By Quadri Yahya — Friday was the ultimate working day before my first day in court as a cub reporter. Our editor had done a good job briefing us that we could only wish we had the superpower to make the next hour of Monday.
Monday came, and we set forth. My colleague and I were to cover a magistrate court sitting at Isabo, Abeokuta, Ogun state.
On getting to the court, there were many courtrooms, and each was numbered. As almost all the courtrooms were still empty, it dawned on us that we had arrived way too early. Checking the time, it was 8.40 am, but I shrugged when I recalled the clime I was in.
Though the court was not sitting yet, traceable to naivety, we bowed ostentatiously before entering the court. We settled down with Court 1 as we could see the court clerks seated at a front table. A couple of hours later, the long-awaited court hearing began.
The lawyers, in their black suits, were seated. Then came this deafening bang at the rear of an adjourning door to the courtroom. Everybody was alerted as though the second coming of Christ was finally here. To my least permutation, it was the magistrate striding in. As if on cue, we all rose to our feet. She, yes she, bowed and sat down. We followed suit. Time check: past 10 am. I took solace that, at least, the proceeding was about to commence.
I recalled at that moment how our editor had drummed into our ears that we needed to listen with rapt attention in order to grasp what the legal practitioners would discuss in court. At first, my colleagues and I had thought it’d come with ease. We strategically chose our seats very close to the prosecuting counsel sitting on a bench on the right flank and the dock right in front. But no, it didn’t.
We were attentive — I mean, our ears pricked like that of a rabbit to paint the picture — but all our efforts to glean proved futile. We strained our ears, but the arguments seemed esoteric and exclusive to only the comprehension of the magistrate, the defence counsel and the prosecuting counsel. It was as though we never mattered, and we’ll never matter.
We witnessed about three cases that spanned almost five hours, yet we ended up with no news report for that day. There and then, we needed no soothsayer to implode in us the need to hone our listening skills and inculcate the ability to write faster if we are to thrive in settings such as this, going forward.
And how can I forget an incident worth noting that evidenced in reality contempt of court to me as against my prior encounters with it in the pages of crime novels and metro pages of newspapers? A phone rang, and immediately, a police officer came over to whisk it from the owner. Though, not surprisingly, that was contempt of court, the speed at which punitive measures got meted out took me aback.
We returned to the office around 4 pm after all cases for the day had been adjourned as I had expected, knowing the judicial proclivities of the country. But returning was one helluva experience. For the majority of the journey, in between poking fun at our incompetence, we had to concoct excuses for exoneration.
The next day came. After the inevitable lashing and instructive coaching on our mistakes, out of four cases, we were able to write two solid stories, but not without the help of charge sheets that we were allowed to snap from the hands of an indulging clerk.
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