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Impunity and the assault on our freedom

By Dan Agbese
05 November 2021   |   4:12 am
Ghosts are everywhere in the land. Every state has them on its payroll. They take the blame for all cases of corruption as well as the unlawful and embarrassing actions of security agents.

Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami

Ghosts are everywhere in the land. Every state has them on its payroll. They take the blame for all cases of corruption as well as the unlawful and embarrassing actions of security agents. But the clumsy, pathetic and tendentious attempt by the federal authorities to blame ghosts for the October 29 gestapo raid on the residence of Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court shows there is a limit to how far ghosts can accept responsibilities for the sinister and unholy actions of a government and its minions.

Abubakar Malami, AGF and minister of justice, denied it. DSS denied it. But the ghosts refused to take the blame and exposed Malami as a truth-bender. I commend the ghosts for their principled stand. The soldiers and police men who carried out the unholy operation are red blooded Nigerians, not ghosts.

With the masks off, we are greeted by a sight so unsightly they should make us, the defenceless citizens of this fractious republic, quake in fear. How did the AGF expect to get away with his denial? For an answer look up the word impunity. The operation commander of the assets recovery investigation team, Lawrence Ajodo, a chief superintendent of police, who initiated and led the operation, works under Malami. He obtained a search warrant from Emmanuel Iyanna, a chief magistrate of Wuse Zone 6 of Wuse Magisterial Division, Abuja “to carry out his lawful duty.”

It turned out he misled Iyanna into legally empowering him to carry out an unlawful duty in a darkening climate of incipient fascism. He obviously did it with the tacit instruction of Malami. Better informed, Iyanna revoked the warrant. But the horse was already out of the stable. If Malami looks in the mirror he will see clearly that he has rotten eggs on his face.

The case for the raid stands on legs weaker than those of a mosquito. A whistle blower, Aliyu Umar, deposed on October 13 that there were illegal activities going on at 9, Imo Street, Maitama. How did he know? What activities did he suspect were going on? Neither Malami nor the police sought answers to these and other relevant questions. Yet, on the basis of that flimsy and misleading information by Umar and without the police taking preliminary steps to ascertain the authenticity of the claim, Malami ordered the raid, not in search of evidence for the alleged activities but to serve notice on all our respectable judicial officers that if the leash fails the whip steps in to achieve the same objective.

According to reliable media reports, Odili does not live at the address indicated on the search warrant. She lives at 7 Imo River Street, not 9 Imo Street, Maitama. A search warrant issued on no 9 cannot be legally executed on no 7. The raiding company did not miss their way, of course. Odili was the target, no matter what the address on the warrant indicated; the niceties of the law be damned.

Justice Odili and her family were the primary victims of the condemnable action but the rest of the country cannot but suffer the collateral trauma and the fear induced by it. The assault on a very senior judicial officer was an assault on the rule of law, our liberty and our freedom. The assault was criminal in intent and carried out in a manner that leaves the rule of law gasping for breath in despair and confusion. Anything that weakens the pillars of democracy is a direct assault on democracy, the form of government instituted by Nigerians in preference to all other forms, autocracy not excepted. A strong government is not the product of a cowed citizenry. Nor does alienation make a government dear to the people.

President Barak Obama once told African leaders that Africa does not need strong men, it needs strong institutions. The advice remains true for all time. Our form of government stands on three pillars – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary; an amalgam of separate but equal institutions that constitute the government. Together they strengthen the strong institutions as the strong pillars of democracy and good governance. Weak and weakened institutions serve a limited personal objective at the expense of the weal and the welfare of the people. Whims and caprices dam human progress and development.

No one is opposed to the police carrying out their legitimate duty in furtherance of good governance. All of us want that. We want them and our other security agencies to make us secure in our homes, on the roads and in our offices. But we do object to their being used as instruments of fear, trauma and intimidation. A man procured to blow a whistle on an innocent citizen is an instrument in the hands of over-zealous government officials in perpetual search for real or imaginary enemies of the government. There is enough evidence in human history to show that over-zealousness is a wrong way to recruit government friends and supporters. It will shake people but ultimately, courage and principle will prevent easy submission to official intolerance.

The October 2016 raid on the homes of selected justices of the Supreme Court, the court of appeal and the federal high court still leave ashes in our mouths many years later. The judicial gowns were soiled in the so-called anti-graft war. It achieved nothing other than the excuse to remove the then CJN Onnoghen from office because it was pay-back time. This latest is evidence of an emerging pattern to make the other arms of government submit to the whims and caprices of the executive. It should not be allowed. We did not institute a fascist government. We instituted a participatory democracy in which the right of the people to have a say in how they prefer to be governed is fully guaranteed by the constitution. A government whose minions and agents spend their precious time fishing for enemies denies the people the full exercise of that right and takes something precious away from the principles of democracy.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria was forced to decry the raid as “impunity taking too far.” In a statement by its director of press and information, Dr Akande Festus, the court said “the attack was uncivilised and a shameful show of primitive force on an innocent judicial officer.”

True. Those of the president’s men who believe they can do no wrong or they can do wrong and get away with it with impunity, are termites in the furniture of government reputation.

The NBA said in a statement by its national president, Olumide Akpata, that it “will no longer allow this to continue.” It should not be difficult for the rest of us to recognise the dangers for all of us in this pattern of assault on the judiciary and by extension its senior officers. The men women on the bench work under difficult conditions to deliver on the promises of the judiciary to protect the weak from the strong, save the poor from the rich and make everyone, including the highly-placed thingamabobs in government, equal before the law.

Under our laws and the constitution, the judiciary is the supreme protector of our rights, liberty and freedoms. It cannot be the refuge of the common man when the agents of state treat its very senior personnel like common criminals and make them lose confidence in themselves. The judiciary is not an arm of the executive; it is the third arm of government and, therefore, independent of both the executive and the legislature. Its unique position as the final word in interpreting the laws and the constitution has always been a source of worry and challenge to rulers who feel more comfortable with autocracy than with the niceties of democracy. The independence of the judiciary is a bulwark in the defence of the rule of law as well as the rights and the freedoms of the people. Without the judiciary peopled by courageous and principled men and women, our rights, freedoms and liberty have no meaning.

We are not unaware of the lingering attempts to erode the independence of the judiciary by denying it sufficient money to fund its operation. The chief justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Mohammed, once publicly lamented that he was forced to go cap in hand begging for fund to run this vital third arm of government. When the judiciary is starved of funds, it is shackled and government keeps it on a short leash. It gives room for quid pro quo, as in, you do my bidding, I give you money.

His minions might have carried out this assault on Justice Odili and, by extension the judiciary, without the knowledge of President Buhari. But his administration cannot escape the collateral damage done to it. It takes the blame. Therein lies the danger over-zealous minions pose for every government.