Wanted urgently: A biting judiciary
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, threatened to unleash the judicial fang upon all those involved in undermining the authority and integrity of the judiciary. My Lord did not mince words at all but as we do normally say, he spoke truth to power.
What else could the judges have done or how else would they have complained, of the excesses of our security agencies and by extension, the executive branch of government? The matter reached the height of its ugliness, when on October 29, 2021, security personnel stormed the residence of Justice Mary Ukaegbu Peter-Odili, Justice of the Supreme Court. It would have ended like another Onnoghen saga when the executive plotted the removal of a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria through an ex-parte application but for the vigilance of My Lord and her security men.
As has happened with other scandalous stories over the years, the dust is gradually settling over that inglorious invasion. But we cannot allow this monstrous confrontation between the forces of darkness and light to go away unraveled.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, had set up an investigative process and the Attorney-General of the Federation also promised to get to the root of the matter. To my mind, this was a deliberate affront against the third arm of the realm, as part of a political strategy to whip the judiciary in line as 2023 approaches. This was (and still remains) reprehensible conduct, but the clear message has been sent by those bent on capturing the judiciary: ‘stay away from us’, ‘leave us alone! This is not the gist of this piece, however, but rather the courageous response from the judiciary to the desecration of the privacy of one of its precious jewels. I have followed the Chief Justice of Nigeria since he assumed office, and he rarely makes comments on burning national issues, in line with the ethics of his highly-revered office. But on this matter, My Lord has been speaking. He first spoke through his media aide.
“The Supreme Court last night broke its silence on the alleged unlawful invasion of Odili’s residence in Abuja by unknown security operatives, describing it as an “impunity taken too far.” The apex court warned that the judiciary should not be misconstrued by any individual or institution of government as the weeping child among the three arms of government. In a statement issued by its director of press and information, Dr Akande Festus, the apex court said the attack was uncivilised and a shameful show of primitive force on an innocent judicial officer.
The statement read in part: “We are alarmed with the news of the unwarranted and despicable raid on the official residence of one of our senior justices in the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Mary Peter Odili on Friday, October 29, 2021, in a Gestapo manner.
“The attack, unfortunately, depicted a gory picture of war by some armed persons suspected to be security operatives representing different agencies of government who seemed to have come to kill and maim their target under the guise of undertaking a search whose warrant was questionable and baseless. “We are deeply saddened and taken aback by this uncivilised and shameful show of primitive force on an innocent judicial officer that has so far spent several years of her productive life serving the country she calls her own.
“This incident brought back, rather painfully, the ugly memory of the October 2016 midnight invasion of the homes of our respected justices with no satisfactory explanations as to the true motive behind such brazen assault on our collective sensibility.
“We wish to make it abundantly clear that the Nigerian Judiciary is the third arm of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and should be respected and treated as such. “We have had a full dosage of this fusillade of unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on our judicial officers and even facilities across the country and we say it loudly now that enough is enough.”
“The judiciary should never be misconstrued by any individual or institution of government as the weeping child among the three arms of government that must always be chastised and ridiculed to silence because of our conservative disposition. “The Nigerian judiciary cannot only bark but can also bite. We can no longer be treated with disdain and levity. The rule of law and constitutionality must govern our conduct so that we can tag along with the comity of nations and be taken seriously too,” he said.
I read the above statement over and over again, praying that I would not wake up the next day to learn that it was some ‘fake news’ or that it was an unauthorised statement, but it has come to stay. Let us review some of the words used in the above statement, such as ‘uncivilised’, ‘brazen’, ‘despicable’ and ‘shameful show of primitive force’. The executive has crawled behind its dark curtains since this statement was made, which directly accused its operatives of the stage-managed attack. For me and I guess many others, the high point of this statement is the open declaration that the judiciary is not ‘a weeping child’ that screams helplessly whenever it is threatened but also the assurance that ‘the Nigerian judiciary can not only bark but can also bite.’
Judges should stop barking so loudly and so helplessly to the point of losing their voices. It is time to bite and bite in such a way that some flesh will be scrapped off by the teeth. From the look of things and going by the record of the present administration, it would seem that the judiciary fared better under the military regime.
In this same country, Justice Dolapo Akinsanya (God bless her gentle soul) declared the contraption called Interim National Government illegal. Right in the thick of the raging jackboot of the military dictatorship, Justice Dahiru Musdapher (God bless his gentle soul), at the Court of Appeal in Lagos, thundered down on the obnoxious State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984 and the heavens certainly did not fall. Our judges need to bite and sink their sharp teeth very deep into the neck of impunity and lawlessness. We certainly cannot continue like this as a nation, where everyone in authority has become a form of mini-god unto themselves as if there is no one in control or to be held accountable.
To be continued tomorrow.
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).