Serpents

by

Abiodun Adeniji

Chapter 5: His Lordship Majesty

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When Sergeant Slaughter learnt that Lawyer Gbami would defend Pastor Job, he was greatly agitated. Sergeant Slaughter feared no man, but Lawyer Gbami terrified him. Two years ago, the homicide Sergeant had collided in court with the fire-spitting lawyer and was nearly jailed.

A woman, a prostitute, had dragged Sergeant Slaughter and three other policemen to court for illegal detention and rape. She had alleged that she was doing her "business" quietly when policemen from Alapere rounded her up along with other "businesswomen". They had been taken to the station and detained for three nights without being charged to court. According to the woman, she and the other women were gang-raped every night by the accused policemen while in detention. Sergeant Slaughter was joined in the suit for being the O. C. Desk who booked the women.

The suit had been dragging in court for a while and would have been thrown out of court for want of evidence. Then Lawyer Gbami stepped in and everything suddenly changed. A minor story in The Daily Record about the plight of the woman had attracted the human rights lawyer. Immediately, he offered free legal services to her. What should have been a minor case suddenly became a popular one.

The judge was overawed. The policemen were intimidated. The press loved it and carried banner headlines about the case. The result was that all the policemen except Sergeant Slaughter were jailed. The Inspector General of Police was also reprimanded for dereliction of duty, while the woman was awarded a hundred thousand naira in damages. What saved Sergeant Slaughter was the woman's evidence that he only booked them but did not take part in the sexual harassment.

Sergeant Slaughter feared no man, but since that day, the name of Lawyer Gbami was enough to make him wet his pants. He was to learn later that the lawyer was regarded as the Scourge of the Police. He seemed to delight in cases involving alleged police brutality, and had succeeded in sending many top officers to jail over abuse of office. In fact, a deputy Inspector General of police was forced to resign prematurely to avoid such a fate. So to Sergeant Slaughter and other policemen, it was better to sleep under a burning roof than to have to confront Lawyer Gbami in court.

Sergeant Slaughter was greatly depressed and alarmed when he learnt that he had to face Lawyer Gbami in court. Even though he had a water-tight case with many witnesses, his confidence received a jolt on learning the identity of the defence counsel. Lawyer Gbami had a reputation for bursting police witnesses in court.

“Wallahi! The son of a bitch fit convince the judge say night na day and vice versa!" thought the burly policeman.

With Lawyer Gbami, there was nothing like a cast-iron evidence. He would contest every scrap of evidence in court and rigorously cross-examine all police witnesses until they were blue in the face.

Bearing all this in mind, the homicide sergeant decided not to leave any stone unturned. He could not afford to fail Chairman. His mission was to prevent Pastor Job from contesting with Chairman. He had received twenty thousand naira from his client to ensure that the pastor was jailed. Chairman was a mean and vindictive man. Sergeant Slaughter knew he had to deliver or get his fingers burnt. He had been confident of victory yester night. Now, his confidence had evaporated. To be on the safe side, he decided to alert Chairman. Also, he would bribe the court Registrar to have the case assigned to Judge Murphy, a sleeping Golden Hat. It would then be up to Chairman to influence his friend, Judge Murphy, to jail Pastor Job at all cost.

Sergeant Slaughter sighed with relief. Now he could relax. He had the case nicely and tightly sewn up, Lawyer Gbami or not. More importantly, nobody could now accuse him of any crime. Not even police brutality.

The word "brutality" stabbed Sergeant Slaughter's brain and he jumped up in panic. He rushed out of the tiny office like a man pursued by a hungry lion. He just remembered that Pastor Job spent the night at Underground. Now that Lawyer Gbami had decided to defend him, it was imperative that Pastor Job should appear in court in "fine condition". Otherwise, he Sergeant Slaughter might soon be committed to prison for "police brutality". He knew that Lawyer Gbami was aware that Underground existed at Alapere. What a foul up!

He burst into the Registry and found P. C. Awesu just settling down for the day. Breathlessly, he explained his dilemma to the Registrar and begged him to open the door quickly. The Registrar was not impressed. Laconically, he opened the Register. He made a show of reading the names aloud as if to unblock Sergeant Slaughter's deaf ears. Afterwards, he lifted a world-weary face up to Sergeant Slaughter and said:

"No Pastor Job dey for Underground!"

"Na lie!" shouted Slaughter. "Na me commit am yester night."

"Well... im name no dey inside !" Awesu responded in the tone he usually reserved for spoilt brats. "Look for yourself!"

