In the beginning, it seemed like business-to-be as usual, a trip to handle an assault case that was set for Monday in Abeokuta. Earlier that week, I had attended a three-day revival church program a colleague had invited me. I had gotten a briefing concerning the case during the period of the program. My would-be client, Jeremiah, was an elderly church sexton, and the person he had brought suit against was some native of the community.
Due to the prevailing circumstance, I decided to use my church mind to help out, bearing in mind that I hadn’t been to Abeokuta judicial division before. According to the acquaintance who recommended the case to me, the alleged matter was a criminal case, which had been compromised by both the complainant and I.P.O. After the acquainting myself with the nature of the case, I wasn’t going to turn a blind eye to the propagation of injustice.
I travelled on Sunday sundown, with the intent of spending the night in the home of a friend, to wake up early and do some quick workout in court before the matter came up by 9am. I’d already been briefed on how several lawyers had come and gone from the case without justice being gotten.
I spent the whole Sunday night with my host and his family in a vigil till the early hours of 3am. I couldn’t protest, besides the room I was given was demarcated by a board from the parlor, giving me the options of either trying to sleep through the din of the vigil or join them in it. It was a long night of muttering and grunting and singing, and generally seeking the Face of the Lord.
I had barely laid my head down in sleep before a kindly shake from my host woke me up to the approaching dawn. I very nearly staggered through my bath and needful morning rituals, and with eyes grainy from a lack of proper sleep, I boarded a bike to the magistrate court.
My diligence turned out to be a waste of time, seeing as the court staff didn’t come in until about thirty-five minutes before 9am, a circumstance that truncated my efforts to get valuable information before the hearing of my case.
“COURT WILL ARISE!”
The loud call of the registrar pulled me out of my slumber. My body had been trying to play catch-up with my lost sleep from last night.
The court had begun its proceedings when suddenly my client drew my attention to the complainant, who had just walked in. he was quite elderly himself, stoutly built and paunchy, clad in a red attire with humongous beads streaming down from his neck over his chest.
I watched him carefully as he took his seat, and was faintly ill at ease when I noticed him looking at me; not the cursory look of one accessing a new player in the arena, but intently, like a fisherman trying to decide whether he should or shouldn’t throw back into the water the not-so-desirable fish he’d just caught. And then, with a nod, as though he’d come to a mental decision, a smirk of the most evil kind spread across his face. The smile was so knowing and so fiendish that I felt a chill snake up my spine as I continued staring at him.
“COURT WILL ARISE FOR A QUICK RECESS!” the registrar bellowed just then, breaking into my uneasy mentation.
I got up from my seat and made a quick dash out of the courtroom, veering toward a patch of lush vegetation to answer the call of nature. When i was done and on my way back to the building, I was suddenly accosted by the evil-smiling man.
He stood in my way, and said with some menace, “So, na you dem go bring come hia make you hep, ehn?” He brandished a shrivelled-looking staff in his hand, giving a short, raucous laugh, one which revealed his depleted dentition. Then he stopped laughing and fixed me with that beady gaze of his, before snarling, “Na sanitation you go do for me today. When I don finish with you, you go ask yorsef why me, why I waka come this court.”
And then, with a speed that belied his age, before I could react, he reached forward and tapped my shoulder with his staff, before turning to stomp away.
I simply stood there, watching him depart, and not saying a word. I wanted to, perhaps shout back something about how he couldn’t intimidate me. But I realized that I simply couldn’t. A chill was starting to inch its way up my spine, and it seemed as though I was gasping for air. A wave of nausea swept through me, and I dizzyingly leaned sideways, against a nearby mango tree to catch my breath and mine some strength from within.
With the struggle for my bearing came the realization that this man must have cast a diabolic spell on me. Reacting to that knowledge, I quickly started muttering some words of prayer with quiet desperation. Moments later, my airways cleared, and breathing came normal to me again.
Just then, the sexton appeared before me, his expression harried. In between pants, he said to me, “Oga d law, I have been looking for you o. The magistrate has come out and they are about to call our case.” Seeing the slightly strained expression on my face, he asked, “What happened?”
I briefly explained what had transpired between me and the other man.
