On May 23, 1954, Inuwa Gombe, an Hausa trader went to the Colonial masters’ quarters in Ikoyi to sell Hausa designed hand bags to a British woman. He received the shock of his life when the husband released their dog which bit his genitals.
No 17 Turbull Road, Ikoyi was one of the colonial houses occupied by a British couple, Mr and Mrs Victor Alexander Gregory. Mr Gregory worked as a Senior Pottery Officer, Department of Commerce and Industries, Lagos, and by colonial standards, he was a senior officer of the British Colonial government.
On this fateful day, Inuwa Gombe, a trader who specialized in selling Hausa leather designed bags had rode gleefully in to Turnbull street on his Raleigh bicycle, moving from house to house in a bid to sell his wares. He knew from experience that the white people love African artifacts which he traded in, a trade which had made him prosperous by “African standards”.
Getting to No 17, he approached the house, hoping to sell his leather works to Mrs Gregory. Just before he got to the front door, a wild dog rushed out of the door opened by his master, and at the word “catch him”, longed, and wrestled Inuwa to the ground. In the process, the dog bit his genitals, causing him severe injury. Inuwa laid there on the ground writhing in pains.
Mr Gregory, who ordered the dog to attack Inuwa approached and kicked him again and again. With great agony, Inuwa picked himself up and staggered out of the premises. On the road, some passers-by noticed him as he writhed in pains. He narrated his ordeal and they helped him to the police station, from where the police conveyed him to the General Hospital for treatment. He was given 13 stiches on his genitals.
Two constables later visited the Gregory’s house to invite him to the police station, and also took his dog for medical examination. He refused to follow them and also refused to release his dog. Two days later, the constables returned with a warrant of arrest and also a warrant to take the dog for medical examination.
On June 20, 1954, Gregory was arraigned before Magistrate Mason Amatotsero Begho of Magistrate court 3. Lagos on a two- count charge viz:
Assault occasioning harm, contrary to section 355 of the criminal code;
Resisting police arrest, contrary to section 356 (a) of the criminal code.
At the commencement of trial, the prosecutor applied to withdraw the second charge on the ground that he received instructions from his superior officer to withdraw it. The accused was thus discharged on count two.
Also the lawyer to the accused applied for the transfer of the case to another court, claiming that the trial Magistrate had a pre- judicial knowledge of the case as he is a resident of Turnbull Street. Magistrate Begho however refused to disqualify himself. He ruled that the fact that he lived on the street where the incident happened was not enough to make him transfer the case as he was not in the house when the incident took place.
During trial, Gregory admitted the argument of the prosecutor on how the dog attacked Inuwa. He however denied that he incited the dog. He also denied kicking the victim after the dog had bitten him. In his defence, Gregory called his wife and his neighbor, Mr Bruce.
Magistrate Begho delivered his judgment on July 8 1954. He found the accused guilty of inciting his dog to bite Inuwa. He also found him guilty of inflicting bodily injuries on him. He said that from the evidence before the court, Gregory did not only dislike black traders who go around selling their wares around, he abhorred them.
The magistrate said neither Gregory nor his wife showed any sympathy towards the victim when their dog bit him. Neither did they take him to the hospital seeing that their dog had severely wounded the trader, evidence that they incited the dog to bite the poor man.
He therefore sentenced Gregory to a year imprisonment or an alternative fine of 120 pounds. Magistrate Begho did not stop at that, he ordered that the imprisonment must be with hard labour with an addition of three strokes of the cane!
The defence lawyer immediately filed a notice of appeal. The accused was granted bail for 500 pounds and two sureties of 250 pounds each. Meanwhile news of the judgement has spread, especially the aspect that dealt with the cane. People were amused and happy that a court had ordered a white man to be flogged just as they flog the black people.
On July 16, 1954, Magistrate Begho issued a warrant for the re-arrest of Gregory on the charge of obstructing the police on a lawful execution of their duty. Immediately, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr P.J Harley paid the magistrate a visit in his chambers in company of another senior officer, a Senior Superintendent, Mr F.G Hall. They tried to convince him to withdraw the warrant he issued but he bluntly refused. He advised them to meet the Attorney General who has the powers to enter a nolle prosequi in the case.
The following day, a Saturday, Gregory was arrested again as ordered by the magistrate but was released the same day. The following Monday, Magistrate Begho announced in court that he received word from the Attorney General who told him that he (AG) could not find sufficient evidence to establish the charge of “obstructing the police”.
With the face-off with the Attorney General, speculations were rife that the magistrate would resign. But he refuted it saying “I have neither resigned nor contemplate resigning. I intend to stay on to the end when my hand might be forced to resign. Not until then”.
The accused person’s appeal came up before the Supreme Court, Tinubu Square, Lagos on August 18, 1954. The court was presided over by Justice Olumuyiwa Jibowu. The accused grounds of appeal were the following:
- That the decision of the Magistrate Court was altogether unwarranted, unreasonable, and against the weight of evidence.
- That the magistrate court had no jurisdiction to try the case because the accused was not informed of his right to be tried by a judge of the Supreme Court or a Jury;
- That the magistrate court has no jurisdiction to try the case because he was personally interested, in that an application for the transfer of the case was refused;
- That the magistrate saw the Hausa trader after the main events of the case and when other events were taking place, the magistrate saw Inuwa and spoke to him;
- That the decision of the magistrate was erroneous in the point of law, in that it was based on two propositions which has no substance or relevance to the case or had not sufficient evidence to secure a conviction;
- That the specific illegality was committed in the proceedings in that the magistrate did not set out the necessary words or that he omitted some of the applicant’s (Gregory) statement;
- That the sentence was excessive.
The accused was represented by Mr Angus Ferguson who argued that assault as in this case was not as prevalent as to justify caning. He maintained that the three strokes of the cane added to the fine or sentence was unjustified. To him, the magistrate ought to have considered other punishment in addition to the sentence which is available under the section in which the caning was imposed. He therefore urged the court to review the judgement and punishment imposed.
Senior Crown Counsel, Mr C.A Burton argued that all the grounds of appeal were too vague. He said the accused should have shown sympathy for the victim when the dog bit him. “But Gregory’s attitude and conduct after the dog bite incident showed that the magistrate was right in basing his assumption of incitement on that fact.
Burton argued that it is not the duty of an appeal court to accept or reject the evidence given in the magistrate court. “The prosecution’s case was based on facts and the question of circumstantial evidence does not arise. The evidence of Mrs Gregory indicated that the dog usually bark at unescorted strangers. But in Inuwa’s case, it did not bark but bit, which proved that the dog was incited”.
On Saturday August 28, the locus in quo was visited by Justice Jibowu to have a first hand of what transpired. On September 1, 1954, he delivered judgement wherein he dropped the three strokes of cane and also reduced the fine to 50 pounds. This did not go down well with the crowd that had gathered to watch the proceedings. Gregory paid the fine immediately and was escorted out of the court premises by the police.
Magistrate Mason later became a judge and rose to the position of Chief Judge of Mid- West State before his retirement.