HomeEchoes From The Court RoomOur Courts are Too Exposed and Insecure

Our Courts are Too Exposed and Insecure

Date:

By Dr Kayode Olagunju

I am not a regular visitor to the court. No, understandably, as I am not a lawyer and I have no criminal records and have no personal issues necessitating my being at the court, either as a plaintiff or witness. My memories of courts dated to the late ninety eighties as one of the pioneers of the Federal Road Safety Corps. We were made to prosecute some “stubborn” traffic offenders that drove dangerously or attacked our men.

Then, we had very few lawyers in the system. Not a single one available  in our command then. My first appearance as a witness was disappointing. I had appeared believing we had no issue with what we considered a straight case. We had arrested a lawyer on the Benin-Asaba road, for dangerous overtaking of another vehicle, approaching a hill top, also on a bend. I remember it was at Okhuae hill. The road was not dualized then. As a single carriageway and very narrow, dangerous overtaking could attract fatal consequences. In fact, in one particular case, at Issele-Uku, on the same road around the period, the families had to bring caskets to pack the mingled bodies of casualties when the two vehicles involved were completely wrecked and bodies mixed with metal scraps. They came with a priest to pray for the souls of the departed and decided immediate burials. We recorded the scenes and the video formed parts of our public enlightenment materials to shock road users and deter them from engaging in traffic infractions. That memory lingers.

The booked lawyer had no driver licence and vehicle papers, hence we had to impound his vehicle. He refused to pay his fines. He did not waive his right to court trial by conveniently paying his fines if he believed he was guilty. So we had to prosecute him. In fact, it was our very first case in Benin Zone then comprising of the then Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states), Ondo (now Ondo and Ekiti states) and Enugu State (now Enugu and Anambra states). I was like the face of the Corps in the Zone as the Head of Public Enlightenment Office and Spokesman. I had a weekly program on the state television where I educated the publics on road safety. I was a young officer, bubbling with confidence. However, that confidence departed me that my first day in the court.

We had series of rehearsals with our then head of operations Oga Fawole as the prosecutor under the guidance of our cerebral Zonal Commander, Engr. Adegboyega Coker. Then came the day. I was put in the witness box, lacking confidence but determined to say only the truth and nothing but the truth in line with the oath I had just taken. We did not even put the non possession of driver licence and vehicle documents on the charge sheet. Honestly, I can’t remember what led to the omission. We had only one count of dangerous overtaking attracting two hundred naira fines or maximum six months imprisonment or both as may be determined by the Magistrate, as prescribed by the Federal Road Safety Commission Establishment Decree 45 of 1988.

The lawyer surprisingly did not argue on the overtaking but that he was arrested not on a federal highway as restricted by our decree. I had gained a bit of confidence and shouted that but everybody knew that Benin -Asaba was a federal highway. I was cautioned by the Magistrate. The man claimed he was arrested on a side road and that even there was nothing to prove that the Benin -Asaba road was a federal road. I became annoyed and really angered. I shouted again, “which side road” to which the Magistrate gave me a last warning. Then the Magistrate ruled that we could not establish that the offender was arrested on a federal highway and directed unconditional release of the vehicle. That was a technical knock out. Haaaaa, haba ! I was so disappointed as I felt the Magistrate must have known the lawyer or he just decided the case like that because they were both in legal profession. My hate for the courts was cultivated immediately. I did not want to know whether we handled the case professionally or not or if lawyers serving as prosecutors would have known and act better. I just felt the Magistrate just told the whole world he saw red cloth when it was obvious we waived white, which was quite obvious and easy to  be seen by all. I now understand why people spend years to become lawyers. I really hated the Courts. That case was part of the reasons, apart from high incidences of crashes on the state roads, messing up our efforts on Federal roads, that the FRSC sought for the amendment of decree 45 to expressly permit the Corps to cover all public roads then. That was granted in Decree 35 of 1992. When the FRSC and the states designed the mobile court system where in many cases, the magistrates practically witnessed the infraction, I became more comfortable. However, since that day in the late eighties, until about three months ago, I did not enter any court room again. I only watched them doing their things on television.

In the last 3 months I had been at the FCT High Courts about four times to witness the court processes involving a mentor. I never felt comfortable each time I came to the court. It is always a case of free entry and departure and that you could bring in anything, especially concealed in bags. Unlike, in cases of some high profile individuals, as witnessed on television, where roads are cordoned off, with high presence of security operatives, fully armed and in fearful security gears, quizzing and searching everyone and everywhere, if you like add everything, it is a porous and insecure situation on regular days.

The only policeman in the court is the Judge orderly with just one pistol. He serves more as a file carrier than providing security. Sometimes, you see two or three officers of the Correctional services lightly armed escorting some accused from prisons. They have their eyes only on their principals. You sit down with someone you don’t know with a bag under your seat that you are not sure of the content. What he has explosives in the bag that he put under you? You don’t know his mission. You don’t know what he is thinking. In front of you are scores of lawyers including some senior advocates with their wigs backing people they don’t know the risks they bear.

