“What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.”-Isabel Allende
Every time an extra judicial overreach by a sitting judge occurs in Nigeria, everyone waits with bated breath for reactions from those saddled with management of the third estate of the realm in vain. The silence of the top echelons of the judiciary in Nigeria is often baffling. It is now a norm that whenever the Chairman of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) seeks to remove any executive members of the party, federal or states, he simply arrange for faceless members of the party to go to the Federal High Court, obtain a temporary injunction and pronto such orders fait accompli. The people affected by such orders are usually those at logger heads with the presidency either on policy issues (sans Governor Amaechi on Sovereign Funds) or enmeshed in party politics (sans former Governor Oyinlola). The chairman of the party usually finds it too easy to comply with such orders while it deliberately ignores other orders against his factions of the party.
There has been little or no discipline within the judiciary in Nigeria hence impunity reigns without end. Even when judicial officers are punished it was never swift and immediate, it usually occurs years after the judicial officers would have retired to enjoy the fruits of his/her illegalities. Nigeria judiciary used to be among the best in Africa. Even at the height of military rule and during the Second Republic when dictatorship rues the day, the Nigerian judiciary shown like a bright star in the midst of darkness. In cases such as Adigun vs. AG of Oyo State (1984), the Supreme Court lambasted a state government that excuted an accused whose appeal has not been exhausted. In Government of Lagos State vs. Ojukwu (1986), the Supreme Court deplores the use of forcible ejectment to obtain possession and excoriated military government for executive recklessness. In Garba v. Federal Civil Service Commission (1988) it directed the Babangida military government to respect due process. In cases such as Fawehinmi v. Akilu (1987) it emphasized access to justice and ability of private citizen to prosecute criminals where the government declines to prosecute. In Ariori vs. Elemo (1988) it upholds respect for due process. It is sad and saddening indeed that the judiciary in our present dispensation is now, more or less, an appendage of the government in Aso rock and an extension of PDP executive committee.
There is no doubt that the PDP has succeeded in larding every judicial positions in the country with its appointees who are sometimes “no nothing” card carrying loyalist members of the party, and their wives. What we now have as judiciary in Nigeria is an hollow shade of what we used to know. The days of Kayode Esho, Chukwudifu Oputa, Mohammed Uwais is long gone. Those who are now in authority can’t even sit at the body of benchers without taking directives on what to do from Aso rock. The fact that the former president of the Court of Appeal reinstatement remains in limbo even after the highest body charged with running the judiciary met and reinstated him speaks to this subservient status of the judiciary in Nigeria. Those who should stand up to speak up are too satiated with the crumbs of the office that they will rather look the other way. Affairs of political party, the Supreme Court once ruled is totally within their domain and ought not to be an issue that concerns the court, and yet courts in the land ignore such lofty precedents and choose to entertain frivolous law suit meant to take sides in dispute that is entirely within the confines of the political party, while serious issues remain in limbo. A court that does not have enough bailiff or sheriffs to enforce his own judgment is a toothless bulldog.
The Supreme Court of today is known more for prevarications and speaking with both sides of the mouth than clear and convincing judgment and directives to lower court. No decision is final in Nigeria, if the Supreme Court rules against you, all you need do is go to Aso rock and seek out a powerful man willing to play for the pay and pronto another injunction will issue side stepping the ones against you. In this way, the rich always get “justice” in Nigeria. They do, because they can pay for it. The general masses of people who had to wait in line for justice are the ones suffering from the dysfunction in our judicial system. It is sad and embarrassing. Femi Falana, the Gani Fawehinmi of our time, in an interview recently with Channels Television sounds a note of caution to his colleagues in the privileged Senior Advocate of Nigeria (by the way, how can a country governed by constitution runs its court with privileged lawyers?), by decrying the evil perpetrated by delay of justice and preferential treatment of rich parties before the courts of law in Nigeria. He warned that such evils will soon consume the nation in a conflagration and yet no one listens to him.
A country where an ex-governor obtained a perpetual injunction against investigation of his corrupt activities in government is a dangerous land. Now imagine that the wife of that same governor now sits at the highest court in the land, by virtue of a rapid promotion through the system orchestrated by successive PDP government! We are indeed in trouble in Nigeria. You then wonder why there is so much angst in the land; you wonder why MEND declared war on the nation that seeks to pay it to lay down arms. Impunity breeds more impunity until the whole land is consumed in impunity. This is why the president’s pardon of Alamiesigha matters little. He could have easily obtained perpetual injunction against his extradition to the UK. Ooops! He did that already!
While all this was going on, the poor and the dispossessed suffered hardship from power drunk law enforcement officials who used to call themselves Nigeria Police Force. A police force so benign in brute force and power that the rule of law dare not stop it from impunity. One of such sad story is typified by the incarceration of Mr. Egbeyemi Boluwaduro, who spends six years in prison on trumped-up charges. He was tried in a magistrate court by a police officer who never went to law school and barely completes West African School Certificate. My little brother success in getting in getting him released from Ilesha Maximum Prison was published in Sunday Punch Newspaper on March 13, 2011. The story brought to focus the sad situation where non-lawyers, without any regard to constitutional principles, are often authorized to prosecute criminal cases in Nigeria with severe consequences on rights of citizens, even while those who stole billion of dollars easily obtain perpetual injunction against criminal prosecution.
Who will save Nigeria from reckless impunity of its rulers and ruling class. As Simon Wiesenthal enthused, “When history looks back, I want people to know that the Nazis could not kill millions of people with impunity”. The Nigerian ruling and moneyed class may end up killing more people than the Nazis ever did while the whole world looks on.