Those crimes against humanity allegedly authorized by the presidency under OBJ’s watch are just a snapshot of the practices that are sacrilegious to democracy for which some human rights activists aver that they would approach the United Nations human rights courts for justice for the victims.
Whereas OBJ’s autocratic approach to governance trifled the rule of law particularly through the disobedience of court orders which threatened democracy and therefore sounded the death knell for democracy at least 15 years ago, some would argue that the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari’s disdain for the rule of law as evidenced by the emasculation of the judiciary, one of the three countervailing elements in a true democracy, via the trial, indictment and forced removal of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN Walter Onnoghen on corruption charges and his replacement with, a CJN more friendly to the presidency is unparalleled.
Arising from the controversies surrounding the change of guard in the judicial arm of government, critics contend that the judiciary which is supposed to be the last bastion of the common man has now become pliant. That’s an allegation which the government in power contradicts and rejects by arguing that they only cleaned up the proverbial Augean stable by judging the judges deemed to have been compromised in integrity via bribe-taking, as some of them were asked to account for huge sums of money found in their bank accounts.”
Clearly, the present acts of Judiciary rascality popping up in multiple locations across the country are manifestations of the act of perfidy perpetrated a couple of years ago by disrupting the order in the judiciary.
To be fair to OBJ, under his watch, he did not manipulate the courts or compromise the judiciary system. The assessment above is underscored by the fact that he was ruled against by the courts when he faced off with the Niger delta states over the issue of resource control and oil onshore-offshore dichotomy, and the courts also did not kowtow when he squared up with Lagos state government by railing against then Governor Bola Tinubu’s unilateral decision to create additional local government areas ostensibly to ease administrative challenges.
Without any consequences on the judiciary, OBJ lost the case in court to the Lagos state government with no repercussions to the judges. But that has not been the case under the current regime that is believed to have browbeaten the judiciary into submission with a view to getting the third arm of government that should check the excesses of the executive and legislative arms through legal adjudications to align with it.
Keeping in mind that the law of karma stipulates that man must reap what he/she sows, l will be remiss not to point out that it is the seed of the politicization of the judiciary by the forceful removal of the 17th CJN, Walter Onnoghen from the position, a couple of years ago that is currently being reaped via the brazen and incredible display of impunity by the judges that have been granting the ex-parte motions or applications that are currently causing the confusion rippling through the political firmament.
So, slowly but surely, the soul of democracy – which is the separation of three arms of government to check and balance each other – is being eroded by the very people who should preserve them.
Pardon me for being so blunt about this ugly development.
But it is simply because it is imperative that l nudge us into seeing the conflicting judgments by our courts as another death knell for democracy and a precursor to a system that we may not recognize sooner than we can imagine if we all don’t put our hands on the deck to pull back our ship of state from the stormy water in which it is currently sailing.
Firstly, by making NASS an appendage of the presidency and subsequently, the judiciary an adjunct to the presidency and a pawn in the hands of unscrupulous politicians, the system of government in practice in Nigeria has pivoted from looking like a unitary system as opposed to the federal one that we pretend to be operating.
But with the independence of the three arms of government which is the hallmark of democracy in jeopardy by being fused into one, instead of being independent of each other, the governance system in our beloved country is increasingly changing into what would be nothing less than a Frankenstein monster that would devour all of us, including the progress that we have made in the practice of democracy since the past 21 years of return to multi-party democracy.
In light of the above, I would argue that the conflicting judgments on whether or not Uche Secondus can remain in the chairmanship position of the PDP, and the confusion created by the courts in the run-up to Anambra state governorship elections are just the symptoms of the huge damage that the politicization of the judiciary via the forceful change of the CJN a couple of years ago has inflicted on politics in Nigeria.
As such, the intervention of the CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Muhamad via a meeting with the chief judges of the six (6) jurisdictions from which the conflicting judgments emanated amounts to medicine after death since the mortal blow on the image of the judiciary had been delivered by the conflicting judgments which have elicited public odium.
It is also tantamount to treating the symptoms of an ailment without dealing with the underlying illness. If the disease remains untreated, the Nigerian judiciary could become a house of commotion, and may be likened to the popular situation comedy on television in Nigeria titled ‘‘Fuji House of Commotion’’.
Expectedly, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA under the leadership of Olumide Akpata, has expressed reservations about the sordid situation which has cast a very dark shadow on the profession of learned gentlemen (as lawyers refer to themselves) and whose image currently appears to be as stained as that of the legally and morally challenged clients that they defend in court. Already, the bench is accusing the bar of ‘forum shopping’ an act of seeking out pliant judges in jurisdictions far from home to obtain a judgment. And it would not be surprising if, in the coming days, the bar responds in kind.
Nigerians are tired of finger-pointing and desire efficacious solutions.
Ideally, conferences or workshops should have been held by the judiciary to enlighten and caution the bench and bar about the risks inherent in this season of politics where the judiciary would be exposed to the manipulative tendencies of desperate politicians.
But by omission or commission, wittingly or unwittingly, the judiciary failed to take that pre-emptive measure to avoid the current mess. The consequence of that lack of proactive foresight by the leadership of the judicial arm of government to protect itself from the manipulative tendencies of the other arms of government is what is currently playing out to the dismay of the CJN and NJC.
Rather than simply agonize, the leadership of the NJC must realize that it is not too late to hold the conferences and seminars to highlight the impending challenges that are ahead in this season of politics and what needs to be done to sustain our hard-earned democracy by the judiciary.
That is one way that the courts can once again be deemed to be the last hope of the common man.
ONYIBE, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos. The conversation continues on www.magnum.ng