At the Ashaiman District Court, journalists sat on wooden benches as hard as the first benches of old time Christianity.
But much harder than this was the attempt by the lawyer for Oliver Barker-Vormawor to convince the judge, Mrs. Eleanor Kakra Barnes-Botchway, not to commit his client to trial for treason felony.
Oliver did not work hard to hide his concern and contempt that the court was “a mere rubber stamp.” At best he hoped this court would not.
Oliver Barker-Vormawor was in court to hear the judge decide whether the state had enough evidence to actually prosecute him for treason felony.
The state had scanned more than a year’s social media posts of Oliver Barker-Vormawor, between February 2021 and April 2022. It then put together nearly every comment that had the word ‘coup’ or ‘overthrow’ or some other strong language of the activist.
The lawyer for Barker-Vormawor, Justice Srem Sai, stood up and asked the court to strike out the case because the charge sheet was “so general that it is impossible [for his client] to defend himself.”
He argued that the bill of indictment against Oliver was “bad for duplicity”. He simply meant that instead of one count stating one offence, Oliver was being tried with one count, two offences.
“Each paragraph must have one offence,” the lawyer said. He pointed out that on Oliver’s bill of indictment, he was charged with treason felony but the particulars of the offence were two; “endeavoured to usurp the executive powers of the republic” and “advocating the violent overthrow of the constitution”
Looking baffled, Justice Srem Sai also argued the state was charging him twice for the same offence of treason felony, one committed on Facebook and another on Twitter.
“It is not as if the [post] on Twitter is different from the one on Facebook,” he cast doubt on the digital savviness of the professionals at the department of public prosecution.
Oliver often shared what he posts on Facebook on Twitter and vice-versa, but the state did not see one sin posted twice, but two sins committed once, Justice Srem Sai explained what he said was wrong in law.
The judge had given him four minutes, and as she held her chin staring at the lawyer, it was a non-verbal sentence that his time was up. When lawyer Justice Srem Sai asked the judge to rule on his application for the case to be struck out, she retorted, “I am not going to do that. Let me follow my procedure.”
The judge turned to Oliver Barker-Vormawor, her shiny black watch showing she was in vogue even if the physical court had an infrastructure not fit for the 70s.
But before the ruling, the judge asked, “I am giving you the opportunity to say something if you have anything to say.”
Oliver asked with a masked glee, “How long can my statement be?”
The phrase “how long” suggested that this speech was not going to be short. It signaled to the judge that she may have handed an incautious invitation to a manufacturer of oratory.
“Briefly,” Her Ladyship, Mrs. Kakra Barnes-Botchway, replied Oliver. It was too late. The horse had already bolted.
“It seems bizarre that my right to a fair trial has been delayed for six months only so that a committal judge may accept hook, line, and sinker everything the prosecution throws at the committal court,” he began.
“The committal proceedings are supposed to protect citizens from frivolous accusations and tramped up charges by regimes that have lost the moral decency to uphold the rule of law.
“What purpose does the law serve if a six-month-long committal process is a mere formality and a rubber stamp process?”
In these three of many paragraphs, Oliver revealed his suspicion that none of the arguments advanced by his lawyer, Justice Srem Sai, was going to weigh on the mind of the judge.
“The entire utility of the committal process makes no sense,” he continued the lecture as the judge, compelled to take down the accused’s statement, also wrote “makes no sense” on a paper next to the paper for her ruling.
“I long for justice in your colonial wig you wear with discomfort.” he continued, the judge still writing down the attack on the judiciary’s fashion sense.
“I have come before you, judge, believing, and where belief fails me, hoping that as much as corruption and moral decay pervades the soul of our now lost democracy, some remnant of justice still lives within these walls,” he said.
The judge appeared to be getting tired of this unforeseen stress of writing down Oliver’s speech like all the journalists were doing. She appeared to long for a return to judging as Oliver longed for the return of justice.
Her Ladyship, Mrs. Eleanor Kakra Barnes-Botchway, interrupted and, after small exchanges, asked Oliver to conclude.
“Am I guilty of the charges? Absolutely not!” he charged at the charges and resumed his posture of watching the process with not-so-hidden contempt.
Barker-Vormawor appeared to have made peace with the value of his own life, he was ready to go to war with everything else.
He was resting his arms over the docket like a landlord resting his arms over his balcony. Occasionally, he would lean his back to the window, his hands disappearing into his pockets.
After 10:30am, the judge ruled that Oliver did not really address the treason felony charges he faced, but rather complained about his 35 days incarceration without a hearing and other human rights abuses.
She committed the case to trial on September 1, 2022, at the Accra High Court.
Oliver smiled and streamed out of the court. He looked like a man who thought it was rather the court that was on trial, not him.
You may reach the writer at [email protected], follow him on twitter @edwinologyLB; Facebook, Edwin Appiah