It’s An Allocutus (or a Surgical Blade)!
Although, I have shed like a cumulative of 10 drops of tears in the last two years (an average of two drops per episode), I have not really cried in a long time. There was a time it was a symptom of an actual health condition (which I’m super grateful to God for healing me), but most times, it has been that I’m either too sad to do something as mundane as crying or too unbothered to waste my tears. Hence, I perceive that there’s a right equilibrium between situation and emotion that would warrant me to cry, and I think I may have had that yesterday.
Spoiler alert: I did not cry (but I could have.)
I was in court yesterday. It’s part of this thing Law School is making us do; tutelage under already practicing lawyers. I ‘tutelage’ at a cool firm at Lekki, Lagos and at my firm, they attach us to one case in court per week. So yesterday, I was scheduled to attend court with some lawyers at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi.
I walked into the tiny courtroom with my umbrella dripping with rain and hearing people curse softly behind me as I pushed my way to a just opened seat space in the gallery. Looking back now, I wish I had just stood outside until they called my case, at least that way I would not have witnessed what I was about to.
Now, for those who don’t know, the Federal High Court has been vested with the exclusive jurisdiction to try offenders under the National Drugs Law Enforcement Act (Section 26). So, drug-related matters go to the Federal High Court.
Hence, it was so that as I sat in the gallery, a drug-related case was called and a young man who had been standing behind me, perfunctorily walked up to the front in his white Jalabiya and took his place in the Dock. He looked down at his feet with his two hands behind his back as he rocked nervously from one side to the other. It was obvious he was scared. It was also obvious that he didn’t want it to be obvious that he was scared. I shivered just thinking about how he felt.
From the prosecutor’s address, I got the gist: He was arrested in 2014 for attempting to smuggle cocaine by ingestion. He had pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ and had even been released on bail pending the end of his full trial. But this year, in the middle of the trial, he came forward to amend his plea — he was going to plead ‘Guilty’ as charged. So the case for yesterday was simply for the prosecutor to provide the court with the evidence they have to back up the charge of which he says he is guilty, and for the court to confirm that he’s not lying about being guilty of the particular offence for which he was charged.
The prosecution went ahead to prove its case. I saw wraps of cocaine through NDLEA plastic evidence bags, his international passport, his Turkish Airlines Ticket which he probably wanted to use to fly away and a bunch of other evidence. It was a very solemn moment for the courtroom because we all knew this guy had been nailed. Me, I kept trying to picture how he’d look after maybe 25 years in the Nigerian prison system.
But his lawyer! I kept squinting at his lawyer because he was laughing. When the prosecution tendered the wraps of cocaine as the ‘defendant’s excretions’, the lawyer laughed. I was irritated.
Anyway, after the presentation of evidence, the judge called for any ‘Allocutus’. Now, in case you don’t know what an allocutus is, it is basically a statement made by the accused person or his lawyer, to the court, after the accused has been found guilty but before he is sentenced. The statement is meant to appeal to the judge to reduce the sentence deserved by the accused (it is not to plead to cancel the sentence, but just to appeal to the judge to reduce it). It is normally during this plea, that the counsel would try to play to the emotions of the court, maybe tell the court touching stories about the accused, or why he committed the offence, et cetera.
Well, this lawyer stood up and said, ‘Yes, my Lord!’ The judge said, ‘Okay, proceed.’ (and this was where I wanted to cry) This lawyer went ahead to spew out some really unnecessary information, and his delivery was so detached from human emotions that I wondered if he really wanted this guy to serve a reduced sentence. I mean, there he was, literally with a person’s life in his hands, and he handled it like it meant nothing to him.
This lawyer’s first phase of allocutus went like this: Well, my Lord, the convict is sorry. He won’t do it again. He has told me that he won’t do it again. We beg you to temper justice with mercy. The convict is remorse. He was only a small boy of 25 years old, lured to do something bad. He is the only son of his mother. His father is dead.
(First of all, can we all mourn the fact that the lawyer called his client a ‘convict’??? Well, truthfully, the guy was already a convict at that point, but nobody was going to punish the lawyer for referring to him simply as a human being. There was absolutely no need to remind the court that he was a convict. It’s an allocutus for crying out loud!)
The judge himself was so exasperated by the inept plea that he dropped his pen and said, ‘Counsel, please can you give me something more? Tell me something about him. Help me out here. Tell me about his character, his background, his story. Why did he do this? And please don’t mention again that he was 25 years old because at 25 I was already 4 years at the Bar and I don’t think I was a child. Also, the fact that he is the only son of his mother does not help matters here at all. So, please, tell me something more’
(It was so obvious that the judge really did not want to put this guy away for the maximum sentence which I believe is 25 years)
Then this lawyer went again: Very well, my Lord. Err… this convict has given his life to Christ. He has seen the light. He is now a born again Christian.
(At this point, the poor boy is crying in the dock and I have tears in my eyes and anger in my veins. I want to get up there, ask the lawyer if he is mad, ask the boy to tell me something about himself, and deliver a speech that’ll make the court weep).
The judge ended up having to ask the lawyer specific questions like, ‘Did he go to school?’ (Lawyer: oh yes, my Lord, but he dropped out of secondary school). ‘What did he do after he dropped out? What was his life like?’ (Lawyer: He started his business). ‘Er, business in what?’ (Lawyer: Business in trade (????).) ‘So what happened after? Why didn’t he continue his trade? (Lawyer: He lost all his goods as they were confiscated by the Customs)
The judge just had to stop right there, because confiscation of goods by the Customs in theory means that the accused was not even a law-abiding citizen to start with.
The judge adjourned to tomorrow (6 July 2017) to declare his sentence.
I sat there in the gallery tapping my right foot and praying for calm. I had never seen the legal profession in this light; never really accepted the gravity of responsibility a lawyer could have in determining the fate of his client.
I sat there in the gallery yesterday, realizing that between a surgical room and a courtroom, there are only a few inconsequential differences.