He pushed the book towards his superior. The latter pored over it in panic. He checked the entries for the previous night, but did not find the name of the pastor. Now he was in deep trouble! He knew no law. However, Sergeant Slaughter understood the implication of Habeas Corpus. When a judge issues Habeas Corpus and the police fail to produce the accused in court, the Investigating Police Officer is doing a slow-march to Kirikiri Maximum Prisons. In disgust, he pushed the book away. He was totally confused.

He glared at Awesu. Awesu stared back impassively. Slowly, the registrar brought out a tooth-pick from his breast pocket. He examined it minutely. Then he began to pick his teeth even though only water had gone down his throat that morning. He smiled at Sergeant Slaughter.

Suddenly, everything clicked inside Sergeant Slaughter's brain. How could he have been so foolish and forgetful! Was he not the person who ordered that Pastor to be committed to Underground nameless? So, his name would not appear in the register! The tooth pick opened his eyes of understanding. To get Pastor Job out of Underground, he would have to "settle" Awesu again. Angrily, he slapped five hundred naira on the table. Awesu scooped it into his pocket, smiling contentedly.

"Undoubtedly, this na the day the Lord has made!" Awesu thought to himself as he got up.

As soon as Awesu opened the door, Sergeant Slaughter stormed in. He was furious and cursed Awesu, C.P. Jones, the I.G. and the entire Force. He had already spent a thousand naira out of the twenty thousand given him yester night by Chairman. The day was far from being over and he still had to pay his own "returns" to his godfather.

"So how much I go get left If l dey spend like this?" he asked himself.

The nightshift bashers were still on duty and took him to the Pastor's cell. When Sergeant Slaughter saw Pastor Job hanging from the roof, his heart jumped into his mouth. The pastor was hanging perfectly still, like a corpse in an advanced stage of rigor mortis. Slaughter went cold with fear and could feel the cold embrace of Kiri-kiri. Suddenly, he went berserk.

He slapped, kicked and punched the bashers, shouting:

"You don kill am! You don kill am!"

Pandemonium erupted inside Underground. The bashers ran helter-skelter, dodging the irate sergeant. Still, the maddened policeman pursued them, lashing out viciously at whoever he caught. The bashers became the bashed. The noise eventually woke up Pastor Job. He cleared his throat noisily and spit out some phlegm.

Sergeant Slaughter forgot his prey and ran to Pastor Job's cell. He was overjoyed to find him alive after all. He knew it was a miracle, but Godless though he was, he thanked God for sending the pastor back from the great beyond.

He ordered that the pastor be untied from the roof and waited to catch him as he fell. But to their utter amazement, Pastor Job stepped nimbly down from the upturned pail. Slaughter and the bashers had seen the effect of Junior Crucifixion on people. The victims usually ended up with a form of paralysis; at least, a permanent dislocation of the limbs. So, they had expected their latest victim to crash. But contrary to their expectation, the pastor jumped down from the pail. He yawned and stretched his limbs like someone who had just woken up from a long, restful sleep on a water bed. Then he went into his morning spiritual, clapping and singing: "This is the day that the Lord has made

1 will rejoice and be glad in it."

He sang two more songs, dancing and clapping as he praised God. Then he knelt down to pray. First, he thanked God for being alive, for his mercies, for his peace, joy and strength. He thanked God for allowing his name to be glorified through his situation. He prayed fervently for the bashers, asking God to forgive them. He offered special prayers for Sergeant Slaughter, asking God to touch his heart and lead him to his own glorious light. He also prayed for Chairman, asking God to replenish his burnt house.

As he prayed, the glory of God descended on him, giving him a Christ-like appearance. At the same time, a rain of shame drenched Slaughter and the bashers. Humiliation covered them like a thick blanket. A cloud of total self-disgust consumed their spirits. They stood, mouth-agape, watching a man they had brutahsed praying and interceding for them. Their souls constricted in them and they felt like weeping. One by one, the bashers knelt down and began to say "Amen" to Pastor Job's prayers. All knelt, except Sergeant Slaughter who was so touched by the scene that he ran out of Underground, locked himself in his tiny office and wept in shame. For the first time in forty-five years, Sergeant Hassan, popularly called Slaughter, begged God for forgiveness.

Much later, the bashers provided Pastor Job with soap and clean water and helped him to bathe. His sodden clothes cleaned were ironed and given to him. Then, they led him to Sergeant Hassan's tiny office which the homicide sergeant had turned into a holding cell to make the pastor more comfortable. There Pastor Job had a tearful re-union with his wife and parents. They were exceedingly glad to see him alive, having been told by wicked rumour mongers that he had been '"shot while trying to escape from the cell".

