Nigeria: Many courts of law but few courts of justice
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” We must not be deceived; nobody is safe in a world of injustice. Even the poor must be given reasons to live, not to kill or die. Today social justice represents one of the most serious challenges to the conscience of the world. The gulf between those who are within the world ‘order’ and those who are excluded is widening by the day.
This fact creates a dangerous imbalance; justice must never be seen as a privilege or luxury, it is a survival imperative. Changing the structure and rules of the global economy will require a mass movement based on messages of compassion, justice and equality, as well as collaborative and democratic processes. Nigeria is a country of diverse people with their culture, religion and peculiar way of life. It is to the extent that we respect our differences, that we can build a life with more justice.
Napoleon Bonaparte said: “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people.” Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Life is full of stories of great people that fought gallantly for the emancipation and freedom of the oppressed. A fiercely courageous individual, a woman named Rosa Parks, one day in 1955 stepped into a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to give up her seat to a white person as she was legally required to do. Her one quiet act of civil disobedience sparked a controversy and became a symbol of freedom, equality and liberation for the blacks.
It all started in December 1, 1955, when with quiet determination and unruffled dignity, Mrs. Parks had vehemently refused to surrender her seat on a bus. Rosa Parks marched, rallied, and endured threats, arrest and beatings to widen the door of freedom. Her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere. What a far-reaching effect one woman’s courage has had!
Angela Basset has this to say about Rosa parks: “Rosa Parks was of the purest personification of strength. She remained seated so that all, everywhere, might stand taller”. Let us all stand tall in our collective fight against injustice and in the words of the famous clergy in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Injustice is not the real problem, it is a symptom of a deeper problem, and it is obvious that something is inherently wrong in our structures and institutions. It is obvious that Nigeria needs restructuring and as much as I have great respect for the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, I want to emphatically say that the nation is suffering from the consequences of dilapidated structures and weak institutions.
It is truly only when we begin to see that injustice is only a symptom and an opportunity to design new models of governance, education and other options within the fields of endeavours that we will learn how it is to become truly conscious humans. Freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship. The Nigerian system is not a Justice System; it is just a system and requires total overhauling.
We must also build strong institutions to tackle poverty. Nelson Mandela once said, “The true path to peace is shared development. Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life”. Peace does not fare well where poverty and deprivation reign. It does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information. Next in importance to freedom and justice is education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained. The ultimate object of education should be, Gandhi said, to help create not only a balanced and harmonious individual, but also a balanced and harmonious society where true justice prevails, where there is no unnatural division between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and where everybody is assured of a living wage and the right to live and the right to freedom
The National Assembly has been enmeshed in issues that are making their core responsibilities increasingly elusive. Irrelevant issues of supremacy, budget padding, corruption cases, leadership tussles, unethical manipulations, self-serving laws and a list of other trivial and frivolous issues. It is sympathetic that the National Assembly is increasingly becoming unfit to make laws.
The undemocratic and destructive interference among the Federal, legislative and judicial arms of government is crippling our nascent democracy. The three are needed for checks and balances but ours have become checks and ‘bashings’. In Nigeria today, we have many courts of law but few courts of justice. Our laws catch flies but let hornets go free. Edmund Burke said, “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.” We need a vibrant National Assembly that will make laws that will bridge the yawning gap of inequality between the rich and the poor and also evolve vibrant institutions.
In Nigeria, an enormous discrepancy exists between the way we talk about equality in the abstract and the value as translated into laws and justice. The Gender and Equal Opportunity (GEO) Bill was thrown away by the Nigerian Senate about some months ago. The Bill was aimed at promoting equality, development and advancement of all persons in Nigeria as well as promoting women’s freedom of movement, female economic activity and girls’ access to education. I believe this can still be revisited.
The bill would have been the first step towards moving the nation closer to one of the critical goals of the United Nations that borders on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. The issue of girl-child marriage, girl-child education and the Child Rights Act must be given great attention.
I want to quickly allude to the issue of the Grazing Reserve Bill. Law is not law, if it violates the principles of justice. The ravaging issue of herdsmen’s killings must be promptly attended to. Delay of justice is injustice. The Bill should be made less divisive and more regulatory. We must not use this bill to compound the nagging flaws in our Land Use Act.
We cannot address injustice through violence. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battles. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. I would like to reach out to all the militant groups in the Niger Delta Region to follow the path of diplomacy, peace and reconciliation. I am emphatically saying that the guns are too loud that we cannot hear what they are saying!
I pray that the millions of displaced people would be able to return with the necessary conditions of safety and dignity, my sincere prayer goes out to the internally displaced people in North eastern Nigeria. I pray that those children that are just struggling to eat will eventually find a more decent reason to live for beyond food and survival.
One area that I will like to score the government of President Muhammadu Buhari high is in the aspect of freedom of speech and his renewed and demilitarized approach to journalism and journalists. In the annals of military dictatorship in Africa, Idi-Amin Dada of Uganda set himself apart with his ruthlessness and overzealousness with power and I will really like to bring to mind one of his damning quotes on freedom of speech. The dictator said, “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech”. It is a refreshing fact that Nigeria has evolved over time to guarantee not only freedom of speech but also freedom after speech.
Next week, I will be writing on the last and the 17th goal of the United Nations: Partnerships for the Goals. Until then, act locally but think globally.
*To learn more on how you can get involved in these global goals, you can go to www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment.