I was almost choked by the smoke. It made me sneeze once or twice. I had to rest a little to catch my breath in the middle of trial.”
These were the words of Mr. O. O. Olatunji, the presiding magistrate of Court 2 at the Candice Johnson Courthouse, Ikorodu, Lagos on the haze of smoke that wafted into his courtroom from a fire kindled some buildings away two weeks ago.
Thenigerialawyer learnt that the smoke, which filled the courtroom, disrupted proceedings by making breathing and seeing difficult for the spectators, litigants and their counsels, a few of whom were seen rubbing their smarting eyes and covering their noses.
“It was very bad,” Mr Olatunji said, “I had to rise and pause trial for 20 minutes so that everyone could get fresh air and catch their breath.”
High Court Assistant Chief Registrar, Gbose Adetola, told Thenigerialawyer that apart from the smoke, the Magistrate and High Courts, which share the Candice Johnson Courthouse building, are also affected by a bad smell which occasionally seems to emanate from a Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) premises beside the court.
‘’There is a NITEL facility that borders this court,’’ Mr. Adetola said. “It looks like it’s abandoned, and a portion of the wall around the buildings there is broken, so anyone can gain access to it.”
He added: “There must be a burst septic pipe or maybe some people defecate in the open around there because stench from there sometimes reaches some of the offices and courtrooms here. It can be quite bad. The places most affected are the magistrate court downstairs and the high court upstairs that are closest to the fence adjoining both premises.”
A court source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Thenigerialawyer that “The room was made darker and more uncomfortable by the smoke.”
“It even caused the magistrate and some spectators to sneeze,” he said.
On why the generators were not on, he replied: “The generators are turned on at 10am, but you know His Honour’s court begins sitting by 9am.”
The source added that on noticing the discomfort of everyone, the magistrate, who had already resorted to reading by flashlight because of the poor visibility, promptly announced the suspension of proceedings.
“He directed that the matters which had earlier been stood down would be heard when the smoke cleared. This is the second time smoke will suspend proceedings in court, in the few years I’ve been here,” he said.
The source suggested that the smoke came from the firewood stoves of food sellers in front of the NITEL premises, but The Thenigerialawye investigations showed that this was not the case.