It was supposed to be a marriage across the Atlantic that is capable of breaking all racial and segregation borders. In 1945, the difference between the white and black people across the globe was well established. It was in those days when Martin Luther King (Jnr) and Malcom X in the United States of America were waking up to the reality of their colour, and trying hard to fight against racialism in the US.
It was a time when Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and other compatriots of the African National Congress in South Africa were beginning to see the light to fight racial discrimination if they must survive.
It was in this same year that a hot romance began between Maurice Hall, a Briton, and Esther Johnson (real name: Ada Ocha Ntu), a local Nigerian girl, started in Ibadan, Western Nigeria. Maurice was then a locomotive engineer with the railway corporation and lived in the railway compound. On the other hand, Esther was a beautiful damsel from Sapele in the then Warri Division of the Mid West, Nigeria. She had followed her brother to Ibadan when she was a young girl. In those days, it was the responsibility of the elderly children to train their young ones.
On a fateful night in 1945, Maurice had gone out to relax after a hard day’s work. He went to a pub and ordered for a bottle of beer. As he took the first gulp to satisfy his thirst, his gaze fell upon Esther, looking radiant in her prime. He liked what he saw and approached her. Esther was initially shy as she looked into Maurice eyes. Looking deep, she saw the passion and what she later referred to as trust in his eyes. From that moment, both became inseparable.
Their passion for each other became so intense that few weeks after their meeting, Esther moved into Maurice apartment at the railway compound. They lived happily together in the apartment for seven years as Maurice had promised to marry her. In the seventh year, Maurice borrowed 800 pounds from Esther to buy a taxi for commercial use on the streets of Ibadan. Esther did not hesitate to give him the money since he had promised to marry her. This was in 1952.
However, rather than buying the taxi, Maurice proceeded on his annual leave to Britain while Esther, like a dutiful wife kept his Nigerian home. In Britain, Maurice met another lady that dazzled him and before one could say “Esther”, he had tied the knots with her. Leave over; he left Britain for Nigeria with a promise to his wife that she would soon join him.
Meanwhile back in Ibadan, Esther received Maurice like any woman who had missed her man for a while would- with warmth and tenderness. Rather than getting the same warmth back from Maurice, what she got was a cold shoulder. His attitude to her changed and just as she worried her mind on his attitude, Maurice dropped the bombshell: “I have married an English lady back in Britain and she will be joining me soon”.
His words did not immediately sink into Esther’s head. She felt as if she was in a deep slumber and struggled to wake up. “But you promised to marry me on your return from leave….” But Maurice turned to the usual male chauvinistic braggado: “Pack your things and leave. My wife will soon arrive from England”, he said. Like the first day they met, Esther looked at him deeply and found out he meant every word.
An argument therefore ensued. Esther asked Maurice to return the 800 pounds she loaned him before she could leave. Maurice replied that he had no money to pay her. But Esther insisted on having her money back before she could leave. Both went to bed that night with rage and anger. Early in the morning, Maurice woke Esther up and asked her if she still stand by her position to get her money before packing out. Esther’s reply was affirmative. She further threatened to get him arrested, first for collecting her money under false pretence and for breach of promise.
Maurice was enraged. He moved towards a drawer, brought out a revolver pistol and began to load it with bullets. In a reflex action, Esther saw a table knife lying on a table beside her, picked it up, and threw it at Maurice. As Maurice turned, the knife hit his stomach, pierced his skin, and got buried deep into his bowels. The revolver dropped from his hands just as blood started gushing out of his stomach.
It was the sight of blood that alerted Esther to what she had done. She screamed and ran out of the house in the streets. The day was yet to break. She entered the first lorry that came her way. In her mind, she wanted to get to the police station and report herself. But the lorry she boarded was on its way to Lagos. The lorry had travelled reasonably far before she realized this. On getting to Lagos, she had to part with her wristwatch in lieu of her transport fare.
Immediately she alighted from the lorry, she walked straight to the Central Police Station, Tinubu Square, where she reported the incident that occurred. Detectives from the station returned with her to Ibadan and inspected the house. They found the dead body of Maurice in a pool of his own blood, stone dead. Police photographers also came in and took pictures of the incident. Esther was subsequently charged for murder. Her trial started in 1953 at the Ibadan High Court before Justice Sir Adetokunbo Ademola
When her plea was taken, she pleaded “not guilty” and said she was provoked and that she acted in self defence. But the prosecution argued that she killed her boyfriend because she found out that he had married another woman in England. In a courtroom filled to capacity, Justice Ademola delivered judgment on June 18, 1953. He refused the plea of provocation of the defence and sentenced Esther to death.
The defence team of Esther however appealed the judgment before the West African Court of Appeal. On 0ctober 7, 1953, the appellate court also refused the appeal, upholding the death sentence handed down by the High Court. The lawyers thereafter petitioned the Privy Council. The council after reviewing the case reduced the death sentence to life imprisonment. The then Governor General, Sir John Macpherson signed the review on behalf of the Privy Council. It was the first reprieve made by the council since the enthronement of Queen Elizabeth 11.
Meanwhile the Esther case had become celebrated. Newspapers reported and even wrote editorials on it. Many people and several groups agitated for her release. On October 1, 1961, the Governor General of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe during the first Independence anniversary granted Esther reprieve and signed an order remitting her unexpired terms of imprisonment to the Crown. Esther became a free woman after spending 3,028 days behind bars. A hopeless woman, a hopeless situation was turned around. Esther eventually got married and settled down into a new relationship in April 1964.