The magistrate, the prosecutor and the innocent criminal

September 9, 2019

It was a routine crime in Ijora Badia, that swampy, high density Lagos slum.

Five members of a killer cult, machete in hand, positioned themselves on a lonely road on June 1 at about 6:30pm.

They accosted passers-by, dispossessed them of their valuables and fled.

The community’s Baale, or headman, rushed to the Ijora Badia Police Station at about 6:45pm and lodged a report.

A few days later, the police busted the gang somewhere in town and recovered the weapons.

But, for whatever reason, only one of the suspects was brought to the Ebute-Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court, Botanical Gardens.

Confronted with the charge, he admitted being a member of the notorious Eiye Confraternity.

It was a simple, open and shut case.

Or so it seemed.

So, the magistrate – bald, dark, slim, clean-shaven and bespectacled – remanded the lone defendant in prison custody and adjourned for a review of the facts and possible sentencing.

I did not know this when I climbed the straight staircase to the top of the handsome, single-storey, colonial era building.

The courtroom – large and airy – was at the end of the landing.

Proceedings were ongoing and I slipped through the wide doors and joined the lookers-on in the gallery behind the Bar, opposite the Bench.

There were 13 of us on the three rows of low back benches.

A woman in a pink dress dozed in one corner by the door, soothed by breeze from the six ceiling fans revolving over our heads.

An elderly man rose and ambled out, but the lawyer in front of rested her chin on her chest throughout. I could not tell if she was reading or asleep.

When one of the two female registrars – the short one with the ample bosom – called the case, a Correctional Service official on my left, nudged the tall, dark young man in the ribs.

He got up, hurried to the dock on the magistrate’s right and stood staring at his feet.

The tattoos across his face gave him a tough facade; not even the picture of two raised hands clasped in prayer, imprinted on the front of his dirt brown t-shirt, could soften his appearance.

An almost wafer-thin police orderly – a Sergeant – sat at a table opposite the dock.

The well-fed police prosecutor in a grey suit that sat beside him, got up, introduced himself and addressed the court in a voice like rain on a zinc rooftop.

Fingers on the table like he was about to play a piano, he said: “Your honour, the case is for facts and sentencing. It is a case of membership of an unlawful society. The IPO (Investigative Police Officer) is not in court, but the facts are readily available. There is no exhibit.”

“Read the charge,” the Magistrate directed the registrars.

The bosomy lady whispered to the elderly, bespectacled colleague beside her, before getting up.

“Are you guilty or not guilty?” she asked the defendant after reading the charge in English.

“Have you asked him if he even understands English?” the magistrate scolded her gently.

She did and the defendant shook his head. He preferred his mother tongue.

She read the charge again, in Yoruba.

He pleaded guilty, on both counts.

There were intermittent small noises in the gallery from people coming and going; the magistrate would have none of it, so he cleared the gallery.

It was the last case of the day and, one by one, lawyers, litigants and others not directly involved in the defendant’s cases rose and left.

“And I don’t want anyone by the door,” he warned them before turning to where I sat.

“Yes?” he asked.

I rose. “Good afternoon, your honour. My name is Robert Egbe,” I said.


When I told him my business, he waved me back down.

With only a handful of us left in my corner, the prosecutor began a summary of the facts.

The defendant made a voluntary statement to the police after arrest, he said. The case was transferred to another station and the defendant made another confession. The prosecutor sought to tender both statements as exhibit.

Magistrate: “Defendant’s statement was taken in what language?”

Prosecutor: “English.”

Magistrate turned to registrar, “show the statement to him. Read and translate it.”

The defendant, a mechanic, was from Ibadan, but born and bred in Lagos, lived in Ajegunle.

The room was quiet, save for her voice, but what followed next was a little bewildering.

On his arrest, the defendant’s words were: “I was arrested by the OPC (Oodua Peoples’ Congress) and taken to a police station at Ijora Badia. I was not caught with any cutlass or anything at all. They gave me cutlass at the station. I do not belong to any cult. I was arrested alone and I do not know any of the other men….”

But when the magistrate asked him to confirm if that was his statement, the defendant shook his head.

“I didn’t say any of those things, they just wrote it,” he answered in Yoruba.

Magistrate: “Which ones didn’t you say?”


Magistrate: “Gbori e soke! (Raise your head!). Registrar read it to him again.”

She did.

