Up atop my roof, I have scanned the village many times, seen many things and even heard many matters. But, sometimes, even if I have to grudgingly admit it to myself, I do get bored. But, in the eternal words of Dada Ntim, man must happy himself.
And that is what why I visit the court besides the old water pipe, operated by Nana Ohyia. Nana Ohyia my friend who is disabled in his limbs but quite able in all other aspects, especially intellectually. Nana Ohyia who writes so beautifully and used to be the village letter-writer of a sort. He had many pen pals abroad in those days when the post offices worked and when emails were still in the remote future. Nana Ohyia is also a sage, and I used to sit with him, chatting for long hours about every- and anything. It was much later that I got to know that he was actually related to me on my mother’s side, having been a stepson of my mother’s elder sister Mutwuwaa. We are all connected, you see.
So, to the court near Nana Ohyia I went, usually, just to kill boredom and to listen to the cases brought before them. Many of which as mundane as they come. It was as if some person’s just existed to litigate. The last Katawere called such people ‘mansonnaires’ – passionate, seasoned and, almost, professional litigants. Different from litigators, mind you, as lawyers, such as my Akyem-Dagbon friend who is learned, like to clarify. Never mind that, perhaps without spending time collecting legal knowledge at Makola (not the market), he would have been a mansonnaire anyway. But don’t quote me on that, I will deny it.
For instance, there was this friend of my mum’s who ate, slept, dreamt, woke and walked with manso on her mind. One day, when her children abroad invited her to visit them, she went to the court near Nana Ohyia’s water pipe and asked the court registrar to reschedule all her cases. “Me tu kwan aba”, she explained. Mansotwe was her twapia.
In the court, there were side attractions. The registrar’s suits and his mannerisms were two such highlights. The suits usually were good samples of fashion of yesteryears. The registrar spoke with an accent as closest to the British as one would find in the village. Usually, he was the exact epitome of one who was more British than the Queen. Long live the Registrar! For good measure, his hairstyle was special. Then, there were the supporters of the accused and the plaintiffs, and their comments during the sessions. Insightful.
But the boss of the court was the Magistrate. I don’t really remember the previous ones before Magistrate Amihere arrived. We all simply called him Magistrate. Magistrate, who later became our neighbour at Low Cost Estates and whose family became our friends, especially his son and nephew who were great pals. Magistrate was forthright and funny, tough and tactful, disciplinarian all the time. You didn’t joke in his court. I enjoyed his court sessions. The extra boon was that his spoken English was excellent so I expanded my vocabulary just listening to him in his court.
Oh, there are so many cases and stories that were memorable. I remember one in which a man was accused of stealing a hen. When the owner caught him right in the act and accosted him, the thief used the hen to hit the owner in the face; “He slapped me with the hen,” the plaintiff lamented.
The thief was jailed. Jail terms handed in the court were no small matters o. For stealing a goat (a favourite of the village thieves), a year or two as a special guest in the governmental resorts, also known as prisons, were normal.
Then, there was this case in which a man had connived with the person whose farm adjourned their family farm. The man (who was the plaintiff, let’s call him Akoto) had asked his neighbouring farmer (called Obenteng) to take his family to court over the plaintiff’s family farm, and argue that the land, on which the family’s farm was on, belonged to Obenteng. The arrangement was that when Obenteng was successful in getting the land from Akoto’s family, he would then divide the farm into two and give Akoto his share. Akoto was in court in that earlier case, testifying on behalf of Obenteng, against his (Akoto’s family). In the era where there were no documentation of land, especially farm lands, oral testimony was that powerful. With a member of the family testifying on oath, with such knowledge of the history of the land, the court ruled in Obenteng’s favour and claimed the farm for Obenteng. Akoto’s family was so pained that one of their own had so stabbed them all in the back and spent months agonising, try to understand why Akoto did that. But, surely, they didn’t know about the secret arrangement between the two.
Then, when the time was due for Obenteng to cede off Akoto’s portion to him, he refused. Obenteng’s argument was that there were no documents to show that he had made that arrangement with Akoto. Akoto sued him in Magistrate Amihere’s court.
In the case of Akoto versus Obenteng, Akoto began to confess how he went about lying so he could gain a larger portion of the family farm, through the deal with Akoto. In court, Obenteng was calm and only demanded that the court ask Akoto one question: “Where is the proof of the claimed agreement?” As a corollary, Obenteng stated that if Akoto was indeed part of the land he fought for, why didn’t his name appear on the suit that was filed in the initial case? Magistrate dismissed the case and Akoto lost all.
From my perch up my roof, I saw relatives of Fiifi Sadam carrying eight hundred and forty sacks, each filled to the brim with cowries, to Obenteng’s house. When I asked on what basis the transfer was being effected, I was told that Fiifi has agreed that when Obenteng’s car koba arrived, the cowries would be returned. And that the agreement was by verbal intercourse only. I remembered Akoto and only said “What’s Up!”