Can PEPC Hug Justice and Make History?

By ike Abonyi

“The soul of Nigeria’s judiciary will die and go to hell if anything short of victory for a new Nigeria floats before our very eyes.” – Prof. Owojecho Omoha

The judiciary, universally thought to be the last hope of the common man, is not exactly viewed as such in Nigeria. Based on recent and distant past events, that arm of the modern government is mostly untrustworthy, duplicitous, and shady. This very vital arm is structured to arbitrate in contentious matters. Thus, the judiciary resolves disputes, and that puts its status sacred and somewhat ecclesiastical. But it appears to have squandered that hallowed reverence.

As things are today, seven out of 10 adults believe that the judiciary may not deliver justice, especially in political matters. At least three in five Nigerians do not believe that justice will be served by the Presidential Election Petition Court. Also, four in five Nigerians believe that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the man declared winner of February 25, actually lost the mandate he was sworn in to consummate.

Many also believe that the reason for goading would-be losers to go to court, when the vote rigging became manifest, was because of a foreknowledge that nothing concrete would result from litigation and that the court would legitimize the rigging.

“When a thief encourages you to go to court,” so says an East African wisecrack, “just know that his elder brother or the father of their gang member is the judge.”

In our instance, the so-called elder brother (judge) may not be a biological elder brother but a relative conjoined by corruption. Now, the question: why are we finding it difficult to get upright men and women to man this vital arm of government? Is it due to the poor education of lawyers who go on to become judges or the choice of morally challenged lawyers as judges or both?

A critical examination of this unfortunate development traces the genesis to the doorsteps of a decadent law profession where merit no longer determines who makes it to the bench. Instead, cronies, homeboys, and girls take turns presiding over the hallowed chambers. It no longer matters the academic records of a future judge or their comportment so long as he knows judges or is a child or relative of judges. The way the recruitment of judges is going, there will be no bencher whose godfather is not a judge or magistrate.

In the past, going from bar to bench held little attraction because of its extremely conservative nature, totally isolated from the social hype of society. It was in the past likened to the Catholic priesthood, the difference being that they are excluded from celibacy vows. Judges didn’t bother much as their remunerations guaranteed comfortable living for the decent upbringing of their children.

Bright lawyers identified as worthy in character, learning, and comportment in law practice are even persuaded by senior judges to come over to the bench.

But all this changed when judges began to eat the forbidden fruit of gratifications to influence judicial outcomes. They began to fray into society, deviously seeking to have more than they deserved. The whole equation changed when judges started competing with politicians and business moguls in the pursuit of lucre. They began to own houses in Dubai, Europe, and the Americas. Yet, they would jail those presented to them for owning foreign bank accounts and for money laundering. The same judges are as guilty as the politicians they send to jail for money laundering or for owning bank accounts abroad. At some point, a Chief Justice had nearly 40 children, all living in affluence. A hitherto idolized and deified CJN rarely seen in public gatherings, now attends social and political functions and utters embarrassing political statements.

Nigerians are still wondering at what stage things took such a nasty turn that a country that produced erudite jurists such as Adetokunbo Ademola, Taslim Elias, Udo Udoma, Fatai Williams, Ayo Irikefe, Chukwudifu Oputa, Augustine Nnamani, Kayode Esho, Anthony Aniagolu, Phillip Nnaemeka Agu, Mohammad Bello, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, Idris Kutigi, Salisu Belgore, and Niki Tobi among others, are now dealing with judges that cannot stand on their own morally and intellectually. Most of these great minds made names in their field of endeavour, defending the rule of law and keeping corrupt politicians and lawyers at arm’s length. Even the insignificant few good members of the judiciary have been drowned in the grimy and sullied image of the majority.

The same way they bastardized the bench is how they have muddled up the learned order Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The SAN award is no longer based on the brilliance of advocates but on connections. The scramble of young lawyers to work in the chamber of old SANs is because that is the quickest route to the SAN level.

Some SANs are getting bigger and juicier briefs, not for their bar performance or jurisprudential potential, but because they have entrenched themselves in the corruption circle and are the only ones from whom corrupt judges can collect gratifications without fear.

The unwholesome practices of today’s judges are among the several reasons not a few Nigerians are hopeless about the election petitions pending at various tribunals across the country, particularly the Presidential Election Petitions Court in Abuja.

Though the Chair of the Court, Justice Simon Haruna Tsamani has assured repeatedly that justice would not only be served but also seen to be served. PEPC, they further assured, would be guided by the law and good conscience. The assurances notwithstanding, many still believe that the tribunal lacks the courage to see the interest of justice. Conscience is a wound that is only healed by truth, but to what extent can these jurists stand for truth when dishonest operatives come with irresistible and beguiling gratifications?

What if the past begins to haunt the present, and the system pressures the adjudicators to use their illicit past as a bargaining chip? What if they lack the moral fiber to stand for truth when pressure comes from all corners? Senator Adamu Muhammad Bulkachuwa, the spouse of the former President of the Court of Appeal, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, recently uncovered some of the underhand goings-on while cases are before their lordships.

No wonder governors, past and present, flooded the one-year memorial of the current President of the Court of Appeal. What of the intimidation that comes from the system? Do the justices have the moral strength to stand and say to hell and damn the consequences, including forced retirement and offers of elevation to the apex court?

The other kite flying about is that a President has never been judicially overthrown in Nigeria, especially as a government is already up and running… Nigeria is not Kenya or Malawi or Austria or Ukraine where it had happened before and heaven did not fall. To buy that argument is to make nonsense of history and to confirm that being told to go to court is indeed to waste time and consolidate evil. That also creates the impression that there are some political disputes beyond the judiciary.

History is made in a day and in an isolated incident. That is why those who make history stand out for being the first among equals. Seven states in Nigeria today, namely Anambra, Kogi, Edo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, and Bayelsa are conducting isolated gubernatorial elections because somebody made history through the boldness of some justices to nullify a rigged election that restored Peter Obi’s electoral mandate in Anambra State in 2006 after 36 months in court.

Incidentally, the same Obi is among the three petitioners seeking to reverse the INEC’s verdict on the February 25, presidential election. If Obi & Co succeed through the courage and boldness of Justice Tsamani and his team, they would have again altered the electoral calendar in the country for good and would have boldly and categorically established that the “Go to Court” bluff is no joke but a serious business…seeking justice without any waste of time. There is only one first chance, to make one first impression that lasts a lifetime. Justice Tsamani and his team may miss history-making if they fail to deliver justice.

Certainly, to deliver justice in the circumstances before them comes with some challenges: one may be denied promotion. Also, one may miss enticing gratifications. J R Rim tells us, “Life is a first impression. You get one shot at it. Make it everlasting.”

Above all, society loves those who yearn for the impossible. If society admires and cherishes justice, it certainly will appreciate any jurists who look at what is bad and call a spade a spade. History writers and democracy exponents will place the name of any justice who confronts an election rigger and tells him so. Such an action ensures enduring history. The great boxer Mohammad Ali captured it aptly when he noted in one of his famous quotes that all the greats were just beginners but made a difference by not being afraid to take the first step.

For the Nigerian judiciary, on which side of the history book do they wish to enter…the famous, the legendary, the lionized or the infamous, the obscure, and the inglorious? The choice, really, is theirs. God help us.

Adadainfo is an online newspaper reporting Nigerian news. Email: Phone: 08071790941

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