“Eheen!” he burst out when I was done. “I talk am! No wonder the others dey runaway! Dem no dey come back. Na him be say na juju him dey use for dem o.”
The two of us returned to the court. As we took our seats, my eyes locked with the other man’s; Adebiyi is his name. He was watching me carefully, no doubt trying to ascertain just how far his diabolism had subjugated me to his will. I threw him a small smile, and the smugness vanished from his face, to be replaced with wariness. His mouth started working feverishly as he began mumbling some words, and I shook my head at him before looking away.
My case was called.
After the usual correspondence between counsels and the prosecuting officer, I asked the court to allow him call Mr. Adebiyi to the witness stand.
It was a very uneasy-looking man who began ambling his way to the dock after I called him out. His face had dewed with sweat, and he fidgeted with his hands as he took to the stand. I faced him squarely, and he faced me too, all the while, continuing with his silent muttering.
“You don’t seem very relaxed, Mr. Adebiyi,” I began tauntingly.
“Izzit ya bizness!” he snapped back at me.
“You will behave yourself, Mr. Adebiyi,” the magistrate cut in with a bark, “or else, I’ll have you thrown in jail for contempt!”
He ignored the magistrate and continued mumbling.
I faced him and started a mumble of my own – the reiteration of Psalm 91.
“Na wetin you talk?” he suddenly barked at me.
I arched a brow before saying very coolly, “I didn’t say anything, Mr. Adebiyi. In fact, I haven’t even begun with you yet.”
And in a flash, he underwent a transformation. His demeanour changed from anxious to crazed. He gave out a small giggle, a most incongruous sound to come from him, and then his body did a little twist, as though he was buffeted by a strong current of air. Then, he said loudly, “This room too dirty nii, Haba!”
In a flash, he was out of the witness stand, and had walked over to the door, behind which was a broom. He picked out the broom and promptly began sweeping the courtroom without any acknowledgement of the presence of the few people in court attendance.
“What nonsense is this?!” the magistrate bellowed. She followed that with a command for the orderly to stop Mr. Adebiyi and arrest him. But the police corporal stood where he was, staring with stupefaction as Mr. Adebiyi industriously went about his work. The man kept on sweeping, and doing a good job of hefting up benches to get to every nook and cranny, startling the people sitting on them and sending them scampering away from him. Everyone was shaking their head at him in disbelief.
I stood where I was, unable to believe my eyes.
The clerk quickly whispered something to her Worship, prompting the magistrate to call for a rise of the court. She quickly rose and disappeared into her chambers.
The lawyer beside me nudged me and said, “My broda, you lucky o. E be like say na you suppose to dey do wetin that man dey do so.”
I quickly gathered from him that the complainant was a well-known mischief-maker in the community; he had apparently placed the charm so that I would eventually sweep the entire courtroom until he ordered me to stop, thereby preventing me from procuring justice for my client.
“But e be like say your own juju pass him own,” the lawyer finished with a laugh, before picking up his books and leaving the courtroom.
“Excuse me, sir,” a voice brought my head around to face the court clerk. “Her Worship will like to see you in her chambers now.”
When I stepped into the magistrate’s office, it was to see her attending to something on her computer. Without sparing me a look, she said grimly, “Barrister Okoji, in light of what just happened in my court, I hope you are not responsible in any way or manner for that confusion?”
“My lady, I am not from these paths, and from what I’ve just heard, I’m supposed to be his victim,” I replied.
“Hmm,” the magistrate sniffed. “I find your assertion quite hard to believe.” She paused to look at me before continuing, “Unfortunately, the law does not recognize juju. That will be all, Barrister Okoji. Kindly pick another date for your hearing from the registrar, and do have a nice trip back to your jurisdiction.” And she dismissed me with a wave of her hand.
When I got outside the courtroom, I could see that the place was deserted. Everyone had left, except for my client. I was moving forward to meet the man as he hurried toward me. He had stories about how a more elderly baba had being called upon, and how he’d simply tapped Adebiyi on the head, causing the man to collapse to the ground in a heap, obviously released from the backfiring of his spell.
“I serve a Mighty God,” I said then. “If only they can understand that no weapon fashioned against me shall prosper.”
“Amen!” the sexton responded roundly.
And we started for his motorcycle to head back home.
Written by B. O. Okoji