August 6, 2022

Clears throat and sprinkles pretend cough somewhere**

Dear reader, welcome to another episode of; “My Lord May I?” In this episode, I will narrate to you the happenings in an actual criminal matter and attempt to conclude that maybe justice was achieved in the circumstances. But after hearing the facts and my brief restatement of what transpired in court – would you agree that justice was indeed done?

Permit me to set the tone for the gist and cut to the meat of the gist so soon thereafter.

For toning purposes, I will confess that my gist today as you may suspect is not one of your usual or routine criminal charges/matters. Yes, you can call it premium gist.

And of course, it begins in a courtroom with a talking Magistrate. I’m not pulling your legs – this Magistrate actually talks. Of course, I know that all Magistrates talk but some are more ‘expressive’ than others. And our Magistrate in this story could win the Emmy’s for the most expressive jurist on the bench. No cap.

Caveat delivered in a whisper -I have used the word expressive to avoid a coinage that could hijack me to prison for contempt of Court. My own keyboard will not land me in prison – did I hear an amen? Thank you.

Now to the meat of our gist.

The unfolding of the ‘strange’ case

The meat of the gist begins on a Tuesday morning in the month of June. This particular Tuesday in Court dragged on just as any other day before our ‘defendant of interest’ whom you shall soon also meet, stepped in. Let us call her Miss ‘A’ where A would stand for ‘Accused lady’.

The criminal charge that brought Miss A to Court was an ‘overnight’.

Miss A was brought into the Courtroom with handcuffs and the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) motioned her to where she was to sit – not far from the prosecutor’s dangling table as usual. Few minutes in, the IPO handed over the file he walked into the Court with to the prosecutor and the duo whispered like reunited love birds that must not get caught. So soon thereafter, the file sneaked away from the Prosecutor’s table and boldly arrived by the Magistrate’s side who at this time was already adjourning the second case for the day.

After the adjournment, his worship issued the relevant order; “call the overnight”. As expected, the charge number was called and Miss A was led into the dock.

Now let’s get back to Miss A – our defendant of interest. Miss A was definitely not fat; her obvious bones confirmed that. She was fair skinned – or chocolate skinned if you may. Also, she bore an expression on her face that seemed to cloak all her emotions but one; her fear. She stood in the dock but before the charge was read and her plea taken, His Worship asked a question – “why was she not charged for armed robbery?”

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Clearly the Court had just read the charge and unknown to us, its content was about to become the subject of an interesting conversation.

“Who drafted this charge?” his worship asked again.

“I did” the IPO replied standing up a couple of seconds before his pot belly.

“Why did you not charge her for armed robbery so that she would learn her lesson. If what I see here is what she did, then she should have been charged for armed robbery”

After those preliminary questions, the Court proceeded to deliver the mix of a lecture, an interrogation of the Miss A and a commentary on how long girls of these days have been reported to castrate men. During this period, eyes starred at Miss A – some in consternation, others in wonderment and others in subtle pity.

From the charge, it was alleged that Miss A stabbed the nominal complainant with a small knife. According to the Court, by the provisions of sections 401 and 402 of the criminal code law, this act properly falls within the ambit of the offence of armed robbery.

But the Court’s interrogation of Miss A and the IPO revealed some other facts. Miss A was a 19-year-old girl from one of Nigeria’s south eastern states who stopped schooling in JSS2 and came into the Magisterial district to make a living. The IPO’s narration was that Miss A worked in a store where she was learning a skill. After completing her training, she stole her Madam’s money and visited the nominal complainant’s shop to buy a new phone. She bought the phone with a different name – clearly to avoid being traced. However, nemesis caught up with her as her Madam’s store had CCTV cameras which captured her when she was stealing the monies. So, she was traced and the phone was recovered from her.

According to the IPO, the loss of her phone probably turned Miss A vengeful and she decided that the complainant was to be the object for that vengeance. How did she carry out this her vengeance (or vawluence if you may)? She bought a small knife, visited the nominal complainant’s shop and stabbed the nominal complainant. Now, criminal charges have been slammed on Miss A in a ‘wotor-wotor’ manner and behold, brethrens, she is in Court.

One more fact, Miss A was pregnant – this answer explained the slight bump in front of her small body. Her parents as well as the man who got her pregnant were back in the village.

With all these facts now in stated in open Court, His Worship clearly was faced with a dilemma. Should the Court proceed with the arraignment and grant Miss A bail? Or administratively direct that the file be sent to the DPP’s office so that the charge is re-drafted to read armed robbery and Miss A gets arraigned properly?

