said she was going to adjourn several cases as the atmosphere in court was not conducive for any more sessionso.
That was when ‘male friend’ announced to me, ‘Did I not tell you?’ I nodded in the dark and thanked him for reminding me how right he was about the judge.

Then the registrar began to call out different case files to which the judge deliberated with the counsels for a more convenient date. This was still going on and with my active talking ‘male friend’, feeling a need to inform me, the novice, about court proceedings, when power came back on.

Naturally there was palpable relief in the courtroom but that was when I realised I was in trouble for courting the attention of this ‘male friend’. I looked back to see the face behind the mouth and I knew I had entered one chance.

I suspect say the guy dey kolo small, small.

I looked around to see if I could change seats but all were taken.

Anyway, I ignored him as best as I could but when cases were called up and petitioners and respondents stated their versions of events, even before the judge had the opportunity to say anything, ‘male friend’ had given a verdict. At some point, I turned around to glare at him, unfortunately for me, he mistook my glare for admiration and whispered loudly to me, ‘I come here regularly.’

It was a Tuesday, yet, it seemed odd to me that someone would come to court just to seat and hear other people’s cases. I stared more from surprise at his response than from anger so he explained: ‘I just come to ‘k’ogbon.’ Meaning, to gain wisdom.

‘Don’t you know the many strange cases you hear in courts is enough to teach you life’s lessons?’

No response. I had decided not to encourage anymore conversations but I replied him inwardly. Maybe, but I have a job, why would I come here to hear cases? He was undaunted and continued his conspiratorial gist even though at this time I was royally pissed, had asked him to please keep quiet as I was a reporter and wanted to hear the cases for myself and blah blah blah…
‘Waa ri, the judge will say, so and so’

And of a truth, the judge said same.

I sat stony faced.
‘Waa ri ni sin, judge yen ma xxxx’, (You’ll see now, the Judge would say so and so.)

She did.

I had to excuse myself, whispering to my friend that I had to go use the toilet as this idiot seemed set to ruin my day.

‘You should have been a judge yourself,’ I whispered loudly as I marched out of the court room that day. I didn’t think he would follow me out.

But he did

He didn’t look well. The funky smell I perceived but ignored earlier came on strong; his brown teeth was caked with years of tobacco and poor oral hygiene. He spoke good English with a slight British accent. Where did this guy miss it? I didn’t want to find out as I literally found myself sprinting towards my car on the ground floor.

 

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