The murder in the temple of justice
The unprecedented killing in daylight of President of Ejemekwuru Customary Court in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State, Nnamemeka Ugboma while he was performing his duty as a judge, is dastardly and constitutes one murder that must not go unpunished. The police should leave no stone unturned to unravel the killers and bring them to book. Nothing more can emphasise the perilous times in the country than when a sitting judge in a citadel of law and justice no longer exudes fearsome charisma or respect or fear in the eyes of many. The times are tragic for a society in which a sitting judge dispensing justice in the temple of justice could be willfully murdered by a gang called unknown gunmen or hired assassins.
The country has not stopped bemoaning the tragedy that occurred in the temple of justice when Ugboma, was peacefully sitting in his court dispensing justice when suddenly a five-man group of gunmen suspected to be hired assassins invaded his court. They dragged him out of the court and instantly shot him dead, to the rude shock of the lawyers, litigants and onlookers inside the courtroom. Surprisingly and unbelievably, after shooting Ugboma dead, his assailants did not immediately take to their heels. They dragged his body along the court premises and eventually dumped it behind the court building. The assailants even collected the phones of everyone present in court before finally escaping.
The gruesome murder of Ugboma in the temple of justice is highly condemnable. Not surprisingly, the murder has sparked outrage across the country, especially in Imo State. No serious country folds its hands and watch its judges and officers in the temple of justice being murdered. While vowing to ensure that the killers of Ugboma are apprehended and prosecuted and to take further necessary actions in that regard, the Bar and Bench have carried out a three-day boycott of courtroom activities to register their anger over the murder.
Additionally, lawyers in Imo State staged a coordinated, peaceful protest march from the Bar Centre, Magistrate Court Complex, Orlu Road, to the Government House, Owerri and then to the Police Headquarters to further register their angst over the murder. Meanwhile, the Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Owerri Branch, Ugochukwu Allinor, has expressed disgust over the rate of killings and attacks on judges and lawyers, as well as judicial officers in the area, urging the state government to step up security. It is notable that about two years ago, unknown gunmen also killed a Magistrate on the road in the area. Around the same period in which Ugboma was murdered, a former Chairman of the NBA, Owerri branch, Ndionyema Nwankwo, was gruesomely murdered in his office on School Road, Owerri, Imo State. In August last year, Magistrate Muhammad Attahiru-Zagga, who hailed from Zagga town in Bagudo Local Government Area of the state and was the presiding magistrate at Magistrates’ Court II, Jega, Jega Local Government Area of Kebbi State, was stabbed to death in Birnin Kebbi State.
The federal and state governments should take concrete measures in the forthcoming weeks to protect the lives of judges and lawyers, especially those serving. Judges and lawyers must not be made endangered species; they must be provided with security personnel both at their workplace and outside it. The NBA should collaborate with the government to devise effective measures to secure them while practising their trade. For example, a typical judge sitting in court has only one policeman sitting by the door of the court, purportedly protecting him. Oftentimes, the policeman is unarmed and even if armed, he could lose concentration during court proceedings. There is need to fortify court premises to check easy passage of gunmen and others with criminal motives. The easy, unchallenged way Ugboma was murdered in court is unfortunate as it may encourage similar criminality, thereby endangering the administration of justice in the land.
Other measures that could guarantee safety of the lives of judges include providing surveillance cameras in courtrooms, conducting background checks on courtroom visitors, providing training to judges on how to recognise and respond to threats, establishing emergency procedures for handling threats and incidents of violence in the court, collaborating with law enforcement agencies to monitor potential threats and investigating any incident, as well as ensuring that judges are aware of and adhere to relevant security protocols.
While no measure can guarantee complete safety, especially given that the insecurity in the courts is a reflection of the general insecurity in Nigeria. In this regard, rather than concentrating on protecting judges and lawyers, the Federal Government cannot wish away the general insecurity in the country. Self-adulation cannot stamp out insecurity. It is only sincerity on the part of the government that can win the fight against insecurity. Therefore, the Muhammadu Buhari government should, in the upcoming few months in which it is still in power, build the capacity of the security agencies involved in combating insecurity—terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and so forth—so as to help them to perform their duties diligently. Nigerians are tired of hearing about the lapses and inefficiency of the security agents in the country. Oftentimes, the responses of the government to insecurity have been nonchalant or tepid as political considerations and intrigues are allowed to trump security initiatives. And sometimes, the purported responses have ended up aggravating the insecurity in the country. There should be compulsory regular training and continuing education for the police and security officers involved in crime detection, intelligence gathering, and so forth, to guard against incompetence, laziness, and ignorance.
The Ugboma tragedy should serve as wake-up call to all judges in the country to be more sensitive to their calling. There can be no justification for anyone to take the life of another, in a country governed by laws. Nevertheless, judges must accept the fact that merely adjudicating in court in accordance with the law, and in good conscience does not put them beyond the reach of aggrieved Nigerians. Judges must display greater consciousness of the risks they take every day, along with the antecedents of some litigants. Being aware for instance that a litigant can employ violence in his desperation may prompt the judge to take extra precautionary security measures to protect himself. All aggrieved persons should not be denied access to justice in law courts, or to lose public confidence in the judiciary, as such situation oftentimes compels the aggrieved to contemplate self-help and violence as an alternative. For the court to justify its appellation as the last hope of the common man, judges must dispense justice fairly and promptly, bearing in mind always that justice delayed is justice denied. To ensure confidence in the judicial process, judges must display courage, fortitude and temperance in proceedings before them at all times. Judges, being next to God, must stand for the truth, even if the truth is unpalatable and despicable to the authorities.
Justice is the ultimate safeguard of civilised society. There will be no peace in a society where justice is denied or defeated. Whether we like it or not, the judiciary is the toast or lifeblood of society. And when justice is murdered in the judiciary, it is the lifeblood of human society that has been murdered. Therefore, no matter the situation and temptation, Nigerian judges should endeavour to dispense substantial justice, which is the essential aim of the judiciary.
The killers of Ugboma must not be allowed to escape the law and appropriate punishment. The police must unravel them, no matter who, or where they are. The possibility of their escaping from justice is tantamount to sounding a death knell for that revered (judiciary) institution and arm of government.