The Judge is there sitting on a raised platform taking notes in long hand asking the witnesses to repeat the last statement or spell a name or word. He keeps repeating, slow down I am writing. I am not a computer. Yes, why not do it with computers or speech recorder which can immediately transcribe the speeches. Yes, tonation or dialects could affect transcribing, but editing could help sort out the problem later. You can imagine the time that goes into the judge putting down statements with lawyers spending hours to put their facts or whatever across. No wonder cases sometimes take years to determine. I thought we had gone beyond this. In the midst of this, people walk in and out of the courts bringing all sort of things without any screening.

I kept asking, what if someone who had served his term or an accomplice decide to take a revenge on the Judge and come to the court to strike? How will the nation react to the kidnap of a sitting Judge? Is it the orderly who is more interested in funny narrations of the events leading to a plaintiff or witness coming to court that will resist such a spontaneous or sporadic account? What will he be able to do with that his single pistol that may not be in a ready position? The arm may not even be on his body as complacency could have set in, as he had never had such an experience, so he has a positive perception of safety. Does he have adequate ammunition? Even if he does, what are the chances of a person with hand gun confronting assault rifle bearing assailants? What if the attackers decide to wipe out all of us in the court? Nigerians will say “God forbids”. You see, why I don’t ever get comfortable being in such an unsecured environment

I am sure if such unfortunate incident happens, the nation will mourn. There will be a statement from the Villa, condemning the action and directing security agencies to immediately fish out the killers. Government will set up different committees to unravel the causes and offer recommendations to prevent such in the future. Condemnation will be loud from the National Judicial Council, Body of Benchers, Nigeria Bar Association. The National Assembly will hold special sessions while those in charge of security will run helter skelter. There will be shedding of crocodile tears as the families and the nation mourn. After some time, we forget and move on, as a nation. Must we wait until that imagined but possible disasters happen? No.

Is it that there is nothing that can be done to protect our courts? So much can be done, starting with the deployment of technology. Learnt that most of our correctional centers do not have Close-circuit television camera, thus making jail break easy! So how can the CCTV be considered necessary in the courts or of any priority ? No scanners anywhere at the court. Even your vehicles parked in the court premises are at the owners risk. Some of the cars could be ladened with explosives. The “uniformed security men” in the court premises are only there to open gates and ensure you park well the vehicle. Nothing on security screening. No profiling! How can that be? We should be more serious as a nation. Scanners even if it is just hand held, should be at the gate. Simple mirror screening of the vehicles will definitely be of help. The security men should be trained and equipped enough to detect and wade off crimes at that level since we don’t have enough policemen to adequately protect all our courts. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps comes into mind here.

Devices should also be deployed to record and transcribe court proceedings . That will reduce time spent on taking notes in long hands as well as reduce the time spent in courts. It will enhance justice delivery without delays. There are so many gadgets and devices that could aid security in our courts. The security experts should come up with the road map and implementable agenda on securing our courts. The governments at Federal and State levels should approach the Assemblies to make adequate and proper budget provisions for securing our courts.

I will conclude this piece with a story of one of our oga, now late Dahiru Kano, then a Deputy Corps Marshal told me several years ago. He did not tell me the source and since I have not been able to link the story to any other source, I am ascribing it to this our highly intelligent, funny and charismatic senior officer. Dairu Kano revealed there was a Prime Minister who was visiting Ministries and Departments in his government. He got to the Ministry of Education and they came with all sort of requests. He told his Personal Assistant, to note the requests. He went to the Ministry of Agriculture, some requests again, the Honorable Prime Minister called for noting. He went to about ten other Ministries and he kept telling the PA and officials to note. When he got to the Prison service, they came with long lists of requests and the PM immediately approved all the requests and directed immediate release of funds. The PA and other officials were surprised . When they got back to the office, the PA approached the PM and asked him, “Your Excellency, you asked us to note all the requests from all the Ministries and Departments but getting to Prisons, you promptly approved all the requests. Why this sir?” The PM replied “I already have the formal education I required, I am too old to farm and don’t intend to do any new business and several other engagements, but you see that prison, we can go back there tomorrow morning”. Do I need to add any other thing here apart from calling on those who can make our courts and prisons safer and more comfortable to act now. Nobody knows who could be involved tomorrow. Remember every living person is a potential person living with disability, that is if we are lucky to be alive. We should not wait for any disaster to happen before we respond, then we will be reacting. Dangers may be looming. A stitch in time saves nine. I rest my case.


DCM Kayode OLAGUNJU, rtd, PhD, FCILT, FCAI, FISPON, mni is a retired Deputy Corps Marshal
Deputy Corps Marshal, rtd
Mobile:08033069090, ‪08156009090
email:olufigaro2002@yahoo.com
Safer Roads Fuller Lives

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