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How Judge And Lawyers Escaped Gun-Fire At Customary Court In Imo — NBA Owerri Branch Secretary, Chinedu Agu Narrates

The Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Owerri Branch, Chinedu Agu has narrated his ordeal at the Customary Court, Nkwerre on the 2nd of June, 2022 when unknown gunmen stormed the court as proceeding was going  on.

In his narration Sighted by The Lawyer, he described the bewilderment which greeted to sounds of gun fire outside the court premise and how litigants frantically escaped arms harm’s way.

He wrote: “I am sure readers of this piece may think this is one of those experiences relayed to the Secretariat by a member of the Branch, as was the case a fortnight ago, when gun men attacked the court at Nnenasa, and a member of the Branch (name withheld), lawyers, litigants and the Magistrate escaped through the eye of a needle.

But it is a different case here. In fact, I am about to narrate to you my personal encounter at Customary Court Nkwerre today, Thursday the 2nd day of June, 2022.”

He described the experience as a very harrowing one likened which he still cringes from and caused him difficulty in gathering his thoughts.  He said his experience is memorably horrific and a remarkable reminder of the insecurity in the state

“Literally, a raw cocoyam was boiled in my mouth today! It was a harrowing experience whose thoughts I involuntarily still cringe from.

The uncharacteristic delay in reporting this is only traceable to the difficulty in gathering my thoughts in the last 9hours.

Today, Thursday the 2nd day of June, 2022, will be another memorable day for me in a long list of horrific days foisted on us by insecurity.”

Narrating was transpired he said he was in court for continuation of the evidence of PW3 in a matter he had suggested an out of court settlement to the Counsel for the Plaintiffs. About 6 senior members of the Bar were in court, meaning that he had to watch proceedings and wait for his turn.

He then described the circumstance which led to the commotion that later ensued

“The Defence counsel was drilling the witness in the Box when a casual sound was heard in the air, _”tah tah tah.”_

Our eyes widened in bewilderment, as a lawyer beside me suggested it could be from the Police Station which abuts the court premises. But before he could conclude his suggestion, more rounds followed hot on the heels of the former, _”tah tah tah tah tah tah tah tah toh toh toh toh toh toh toh.”_

Immediately, the witness jumped out from the witness box and scaled the Bar. (Don’t ask me what the sitting Chairmen and members did). But all I can remember is that in milliseconds, their seats were vacant!!!

In that roudy attempt to scamper for safety, there was jostling, there was squeezing and there was congestion at the narrow court entrance door. It was then that my goalkeeping arts and skills were called into action, as I dived out from the window in full length like Thibaut Courteous’ (Real Madrid Goalkeeper) full-length save from Mane’s low shot at the last Champions League Finals.

Some other athletic lawyers and litigants also followed suit when they could not join in the squeezing and jostling at the door.

Everybody ran hither and thither. I joined the group that foraged into the Bush, as the gunshots were advancing only but two poles away.

In my resplendent suit, I waded through thick bush, brushing aside cassava stems, plants, shrubs, and evading Squirrel Traps. The rapidly advancing gun shots, the frenetic foot steps inside the bush and the uncertainty of the destination of the run, combined to frighten me as my heart pounded and tried to force it way out from my throat.

As I waded quarter of a kilometer into the bush, the only house in sight was an old, tenanted bungalow fenced with bamboo _(mgbala)._ I made another Edwin Vandersar-esque dive over the bamboo fence and emerged inside the compound like soap opera Willy-Willy. I could hear bullets pelleting on the trees and shrubs of the Bush, and on the roof of the house in which I was running into for safety.

The doors of the house were ajar, as if to welcome me. I dashed into the empty parlour, and brushed aside the curtain and dashed into a bedroom whose busy bed suggested it belonged to a young couple.”

After scrambling for safety, he said the owner of the house where he sought cover returned and that was when he knew they had equally ran away at the sounds of the gunshots.

“Alone and deserted in a house whose owners had also run away from for safety, I hurriedly bolted the lock and prostated under the busy bed like a Lizard gathering momentum (in my suit, who remembered what one was wearing in that circumstance).

Flurry of hurried footsteps also passed.

Few minutes later, probably when calm was returning, I heard a bang on the house whose possession I had already taken, _”onye ru ihe a,”_ the voice of a young lady inquired, in a heavily-accented Nkwerre dialect. The voice was tinged with mixed emotions of both astonishment and fear. I scurried out of the bed and opened the door.

My abashed face met a bemused face of a heavily pregnant young lady – – may be in her late twenties – – carrying a runny-nosed child of less than two years. She regarded me quizzically. I regarded her back, but in a mea culpa gesture.”

“I was running for safety and took shelter in your bedroom.”

She dropped in pearls of laughter. “So we were running away from our house and you were running into the same house.” We both laughed at the situation.

Moments later, a woman (her mother-in-law) ran back home bare-footed. “Did you see my Slippas?” She asked as she was panting. ”

He later received a phone call from the Counsel on the other side that he should return to the court to pack his belongings.

“While the woman went to get me a towel to clean my body and shoes, the counsel on the other side called that I should run back to the court premises and move my car as everyone had returned to take away their belongings inadvertently left behind.

I ran back to the court, entered my car and zoomed off. As I drove gingerly on the village streets, locals kept showing me the safest routes to ply. As I drove from Umuaka Junction, I never met any other car on the road till I got to Nwaorieubi. ”

He said while driving home, he was engrossed in thoughts about his near death experience and the need for authorities to do something urgently about courts that are outside Owerri Metropolis for the safety of Judges, Lawyers and Litigants.

“As I was driving frighteningly back, I pondered on everything. I pondered on my young family. I pondered on my three little children, who just bade me farewell as I dropped them off to school this morning. I pondered on my young wife, with whom everyday is Christmas, and every night, a new year eve. I pondered on life as an Imolite. I pondered on life as a lawyer in a State steeped in uncertainty and ravished by insecurity. I pondered on our system, a failed system, a feverish system!!! I pondered on the unsettling dithering of concerned authorities in taking drastic decisions about all courts that sit outside Owerri Metropolis. I pray the life of a lawyer, a Magistrate, a Chairman is not lost before a decision on this is taken.”

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