Nigerian judiciary: Lost hope of the common man
On October 27, 2021 my faith in the Nigerian judiciary was shaken to its foundation. That day, my high hopes that the Nigerian judiciary is the last hope of the common man was shattered but nonetheless, I managed to retain my sanity to enable me remain resolute in my quest to seek justice for all. I am not just making sweeping statements but I stand on solid facts, which I can substantiate and that can be verified by anybody.
On October 27th, 2021, I had five public interest cases scheduled to come up for hearing. Four at the Federal High Court, Lagos before a judge and one at the Delta State High Court, Ughelli judicial division. The first case, Suit No FHC/ L/CS/ 3/2020 between Chief Malcolm Omirhobo V Central Bank & 5 Ors is one in which the Arabic inscription on the Nigerian Naira Notes is being challenged as improper, illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. The second case, suit No FHC/L/CS/87/ 2021 between Chief Malcolm Omirhobo V. FGN & 10 Ors is for the enforcement of the fundamental right to life, dignity of persons, freedom of expression, peaceful Assembly and Association and right of Nigerians to own property, against the FGN, the AG, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, the NIMC, NCC, & 5 Or. The third case, suit No FHC/ L/CS/2/2020 – between Chief Malcolm Omirhobo V. Nig. Army & 5 Ors is one in which the Arabic inscription on the Nigerian Army Logo has been challenged as improper, illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.
The fourth case, suit No FHC/L/CS/204/2020 between Chief Malcolm Omirhobo v IGP & 4 Ors. is one for the enforcement of my fundamental right to freedom of expression, movement, peaceful assembly and association and those of the Nigerian public as it concerns the enough is enough protest in Lagos and Abuja.
The fifth case, suit No:UHC/109/2017- between Chief Malcolm Omirhobo V. The Delta State Government & 2 Ors is one for the enforcement of my fundamental right to freedom of movement and that of Deltans during monthly environmental sanitation exercise.
The status report on my fifth case is not encouraging as usual. It could not go on on the ground that the NBA conference was going on in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and was consequently adjourned. As simple as this case is, my originating motion has been on for over four years and has not been determined by three different judges. It may interest you to note that I have not missed court for one day but that notwithstanding, the court has failed, refused and or neglected to adopt the written addresses of parties who are ready to go. Where is the hope of the common man in our country where the court is shy, timorous and too scared to enforce the constitutional right of the citizens just because it does not want to offend the executive or legislative arm of government but would rather offend the principles of separation of powers and his oath of office? I will say that the hope of the common man in Nigeria is lost and we need to find it before it is too late by leading the way.
The status report on my four other cases at the Federal High Court, Lagos State is that after the first case was called up and adjourned for definite hearing, the second case was called up but regrettably and unfortunately it ended up in a fiasco. The judge kept asking me if the third and fourth cases are related to the first and second cases in substance and I said no. I applied for the withdrawal of my motion on notice, which has been overtaken by event and my prayer was granted. Since the NIMC and Minister of Communications were represented in court I prayed the court to order them to extend the deadline for the synchronization of the NIN of Nigerians with their SIM cards from the 30th day of October 2021 to a later date pending the determination of the suit but the court refused. My Lord, was of the opinion that if the Minister and NIMC refuse to extend the deadline on their own and it works injustice against Nigerians, the court can always undo the act; but I made the court understand that this approach will work untold hardship and injustice on the public. I tried hard to persuade the court that we have run to the court to seek refuge and protection and that it has the powers to grant my application. I pressed further that the court is not only there to give remedy for a wrong or injury suffered but also there to pre-empt injury and prevent it by preserving the res of a case. At this point, my Lord became hostile and took a swipe at my person, educating me on how not to allow activism get into my head and all that. He could not contain his disdain for my guts to the extent that without taking into consideration the fact that parties in my third case were present in court barred me from appearing before him for the day.
I, without hesitation respectfully demanded to know what kind of proceedings was that? He then proceeded to make a ruling that he was not going to hear my other two suits and they both stood adjourned. The judge boasted that I can go anywhere I want to report him and that if I like, I can apply for him to excuse himself from handling all my cases, which are six in all. At this point, I told the judge respectively that I no longer feel safe in his court and consequently applied that he excused himself from all my cases pending before him, which he did by transferring all of them to the administrative judge for reassignment. He threatened me and swore to jail me if I made any noise in his court. Thanks to members of the Bar present in court, if not I may have been in the Ikoyi or Kirikiri correctional centre by now. But to tell you the truth, I am not scared of going to prison for a just cause. I did not utter a word because of the respect I have for the bench and legal profession, as my Lord boasted that if he hears one word from me, he would send me to jail. Knowing that my Lord had ruled on my case and that I have no right of audience unless he allowed me, I bowed to his Lordship and left his presence to de-escalate the situation.
Being treated like this by a judge is not new to me and with years of experience I have developed thick skin to insulate myself but what about the common man? I am worried about him because he has no defence mechanism but to recline to faith. I have always known that once you file a case in Nigeria against the Federal Government and the Attorney General there is always one additional deadly invincible defendant to reckon with, hidden there like the hidden charges in a contract or the secret bean of a building. That powerful defendant is no other person but the judge himself. So where lies the hope of the common man?
The situation right now is that it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the common man in Nigeria to get justice against the Nigerian Government. The judges descend to the arena and continue to antagonise you, frustrate your case by letting it to be overtaken by event or rendering it nugatory or an academic exercise. Imagine on the 26th day of October 2021, I received a call from the court registrar asking to know if I will be coming to court the next day for my case since it has been overtaken by events and I said I will. I asked him who told him that my case has been overtaken by events and whether he is a lawyer. He said he is a lawyer and that he was just sounding out his opinion. I told him that I would be coming to court because none of my cases has been overtaken by events.
Chief Omirhobo, a lawyer and human rights activist wrote from Lagos.