Wanted urgently: A biting judiciary – Part 2
In 2020, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, then sitting at the Federal High Court, Abuja, granted bail to Omoyele Sowore but the Department of State Security clannishly subjected the order of the court to very embarrassing interpretations while holding on to the defendant in custody. The nation and indeed the international community waited with bated breath for the action to be taken by the judge to assert the reputation and authority of the court. My Lord wasted no time in issuing an order to the DSS to release Sowore within 24 hours. The order was complied with promptly and that ended all the drama. So, let our judges begin the biting, as a way of terminating all vestiges of impunity in our land. The Courts exist to call to order all deviant behaviours that tend to reduce us as humans.
A lot of our colleagues have raised the vexed issue of the professed timidity of judicial officers in the face of executive interference. This has been going on for a while and we cannot continue to indulge the executive arm and indeed all those who ridicule the temple of justice with oppressive conduct. Something has to give way. By virtue of the constitution, the executive enjoys only a limited tenure, being a maximum of two terms of four years, but the judiciary is stable and consistent in its decisions and general policy thrust. This being the case, we should not have an executive that is breathing down on the judiciary, being the only arm of government that succeeds the other arms. So, the high and mighty should feel the impact of a vibrant judiciary that can bark and bite, or else the egregious policy of might is right will continue unchecked.
Beyond press statements, the judiciary through the CJN should make an official demand upon the executive arm to unravel the perpetrators of the invasion of the home of Justice Peter-Odili, with a view to bringing them to book. If nothing else, at least the Magistrate that granted the purported search warrant is a member of the judiciary who is still alive. In many cases, the tendency of a man entrusted with power is to gravitate towards abuse or extreme exercise thereof. This is why Lord Acton stated that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and great men are often bad men. An executive left unchecked by the judiciary is like setting a lion loose. We cannot afford that in Nigeria, given the primitive use of power by the elite. Majority of our people are indigent and in the hinterlands, deprived of their rights and opportunities by the strong and mighty, on a daily basis. Our judges must look at power in the face and speak truth to it. This is why I endorse the statement of the Chief Justice of Nigeria that our courts should stand up to confront all cases and circumstances of abuse of power, when he stated as follows, at the swearing in of the new Silks on 10th December, 2021:
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has warned that Nigeria’s judiciary has had enough of embarrassment of its judicial officers and would not take kindly to a repeat of any ugly treatment from security operatives. He warned that the silence of the judiciary should never be mistaken for stupidity or weakness. Justice Muhammad spoke on Wednesday in Abuja on the occasion of the start of the 2021/2022 legal year held at the Supreme Court.
“On a very sad note, I must say, we were jolted with the embarrassing news of the invasion of the official residence of one of our Justices, Hon Justice Mary Peter Odili, on Friday, October 29 by men suspected to be security operatives, acting on a search warrant. The said warrant was purportedly obtained from an Abuja Magistrate court under questionable circumstances. I must make it known to all and sundry that we have had enough dosage of such embarrassment and harassment of our judicial officers across the country and we can no longer take any of such shenanigans. The silence of the judiciary should never be mistaken for stupidity or weakness.
“The time to oppress, suppress and intimidate judicial officers is gone. No one, irrespective of his or her status or position in the country, should test our will because the consequences of such unwarranted provocation will be too dire to bear. We shall begin to resist any clandestine attempt to silence or ridicule us to oblivion. Nigeria, to the best of my knowledge, is not a lawless society. We should begin to do things that will project us favourably and rightly too, to the international community.”
Though I leaped up with joy in my heart reading through the vows of the CJN to defend the judiciary, it will remain in the realm of barking, if nothing is done thereafter to assert the powers that the judiciary possesses. If we are to get Nigeria back on the path of sanity, we must begin to see a judiciary that can bite in such a way that all errant power monsters will cringe. Our courts must rescue Nigeria from any emerging trend of dictatorship. This is why the judgment of Justice Anwuli Chikere, which nullified the acts of the DSS against Sowore, is commendable in all its ramifications. All forms of impunity must stop and those who have the power to stop them, according to the laws of Nigeria, are the judges. My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, let the courts bark and bite, henceforth.
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).