Shade was particularly remorseful and blamed herself for her husband's present catastrophe. She moaned that had she not packed out of her matrimonial home, no lie could have been fabricated against her husband. Pastor Job consoled her, assuring her that God was in control and would soon establish his innocence. He was greatly encouraged by her faith in him in the face of so many "witnesses". Apart from his wife and parents, no other person believed he was innocent.

But Pastor Job was not worried as long as God was on his side. He knew no matter how hard they tried, his enemies would never convict him because God knew he was innocent. His usual slogan had been, "one with God is a majority". Now more than ever seemed it expedient for him to hold fast to that creed.

But what really troubled the pastor was the exit of his adopted brother, John. He had never really believed John's excuse for leaving the house the previous night. With hindsight, it seemed too pat, too well-timed to coincide with his eventual arrest, Could John be in league with airman? Pastor Job wondered.

His wife and parents told the pastor they had to leave very early to arrange for a lawyer to defend him in court later that day. Sergeant Hassan overheard them and announced that Lawyer Gbami had phoned in to say that he would represent the pastor. Job and his family were astonished.

Shortly after his family left, Lawyer Gbami and John came in. It was another tearful re-union with John, but for John, it was more painful being convinced of his master's guilt. He longed to put the record straight, but resisted the urge. He had been warned against such an action by Lawyer Gbami. Police stations, said the erudite lawyer, were often bugged. Their first task was to get the pastor out on bail. All other matters could wait till the substantive case began.

Lawyer Gbami explained how he got involved in the case and his conviction that Pastor Job was innocent of the charge. The latter, too, said he was innocent of the charge, and latter narrated his travail since being abducted from his home the previous night. He, however, downplayed his ordeal in the hands of Sergeant Slaughter and the bashers. Lawyer Gbami and John left soon after to prepare for court.

As Lawyer Gbami's Mercedes saloon car swept out of the station, John covered his face his hands and began to weep. Thinking that the young man was weeping for his beloved pastor, Lawyer Gbami was highly touched. He put his hands on the youth's shoulder and assured him that he would defend the pastor with the last drop of blood in his veins. John wiped his face and leaned back. He could not tell Lawyer Gbami that he had been weeping for himself, not for Pastor Job. How could a born-again child of God impregnate the daughter of his father's arch-enemy?

Pastor Job's last visitor before being taken to court was his deputy, Pastor Ojoge. As usual, Pastor Ojoge commiserated with him on his plight. He also expressed unalloyed confidence in Pastor Job's innocence. He swore that God would soon deal with the culprits behind the nefarious acts. He left after assuring Pastor Job that he was already praying and fasting for his quick release.

* * *

The court room was jam-packed. The publicity given to the case and the personalities involved had attracted a lot of people, especially journalists. They all had to wait because Pastor Job's case was not the first that day.

Lawyer Gbami arrived a little late, no thanks to Chairman. As he was about to head for the court, Chairman entered his office. Lawyer Gbami did not like Chairman. He knew of the many shady deals he had done with contractors and that many kickbacks that had bloated his numerous bank accounts. When he assumed office three years ago, Chairman was as thin as a rake. Today, he was obese, bloated no doubt by the many juicy bribes he had "swallowed". Chairman knew that he was not in the good books of the fiery lawyer and sweated as he sat in front of him. Like all obese men, the little effort required to climb the short flight of stairs up to Lawyer Gbami's first-floor office had taxed his energy. That coupled with his fear of the man in front of him. Lawyer Gbami assumed a studied silence. He suspected Chairman's mission, but waited for him to open the gambit. Chairman decided to hit the nail on the head.

"I want you to represent me in court today, lawyer."

"Impossible. I'm already defending Pastor Job."

"Leave the bastard and I'll make it worth your while."

"Really?" said Lawyer Gbami sarcastically.

'' Yes,” responded Chairman, opening the big black bag he had carried upstairs. "Look!"

Lawyer Gbami stood up to look into the bag. He could not believe his eyes. Inside were several bundles of mint-fresh, fifty naira notes.

"One million naira, liquid cash! All yours if you come over to my side."

Lawyer Gbami was strongly fascinated by the money, but a malignant fear slipped into his mind. Why would Chairman offer about ten times his normal charges if Pastor Job was really guilty? Yet, John's account was too damning and too factual. Perhaps John was a consummate actor. He might have switched loyalty. If so, why did he come to him?

