“The essence of the rule of law is that it should never operate under the rule of force or fear. To use force to effect and act and while under the marshall of that force to seek the court’s equity is an attempt to infuse timidity into court and operate a sabotage of the cherished rule of law. It must never be.”–Hon. Justice Kayode Eso (retd) in Government of Lagos state v. Ojukwu (1986).
The Goodluck Jonathan regime in Nigeria is either downright daft or playing roulette with the fate of our nation. This is one regime that continues to jump from missteps to miscues, from one disastrous decision to self inflicted catastrophe. It is as if the government is hell bent on antagonizing his friends and ingratiating himself with his enemies by every means possible. It is difficult to point to one sound judgment by this government since its violent electoral victory. It is hard for anyone not to conclude that the election of GEJ has operated more like an elixir for bad decision than a call to good governance. The list is long and growing but we can list a few for those who may not be abreast with things in Nigeria. First is the announcement that the president is scheming to amend the constitution to permit a six year term for the executive arm of government, then the oil subsidy saga that nearly set the nation ablaze, no sooner had that abate that the government plunged itself into a security nightmare on the Boko Haram issue- by first backing its erstwhile security chief who accused the president’s party of culpability and then tossing him aside a few months later, while the nation burns. The illegal sacking and refusal to reinstate Justice Isa Ayo Salami also comes to memory, not to talk of the bungling of the simple act of renaming a university governed by statutes after the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
And now, the latest saga is the announcement of the Federal government National Honors Award. The Nigeria Honors Awards was established by the National Honors Act No. 5 of 1964, during the First Republic, to honor Nigerians who have rendered special and outstanding services in their various callings. The legislation empowers the President of the Federal Republic to make provisions for the award of the honors. The abuse and commercialization of the honors by successive presidents and head of state in Nigeria is an issue that has worried many. President Jonathan has not only joined the list of Nigerian leaders who made mockery of the honors but he has actually gives Nigerians a reason to perceive the honor as a commercial enterprise of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
Let me hasten to state, that no one is directly accusing the president of receiving filthy lucre before honoring the awardees but some of the proposed recipients give cause to raise the commercialization accusations. Take for instance, the proposed award of the highest honor GCON on the president’s party financier and government contractor, Otunba Mike Adenuga. A few years ago, Otunba Adenuga was on the run and had to relocate to Ghana on a self imposed exile given the warrant obtained by former President Obasanjo’s anti-corruption commission. The warrant and the corruption accusations were never publicly resolved in the court of justice, everything was swept under the carpet, partly because Otunba Adenuga, a multi-billionaire came back and contributed financially to the current president’s electoral campaign coffers. Even if one could concede that the president has absolute discretion in determining who to dish the awards to, one is still left with questions on the “quid pro quo” of giving the award to a citizen under investigation for corruption.
Perhaps the one that befuddles the mind is the attempt to humiliate Justice Kayode Eso (retd) with a CFR award. This is an award that was once given to the disgraced former speaker of the House of Representative, Patricia Etteh. Justice Eso is an eminent jurist that has contributed a lot to the development of Nigeria judiciary, the rule of law and the establishment of constitutional democracy in Nigeria. In the infinite wisdom of President Jonathan, Eso is to share this CFR award with none other than the wife of former governor of River State, Justice Mary Odili (the first wife of a politician with the fastest meteoric rise to the Supreme Court of Nigeria). This is a subtle humiliation Of Eso by an inconsiderate Jonathan regime given the history between Justice Eso led panel on Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Governor Peter Odili, the husband of Mary Odili. Many would recalled that the commission was set up by Governor Rotimi Amaechi to “investigate the sources of dissension within the state, forge reconciliation and make recommendations to the state government. The panel met with hundreds of witnesses, sat in Port Harcourt and Abuja, and in the report that has since been submitted by the Committee, Justice Eso minced no words in speaking the truth, as he saw it, including referring to Dr. Peter Odili, the past immediate Governor of the state, as insincere.” The presidency cannot claim that they do not know about this history as the penultimate quote was sourced from an article written by the president’s own media aide, Reuben Abati and published in May 2009.
Justice Eso, commenting on a baseless accusation of impartiality by Governor Odili said
“With reference to our integrity, it is sad that our integrity has been so glibly attacked, or put in doubt, by Sir Odili, without producing or attempting to produce an iota of evidence in regard to his ominous accusations. He did this to the hearing of the world qua NTA, which aired our proceedings, and we are obliged to answer this accusation here now at our only opportunity, lest silence be taken as consent. If the former Governor, Dr. Odili, had convinced himself that our integrity was in doubt without evidence. The rules anywhere in the democratic world, practicing the rule of law, do not permit a slaughter of people’s integrity, without at least, trying to justify the accusation by the production of some evidence however infinitesimal. These gentlemen and lady, whom I have the honour to lead, have the highest reputation and their integrity is untarnished. On integrity, they have won their spurs ever before being asked to come into this commission. As for our humble selves, it is with the greatest humility and praise to God, that we are able to declare that, on record, throughout our public life, which has spanned over half a century, nobody, friend or foe, domestically, nationally or internationally, has ever cast doubt on our hard earned integrity. With us, it has always been the Shakespearian melody of – Set honour in one eye and death in the other and I will look at both indifferently. That is how much premium we put on honour and it is that credo that advised us to have accepted this assignment, notwithstanding its being set within the din of battle, insurgency and threats of death. However, having regard to the delicacy and sensitivity of the work in hand, it is our decision not to be ruffled by this ridiculous accusation, nor influenced to bend out of our objectivity and impartiality. No one among us could be moved to do the wrong thing by blackmail.”
This is why I called on Justice Eso, to reject and shun this award as Professor Chinua Achebe did last year. It is nothing but a cruel joke to give an award bestowed on Patricia Etteh on Justice Eso, who for many years was the “Shakespeare of our Supreme Court”. As my friend, Mutiu Ganiu and I wrote some years ago,” Justice Eso frame cannot hold his fame in judicial excellence and does not need an award to validate his legacy”. It is high time Nigerians start sending resounding signals to this pernicious political party, that we would not condone trivializations of our national institutions. Justice Eso is an institution, which should not be demeaned by a measly award!