Magistrate: “You didn’t tell them those things?”

Defendant: “I did.”

Magistrate: “You did?”

Defendant: “I did. I’m just understanding what was read.”

Magistrate: “You just understood it?”

Defendant: “Yes.”

Magistrate: “Where did you keep your ears before? Or was it Hausa or Igbo they read to you before?”

The registrar turned to the second statement where the defendant gave more details of his arrest.

She said: “At about 4:30pm, I was coming from Apapa. When I got to Ijora Badia on Gaskiya Road, suddenly I saw some people blocking me on my way. They grabbed my clothes, saying that I was one of those that came to fight them in our neighbourhood, which I don’t know anything about. I tried to explain to them, but they didn’t listen. They started dragging me to a police station.”

As they read, the defendant listened, scratching his head, and then his back.

When the registrar was done, the prosecutor tendered both statements and they were admitted as exhibits.

The prosecutor added: “In the course of investigations, the defendant made a flat denial of complicity in the alleged offence. At the end of investigations, the defendant was arraigned on a two-count charge of attempt to commit a felony and belonging to an unlawful society.”

As the prosecutor spoke, shoulders straight, head high, the magistrate’s irritation grew.

When the policeman was done, he scowled: “From everything that was said, what was the investigation that was done? It is all rubbish and nonsense by the police as usual. Did the police go to the scene of the crime to find out whether he was there?

“All that you’ve done now is just to tell very useless stories…You said that at about 18:45 hours, a report was lodged that about 18:20pm, the defendant and others blocked the road and during the process robbed passer-by of their valuables

Prosecutor: “That was the complaint they lodged.”

Magistrate: “If they were robbing, what’s there between that and cultism?”

“In his statements, the defendant denied committing the offence. There is no witness, no exhibit and you expect a court to convict him of the offence?

“I’ve told those policemen, it shows that they’re so irresponsible, and they don’t even know what they’re supposed to do. It is the same police that wrote that statement for the defendant, are you people supposed to bring this to court?”

The prosecutor wilted under the magistrate’s hard words and critical stare. Under pressure, his words became garbled.

“Investigation was a total sham sir, poor,” the prosecutor stuttered.

He added: “There are times that they’re compelled to bring a case to court, maybe because of the weight of the complaint.”

But the magistrate was not done.

“Know that this court is not as stupid as you people. You just made me angry. I know the time I have wasted on this. I would’ve just done something better with the time.”

Turning to the defendant, he said: “Se o se gbogbo nkan ti oÍopa so pe o se?” (Did you do all that the police said you did?)

The defendant seemed to have a hearing impediment. “Beeni” (Yes), he said.

Magistrate, louder: “O se?” (You did?)

Defendant: “Rara sir.” (No sir).

Magistrate: “Ode ni e!” (You are a fool!) If you continue like this you will be killed.

Nigba ti won ba wipe ki e lo si school – gbori soke!o gba.” (When you were asked to go to school – raise your head! – you refused).

Mo mo wipe odaran ni e, to ba de continue beyen, won ma mu e. (I know you are a criminal, and if you continue like this you will be caught.)

Gbogbo egbe oshi ti e maan se yen, won ma pa e ni, shoti gbo nkan ti mo so nisin? (All that useless cults that you people join, they will kill you, did you hear what I just said?)

Defendant: “Mo ti kogbon sir (I have learnt my lesson sir).

Magistrate: “Ogbon wo lo ko? Iwo kogbon? Eyin omo Ijora? (Which lesson have you learnt? You, learn a lesson? You children of Ijora?”

Gbogbo ami ti o wa loju e yen, nibo lo ti ri? Abi bi won se bi e niyen? (All of those tattoos on your face, where did you get them from? Or is that how you were born?)

Defendant: “Accident ni sir.” (It was an accident sir.)

Nobody in the room could laugh. The magistrate’s countenance was too severe.

Magistrate: “Se o leni to ma duro fun e?” (You have anyone to stand as your surety?)

Defendant: “Rara sir. Gbogbo wÍn wa ni abule”. (No sir. They are all in the village.)

The magistrate shook his head again and wrote into the case file.

When he raised his head, he said: “A plea of not guilty is hereby entered for the defendant. The defendant is admitted to bail in the sum of N50, 000 with one surety in the like sum.”

He adjourned till November for trial, rose and walked briskly to the door behind the Bench.

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