Mustering all his will power, Lawyer Ghami snapped shut the bag and threw it in Chairman's lap.

“Get out!"

“But...But...”

"No buts. Out! Your total salary for the three years you've spent in office is only three hundred thousand naira. Where did you get a million naira cash? Out with your stolen loot!"

Chairman was too shocked to argue. He picked up the bag and dragged himself out of the office like a frustrated dog, his tall hanging limply in between his hind legs. Lawyer Gbami, too, headed for the court.

Judge Murphy had already sat down when he entered. Lawyer Gbami apologised for coming late and sat down. Pastor Job's case was called. He was charged with arson, attempted murder and assault on a uniformed policeman. Pastor Job pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The prosecution counsel. Lawyer Beyetiku, immediately applied for a long adjournment to enable him study the case properly and allow the police to conclude their investigations. Lawyer Gbami countered, saying that a long adjournment would hurt the political career of his client whose election to the post of chairman of the council was a week away.

Judge Murphy reluctantly agreed with Lawyer Gbami and asked the two counsels to agree on a new date. Judge Murphy was a sleeping golden hat and was determined to wreck Pastor Job's career. But faced with the irrepressible Lawyer Gbami, he knew he must be tactical.

The prosecution counsel suggested two weeks, but Lawyer Gbami wanted a nearer date to allow his client conclude his campaigns. He suggested two days hence, but Judge Murphy said he would not be available. A clever man, he had arranged for a sudden casual leave for himself, terminating on the day of the election. So, he asked both counsels to pick a date after the election.

Lawyer Gbami saw through it all and applied for bail for his client pending the time Judge Murphy would be available. Lawyer Beyetiku opposed his application on the ground that Pastor Job's continued presence in the community would jeopardise on-going investigation. He cited some authorities to back his position - Judge Murphy was visibly happy.

Lawyer Gbami countered with several legal authorities. However, it was very obvious that Judge Murphy had made up his mind not to free Pastor Job until the elections were over. So, Lawyer Gbami brought out his trump card.

In 1950, Judge Murphy, then an aspiring student union activist at University College, Ibadan, had been accused of stealing. It was a few days to the students’ union election in which young Murphy was challenging the incumbent president. It was obvious that he was going to win the battle. To debar him from contesting, his opponent planted some university properly in his room and had him arrested. Their ploy was to put young Murphy out of circulation till the election was over. But the presiding judge had granted young Murphy bail, saying it would be a miscarriage of justice to detain him only for the law to find him innocent later. Young Murphy had contested the election and won. He also won the case later.

Lawyer Gbami cited this case last, pointing out the similarity in Pastor Job's circumstances and that of young Murphy, now Judge Murphy. Judge Murphy was stunned. He never expected Lawyer Gbami to search that deep. He was visibly shaken and quickly took a thirty minute recess to cover his embarrassment.

He came back with a clever ploy to detain Pastor Job. He granted him "a suspended bail".

"My Lord, a suspended bail is an aberration in law. It does not exist in the penal code of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And with all due respect to the court, 1 am not aware of any nation in the world today that operates a suspended bail!"

Lawyer Gbami' s brilliant argument was wasted. Judge Murphy stuck to his gun. He explained that Pastor Job would be allowed to go home, but would be "freely" protected by the police so as Not to tamper with on-going police investigations. In other words, Pastor Job would be allowed home but would be denied freedom of movement and association. That way, he could not hold any rallies nor attend any nor even confer with political associates. In essence, he would be a prisoner in his own house till the election was over.

Lawyer Gbami stormed out of the court, vowing to proceed to the Appeal Court the following day to quash the bail condition. He told the press:

"We have just witnessed the birth of a monster whose hydra-headed iniquities may soon consume our legal system."

The evening papers made banner headlines out of the statement. That evening, Sergeant Hassan brought Pastor Job back to his house. He posted five policemen at the gate, with instructions to "behave". They were ordered to allow only family members and lawyers into the compound. Shade came back home and cooked a big meal for her husband. Pastor Job instructed her to prepare some food for the policemen at the gate. Even though she would rather they starved to death, she obeyed reluctantly.

After the meal, both retired to their bedrooms. As he lay on his bed, Pastor Job's mind began to replay the events of the last one month. How had the boat of life-transported them from joy to anguish, from freedom to confinement in the space of one month?

 



 

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Abiodun Adeniji

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