Either option would have consequences for both Miss A and her unborn child. With an arraignment and the commencement of the trial, Miss A already stands the risk of getting a conviction. That risk the Court had warned was particularly weighty as this Court stated that he does not know how to give short sentences (paraphrasing his words). The second option of having Miss A charged for armed robbery was even more risky for obvious reasons. One of which is – what if she is convicted? One knife and one angry or vengeful reaction would have ended her own life.

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Its ‘stranger’ outcome

The Court in its wisdom chose an interesting resolution to the whole charge.

The Court suspended the arraignment, binded Miss A over to be of good behavior for three years failing which she would be imprisoned for 180 days with hard labour and after which the charge would be effectively resurrected.

With the ruling of the Court, Miss A was effectively free to go.

I should mention that before the ruling above was delivered, the Court addressed the nominal complainant and directed Miss A to go, kneel down and apologize to the nominal complainant. After the ruling, the court directed Miss A to go back to her State. [“That she should not be seen around here” – if I paraphrase as nearly as the Court’s exact words.]

**My narration of the proceedings is short but ‘as e take happen’ was not short at all. I have attempted to zoom in on the most important happenings as well. Boring you to sleep is not my intention today.

But has anything gone wrong?

What is your take on the whole proceedings as I have ‘gisted’ you above?

I will ‘air’ a few considerations in my mind before I arrive at a resolution.

Now we can agree that poor investigations happen often in this country. And usually, any IPO would properly restate the facts of his investigation to satisfy his conclusions, justify the charge and secure a conviction. So, there could have been more to the charge than met the judicial eyes in Court that day. In other words, the story ‘too straight’.

Also, in a clime like ours when the highest bidder can wield so much influence over institutions like the police, justice can actually elude the poor. And in this precarious situation, where an institution as vital as the Police (which should ideally aid the attainment of justice) has hopped into bed with victimization and corruption, the Court must be ever careful and should be able to probe into [or at most be skeptical] of police investigations.

Besides no one heard or knew what Miss A’s narration of the facts was. Did she do it at all? At least my nose seemed to be smelling some fish about the whole thing already – remember that the nominal complainant who was purportedly stabbed as stated in the charge sheet, was in court. But she did not limp when moving and she was not bandaged or even give off the look of one who was recently released from the clutches of a bandage. That was fishy to me. Also, did the CCTV footage actually show what the IPO said it captured?

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But what if she really did it? What were the circumstances leading to that? Should the law just punish a young person? Though at 19 she’s already an adult but 19-year-olds, clearly are still usually trying to make sense of life. After all, a lot of things could have contributed to Miss A’s actions – ailing parents at home maybe, peer pressure, the frustrations that afflict many in the country, you can name them.  

But she has an innocent child on the way and is not possible that she could be reformed rather than condemned and left to hang? [I know our correction/custodial centers would not do any reformation.] She may have acted out of frustration and in that case, should she not be made to undergo counselling?

Let’s also not forget that in Law she is presumed innocent. So, was the Magistrate’s sentence wrong in law? Did it arise from or was it based on a presumption of guilt? Ruling that she be of good behaviour for three years failing which she would be imprisoned for 180 days seems to mean preparing the punishment in advance of her next misdeed. Also, was his insistence that she apologizes (in the manner she did) not something of concern?

In my personal opinion and with due respect to the Court, I believe that accused persons no matter how vile should not have the impression that the Court’s mind has already summarily convicted them -without hearing their side of the story. This is especially important as the Court is not only supposed to be impartial – but is to be seen to act impartially (let’s call it- actual impartially and the impression of impartiality). In this case, while the Court had to say a number of times that he would be impartial, the impression of impartiality was already largely eroded with the vituperations cast on Miss A.

Apart from this particular case, there is also the question of – what really underlies criminal prosecution and our criminal justice system? I know that it is our general interest to ensure the safety of society by locking away the bad guys. But do we take it too far with the capital punishment? I say so because killing the convicted never brings back the deceased victim and, in that case, is it just the feeling of schadenfreude that has gotten us to insist on it?  

And has justice been served?

That Tuesday, I walked away from the Court with the nagging impression that the justice of a matter may be outside the forms and strict letters of the law. In respect to Miss A’s charge, I might call it the strange case where the talking Magistrate talked himself into saving a life. I think that can be cloaked as justice.

What is your take?

Written by Frederick Nkobowo Esq

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