Justice as ancient balm that binds societies
Sir: Every society that seeks serious advancement on the path of progress and development unfailingly deduces that upon that path, perilous as it comes, always lies the tar of justice to smoothen the road which many hit but unfortunately fail to continue upon. Since Nigeria attained independence in 1960, the country`s journey along the path of development has been long and torturous. Over many years, several military intrusions into government have combined with civilian ineptitude and dereliction to leave the country in fits and starts and its development in tatters. The cost of the many times the Nigerian military abandoned the rigidity of its barracks for the labyrinthine corridors of power for which it was so ill-equipped remains unquantifiable. In the same breadth, the value of the democracy, which returned to Nigeria in 1999, defies quantitative analysis. This democracy has seen Nigeria running a government that stands and sways on a tripod – as wobbly and as uneasy as it is. As the executive continues to wield an outrageously unjustifiable amount of power, flowing from a constitution deliberately skewed to make it so, and the legislature continues to episodically raise dust from the comfy convenience of its hallowed chambers and mammoth salaries, the judiciary has been caught cold and left out in the cold. By its very nature as the sentinel and bastion of justice without which no society can truly develop, the judiciary’s place should be one of pre-eminence and independence.
However, the convoluted mechanics of Nigeria`s politics and power play have contrived to ensure that these pre-eminence and independence remain a pipe dream. Judges are overworked and underpaid. Their seemingly large salaries swiftly pale into insignificance when put side by side with what those in the other arms of government take home in spite of the comparatively less work they do. Also, because the executive and the legislature have conspired to withhold critical justice infrastructure from the judiciary at all levels, the backlog of cases have only continued to pile up and has now become a mountain blocking Nigeria`s path to the peace and prosperity that only justice can offer.
Also, when the ponderous wheels of Nigeria`s justice finally defies all odds and spokes thrown into it to painstakingly grind out results in the form of judgments and orders, the government contrives to pick and choose which to obey and dismiss, thereby setting horrendous precedents for those who thumb their noses at the law and those who interpret them. The cancer of corruption and nepotism has also fastened its killer fangs on justice in Nigeria. Because the winnowing process by which men are appointed ministers in the temple of justice has been infiltrated by those for whom corruption is the brew they sip, their stooges of very shady characters find their way to the bench where they auction justice to the highest bidders. All these have joined forces to make the quest for justice in Nigeria a nightmare. And Nigerians groan. Nigeria groans under a justice sector that sees cases last eons in courts. Nigerians groan under a justice sector where court orders and judgments are selectively obeyed and most times treated as being worth less than the papers they are printed upon.
Nigerians groan under a justice sector where they cannot tell the difference between the ministers in the temple of justice and market sellers in a human parts market. Nigerians groan that the last hope of the common man has been converted into his first hurdle by those who hide their loathing under lavish wraps of legalese. Things must change quickly because a society that lacks justice done and seen to be done is a ticking bomb. Nigeria can ill afford to be one.
Kene Obiezu, wrote from Abuja.
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