The law, justice and national development (3)
Continued from yesterday
THE courts in a democracy are supposed to ensure and maintain the rule of the law. The rule of law is today universally recognised to be reflected in, among other elements, the supremacy of the law, in the respect for fundamental human rights, in the equality of all persons before the law, in the observance of due process, and in the separation of powers and the checks and balances therein.
Where they function optimally in administering the rule of law and dispensing justice promptly and impartially, courts are recognised as the bulwark of democracy and the last hope of the common man.
The confidence the people repose on the judges is what constitutes the foundation of the court system. It is a tragic situation when judges are suspected of being corrupt or partial. The seed of social disorder is sown when judges yield moral authority to political influence, allowing themselves to be swayed from the path of truth and justice.
Justice Oputa says in the same paper quoted above that “in the corridors of justice, there should be no sirens of wealth, power and influence, for the law is no respecter of persons, wealth, position or influence.” Elsewhere, the revered Justice says:
Money, they say, is the root of all evil. The bench is definitely not the place to make money.
A corrupt judge is, thus, a great vermin, the greatest curse ever to afflict any nation. The passing away of a great advocate does not pose such public danger as the appearance of a corrupt and/or weak judge on the bench for, in the latter instance, the public interest is bound to suffer, and justice… is thus depreciated and mocked and debased. It is far better to have an intellectually average, but honest judge, than a legal genius who is a rogue. Nothing is as hateful as venal justice, justice that is auctioned, justice that goes to the highest bidder. (JUSTICE CHUKWUDIFU OPUTA, Judicial Services Commission, Nigeria, 1985).
The legal profession has faced several challenges in these climes, navigating through the waters of colonial administration, then across the treacherous terrain of military dictatorship, and now over the bumpy alleys of an infantile democracy. We have a long way to go. Nigeria remains very far away from attaining the kind of justice that would facilitate any quality of national development.
Much like what we witness in the fragile states of Zimbabwe, Somalia, South Sudan and Libya, life today in Nigeria is not very far away from the Hobbesian state of nature: short, nasty and brutish. The confidence of the Nigerian people in the legal system and judicial processes has continued to wane.
No wonder they now and again resort to self-help, taking the law into their hands, by way of mob justice or extra-judicial executions. Lawyers and judges are perceived as belonging to the dominant class who do not care about the plight of the poor. This unfortunate impression must change as a matter of urgency.
Members of this exalted Body for whom the legal profession is not just another gateway to wealth and prestige, but who have a genuine commitment to the common good, have work to do. Members of the Nigerian Bar Association for whom the law profession is the expression of an all-consuming passion for the justice that makes for peace, must today take responsibility for the future of our country and stretch hands of fellowship to network with other professionals in our society with whom they share a common belief in the cause-and-effect relationship between justice and wholesome development.
Lawyers and Judges in our society can, and must summon the political will to pursue with unrelenting tenacity and dogged determination the urgent task of consolidating the gains of our fragile democracy, through a series of legal advocacy mechanisms, as well as a deliberate regime of judicial activism.
• Rev. Fr. George EHUSANI Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, delivered this paper, The Role Of Law In The Promotion Of Justice And National Development at the 2015 Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, on August 24, 2015.
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