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Judgments without justice

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I must state from the outset that the title of my present subject is derived from Wole Olanipekun, SAN.

The worthy SAN and another equally worthy SAN in the person of our country’s Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, and other learned members of their profession were recently at a judicial event concerning partly the mode of appointment of judges in our blessed country.

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The two well established members of the Nigerian bar made critical statements respectively pertaining to the quality of our judges, whose “appointment,” in the words of Osinbajo, “we must take a second look at” (Vanguard, Monday, August 24, 2020, page 11).

In his own comment, Olanipekun said pointedly thus: “We have a system whereby we have judgments without justice; we no longer have dissenting judgments in the country” (Vanguard of the date as above, page 11).

The over-riding concern of these two of our top barristers and lawyers borders on the quality and the manner of the selection/appointment of judges, as already indicated. Clearly, the appointment of judges is not or has never been based on merit, and for the profession to be positively reformed or to be positively resituated, “mandatory test[s]” are needed for aspiring judges. Furthermore, judges who are “going to the Supreme Court from the Appeal Court” could be practising lawyers outside the bench or “from the academe and the bar.” The time is ripe to change the rules and “to do something about frivolous exparte applications” that have “become a rampage in the system.” Well said and very well said and most beautifully said SANs Osinbajo and Olanipekun. Better late than never, O Senior Advocates of Nigeria for your postulations that seem reasonable to me without this or that dot of doubt!

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Your postulations make vivid to me restrictions that want to impose on disputations for models and codes of justice. The principles you are advocating are ones that underline that no person should be advantaged or disadvantaged by quack judges who give “judgments without justice.”

Interestingly, the original position and justification of justice clearly indicate to me that it should be difficult and impossible to make the principles and circumstances of justice to be guided by one’s sentiments and prejudices or social, economic and political considerations and contingences. Any judge who is selected or appointed on grounds other than merit will debase our judicial scheme of equal right and equal basic liberties and freedoms in line with equal ethical code of liberties and freedoms universally applicable to all. Also, an unfit judge – and I say unfit because merit was unknown to his selection or appointments – will most likely give judgments that are not tailored to “social and economic inequalities [that] are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all…” as the late John Rawls, a former Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, cleverly put it.

More than several judgments our respective judges at different levels of our judicial system and scheme have delivered have in various ways and degrees violated key principles of justice such as outlined above. One fundamental example to cite is that of our former Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen’s “trial”, firstly, in a code of Conduct Tribunal presided over by the almighty Danladi Umar whose judicial inclinations and judgment were rationally acceptable seemingly to his appointer(s) and the political region or zone never to be toyed with. Danladi Umar and co displayed the outstanding ability to cashier Chief Justice Onnoghen based on whatever principles they adopted to send the message home to the humbled and humiliated former Chief Justice. Was there a whimper from Professor Osinbajo, who as acting president of our country- for a brief period – appointed Walter Onnoghen as substantive Chief Justice? Was there a whimper from Wole Olanipekun, who was allegedly billed to lead a host of barristers and lawyers including numerous fellow Senior Advocates of Nigeria? By the way, why did Olanipekun not lead Walter Onnoghen’s defence team eventually? What judicial or legal contingences compelled him to pull out of the defence team which he was expected to lead – as some newspapers at that material time reported?

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And the Supreme Court and the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC): were they on point in the respective manners they treated Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen with respect to judicial precepts? What constraints impeded their sense of justice? Clearly, I have no reasonable doubt in my ample mind that members of these judicial bodies need to reform and resituate their “liberty of conscience and freedom of thought” in line with judgments and decisions and actions that are not devoid of doctrines of justice. Unless they do as Osinbajo and Olanipekun have suggested we will continue to have judgments and decisions and actions that psychologically oppress and physically assault and dismember our judicial system furthermore.

I remember vividly that when respectable Olanipekun stood for Adams Oshiomhole when General Charles Airhiavbere took Governor Oshiomhole to an Election Tribunal and eventually to the Supreme Court in regard to Olanipekun’s client’s questionable credential that the retired General tabled before the Election Tribunal and Supreme Court in respect of the 2012 Edo Gubernatorial Election, I averred that we had a judiciary-less judiciary. I am still strongly of this view- as I am entitled to have by the concept or precept of the rule of law. In our judiciary-less judiciary, as it is now, we will continue to have “judgments without justice” – as Olanipekun, an admirable rich and ripe apple of our bar, rightly imagines it to be. What I saw centuries ago he now sees. Better late than never, we are told time after time. But neither a barrister nor a lawyer am I. I am purely and simply a busy-body literary detective who has the knack for all things and everything I am entitled and imbued to have a knack for – rightly or wrongly.

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And how can this busy-body columnist rest this column today without asking the highly learned top barrister and lawyer Olanipekun why the Supreme Court did not deliver the Oshiomhole-Airhavbere case in the morning as all the parties were allegedly made to believe prior to the date and time of judgment? Why was judgment allegedly delayed till the late afternoon on the day the justices delivered their judgment, which many of us lay-persons and non-lay-persons still up to now took and still take with more than a pinch of salt? Did they re-write the judgment? And was that the reason why the judgment was delayed? I have been itching and wanting to ask Olanipekun these questions since the time the case officially ended at the Supreme Court.

Now that I have asked them my curious mind may no longer be puzzled whether or not I receive a reply or replies from the learned gentleman who by every standard is more than a learned gentleman. No insinuations or innuendoes should attend my innocuous questions. And I say this with every sense of philosophical and jurisprudential and literary and journalistic responsibility. Believe me, yours very sincerely. Before the court rises let me re-quote him again: “Judgments without justice.” How truly and sincerely does this quote depict and will ever depict our judicial system until all the bad judges are weeded out of our cherished temple of justice! Big barrister Olanipekun agrees. COURT!!!!!!

But Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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