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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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Nigerian
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The holy book says ‘judge not so that you shall not be judged’. This may be paraphrased as ‘Judge ye, but remember that you shall also be judged’. In this case the Judges want to judge without being judged. Is this the type of justice we crave for? He who sits in the judgment seat must sit with clean hands. We need a justice system that is blind to status, clan, religion or political inclination. This is a test case for the Nigerian Judiciary to redeem itself. They have an option to weed out the so called ‘bad eggs’ and restore the dignity of the hallowed institution or to dance naked in the spirit of es·prit de corps.

 

Judging The Judges

There is a hurricane blowing across the nation, it is blowing hot with blazes of hunger and pain, glares of uncertainty, casting a hazy cloud on the horizon, eliciting sighs of despair among the people and a cacophony of discordant tunes from the leadership. Things are falling apart and the center cannot hold (W. B. Yeats). The country has been officially declared to be in a recession. For the Nigerian in the street, ‘recession’ is just, like the Finance Minister said, a word; an essentially meaningless word, because they don’t understand it. That is the job of professional economists and financial analysts. For them, what they know is that ‘things are hard’ and ‘there is no money’.

 

In the midst of all these, they hear stories about budget ‘padding’; another new word in Nigeria’s politico-economic lexicon. By definition, padding is the practice of ‘adding’ a chunk of money to budget line items or additional fake budget items to the budget submitted by the executive, by the National assembly, with the aim of sharing the ‘excess’ among members of the respective committees once the money is released for implementation. This is done in active connivance with ministers of the respective ministries. The ministers too have a share in the deal at the end of the day. This way, everybody is happy perhaps except the common man who is not a stakeholder in all these permutations. Padding has been a normal exercise in the PDP led national assembly since 1999. Indeed it has been institutionalized and passed down from one assembly to the other.

 

As if these are not enough, we woke up last Saturday to the stunning news that some high ranking judges have been arrested by the Department of State Security (DSS) agents and huge sums of money in different denominations were found in their possession. The arrest was also accompanied by some drama in Rivers State where the State Governor prevented the agents from arresting the Judge. He said, he could not allow illegality to be committed in his domain as the chief security officer of the state. On the other hand the NBA, the lawyers association issued a stern warning to the government to release the judges unconditionally, failing which they would embark on a boycott of the courts. Then as usual the masses, the battered masses, quickly filed themselves along political, religious and ethnic lines and began to fight each other, adducing political, religious and ethnic reasons for the early morning raid. Some, who chose to give their criticism some semblance of patriotism, hyped the ‘rule of law’, though rather suspiciously, to buttress their opposition to the arrests.

Wike’s conduct, in obstructing the DSS agents on assignment, leaves a lot to mystery. What dog does he have in the fight? In addition to his being the State’s Chief Security Officer, has he now taken upon himself the duty of the chief law officer who determines which arrest is legal or illegal? Is it in his power to demand a warrant of arrest from the police when he is not the suspect? Does the law require his approval in his capacity as the Chief Security Officer for any suspect to be arrested? Is this how he goes about supervising police activities with regards to the arrest of citizens within his domain?  Wike’s conduct gives credence to the school of thought which posits that Nigeria may not be ripe just yet for State Police after all. Actions like the show he put up imply that should a whole Police formation be placed under his control, it would be subject to abuse.

It is amazing how the Nigerian citizenry has gone past astonishment and consternation and developed a thick skin against public vices that easily draw out the anger of the people in other climes. It is only in Nigeria that you find the victims of crime defending the criminal. The recession we are experiencing today is a consequence of sleaze, which has been aided and abated by the judiciary. It is therefore very ironical that the common man who is worst hit by the consequences of this clandestine conspiracy are being gullibly brainwashed and recruited to defend their adversaries, hyping the rule of law. I can bet that should such an arrest have happened in one of the societies where corruption is a taboo; the people would have poured into the streets in support of the action and demanded punishment in no lenient terms.  Here we have self-made lawyers alluding to illegality of the arrest in obvious indifference for the illegality of the alleged offence for which the Judges were arrested.

Three issues have been raised by the opposition camp against the arrest. One, they claim that the time of the arrest was ‘ungodly’ even though the Administration of Criminal Justice Act(2015) is equivocal  in section 43 (1) & (2) that an arrest warrant can be executed at any time and on any day of the week including Sunday and a public holiday.  Secondly they allege that there was no warrant for the arrest of the judges whereas the DSS insists they had a warrant. However again the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) requires only that the arresting police officer should inform the suspect of the existence of a warrant, it does not make it mandatory that a warrant be presented to the suspect on the spot (or to spectators as in the case of a Wike showing up on the scene and demanding to see the warrant).  Indeed section 44 of the act states that a warrant of arrest may be executed even if the person executing the warrant does not have the said warrant in his possession  at the time of arrest provided that it should be shown to the suspect on demand as soon as practicable after his arrest. Thirdly they say the arrest violated the rights and privacy of the suspect, where the agents had to break into the properties of the suspect in the course of the arrest. Again the Act at 12 (2) clearly permits the arresting officer to break into the property of a suspect for the purpose of arrest if the suspect fails to grant access to the arresting officer.

From the ongoing, it may be deduced that, the cacophony of antagonistic voices against this bold and decisive move is not motivated by the love for the rule of law. But rather it is motivated by the inherent propensity of a great majority of Nigerians to prefer to do things their own way despite the law.  We write beautiful laws and then park them aside and operate on religious, ethnic and political principles. When a Christian is arrested, the Christians cry foul, it becomes persecution of Christians by a Muslim led government.  When a politician is arrested, it becomes intimidation of opposition. When a tribesman is arrested, his kinsmen rise up and allege marginalization and ethnic cleansing of their tribe. The law does not come into all these discourses. 

Now the judiciary has borrowed from this diversionary tactic and are alleging persecution of the judiciary. The NBA issued a hasty but unfortunate statement threatening fire and brimstone if the judges were not released (without trial). The question is; since when did lawyers transit from learned fellows who seek redress from the courts to ‘militants’ issuing threats?  How does a group which believes in the rule of law, resort to self-help tactics instead of heading to the courts to defend their ‘clients’ (the judges)?  The posture of the NBA creates suspicion that perhaps some of their key members (not all) are neck-to-neck with some judges in these surreptitious deals.

The most unfortunate statement came from the CJN who even found a way to link it to an attack on democracy. Why on earth would a lawyer or judge say the arrest of a suspect (whatever is position) constitutes a threat to democracy? Does it mean the clandestine activities of these judges are perpetrated to promote democracy? How is democracy endangered by weeding out corruption from the judiciary? Does democracy only thrive in a country with a corruption infested judiciary?  Are judges immune from prosecution? Are they above the law? What exactly does the CJN and his colleagues have to hide? Why not allow the judges to appear in court to defend themselves? Why make inciting comments against the executive?  Why turn it into a battle between the Judiciary and the Executive, leaving the matter of corruption out completely? Is it really the judiciary that is on trial or some judges?  

The holy book says ‘judge not so that you shall not be judged’. This may be paraphrased as ‘Judge ye, but remember that you shall also be judged’. In this case the Judges want to judge without being judged. Is this the type of justice we crave for? He who sits in the judgment seat must sit with clean hands. We need a justice system that is blind to status, clan, religion or political inclination. This is a test case for the Nigerian Judiciary to redeem itself. They have an option to weed out the so called ‘bad eggs’ and restore the dignity of the hallowed institution or to dance naked in the spirit of es·prit de corps.

 

 

 


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