Judicial Banditry In Nigeria Pt. 2 By Dr Kenneth Okonkwo
God, himself, is a Judge. As a Judge, God is so impartial that even the heavens acknowledge it. Psalm 50:6 declares, “And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself.” Being a judge himself, God knows the amount of powers He has given to the earthly Judges. This power is so absolute that a Judge has the power to sentence another human being to death and will be deemed to be obeying God’s commandment.
This is why God made His instructions to the Judges very clear and also made His judgements upon errant Judges very obvious. The Good News Translation of the Holy Bible puts it succinctly in Exodus 23:6-8: “Do not deny justice to a poor person when he appears in court. Do not make false accusations, and do not put an innocent person to death, for I will condemn anyone who does such an evil thing. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe makes people blind to what is right and ruins the cause of those who are innocent.”
Last week we made it clear that Judges without justice are bandits on the bench. The danger posed by these merchants on the bench sometimes goes to the root of the survival of the country and this is why the Supreme Court recognises that an errant Judge is more dangerous than a thief. We are also seeing that even God agrees that an errant Judge, who denies people justice, is an evil thing that is condemned to hell after earthly life. We observed that the act of judicial banditry has been demonstrated eloquently by the indiscriminate dishing out of ex-parte orders which mostly are politically motivated not judicially expedient. Ordinarily, an ex-parte order is a beautiful remedy in equity, designed to defend the defenceless, against superior powers, but is now dishonestly being used in Nigeria to destroy the defenceless by superior, unprincipled, mean and dishonest persons, using judicial bandits on the bench to accomplish this nefarious act.
Let us be clear, the foundation for the indiscriminate use of ex-parte orders to foul the peace and order in the society is always rooted in autocratic and military regimes. This is why when I hear people compare military regimes with civilian regimes, I always say God forgive them for they know not what they are doing. On June 10th, 1993, a group known as Association for Better Nigeria, went to court and obtained an ex-parte order from Justice Bassey Ikpeme of the Abuja High Court, at ungodly hours, stopping the conduct of the election of June 12th, despite the fact that the law ousted the jurisdiction of the courts to stop the election. This order was the first shock received in the conduct of June 12th. The National Electoral Commission, then, under the leadership of Prof Nwosu, ignored the order and went on with the election in accordance with the prevailing laws then. After the election, on June 15th, when MKO was cruising home to victory, Justice Saleh, issued another ex-parte order suspending the announcement of results. The military officers then, forcefully, stopped Prof Nwosu from completing the announcement of the results, citing the court orders, and eventually IBB, the Head of State then, cancelled the June 12th election altogether. This action threw the whole nation into chaos and nearly destroyed the country completely. MKO Abiola declared himself President and was arrested from where he died in detention. This illustrates vividly the dangers of abusing ex-parte orders and judicial processes generally. Although some of the Justices that delivered the obnoxious orders against June 12th were later punished when democracy was restored in Nigeria, the damage was already done.
In military regimes, the Judges, except the very God-fearing, are seen as mere figure heads that should be a tool for the military dictators to dominate everything and everybody around them. When they try to use the God-fearing Judges without success, they assume the role of the Judges and do it themselves. After all, according to IBB, they are trained to dominate their environment with the power of firearms. Babangida served as a judge in the cancellation of June 12 and constituted himself as a court to deliver the judgment, because he ousted the jurisdiction of the courts to inquire into the cancellation. After cancelling the June 12 election, General Babangida made us believe that he cancelled the election to prevent the emerging democratic regime of Abiola from being overthrown by a coup. This is the most unconscionable and unrealistic excuse for the cancellation of June 12 that I have ever heard but it reveals the mindset of Judges without justice who dish out injustice in their judgements and manipulate the minds of the people to cover up their dishonesty. The cancellation in itself was the overthrow of the fourth republic so am at a loss what else IBB was protecting from overthrow. Do you protect something by destroying it? He said they had a security report that some people were planning to topple the regime of Abiola after being sworn in. In his latest interview, he said he was proved right because General Abacha took over power after Shonekan was sworn in, signifying obviously that Abacha was part of the team that was planning to overthrow the government of MKO Abiola if installed.
Truth be told, Abacha did not conduct any coup to come into power. Babangida handed over power to Abacha, using the Shonekan administration, as a stop gap measure to dounce the tension created by the cancellation of June 12 before Abacha took over power. Maybe the General had forgotten that he made a decree that in the case of the death or resignation of Shonekan, the most senior minister takes over power. The junta made Abacha the most senior minister, being the minister of defence. Immediately the court declared the regime of Ernest Shonekan illegal, Shonekan resigned and Abacha took over power. How can you know that someone is planning to stage a coup and at the same time make a law positioning him to take over power? The job of a sincere Head of State is to arrest those planning to conduct a coup and replace them with officers who will be loyal to democratic rule.
Babangida contradicted himself when he made it clear during the interview that Abacha risked his life to help him overthrow Muhammadu Buhari and he often joked with him that he may decide to leave power for him when he decides to leave the office and that was actually what he did. This was why Abacha was called the Khalifa when Babangida was in power. In any case, who informed General IBB that Abiola wouldn’t be able to take care of the military if he was sworn in. Indeed, one of the reasons why IBB annulled the election was because of the apprehension of the military regime that Abiola knew them so well, being their friend, and had so much wealth to be able to deal with the military, if allowed to be President. The truth is that General Babangida didn’t want to leave power and cancelled the election for private gain of staying in perpetuity in power and ABN was one of the associations used for such purpose. He simply miscalculated what the reaction of Nigerians, including some of his military boys, like Dangiwa Umar, will be, after the cancellation, which made it clear to him that his action was rejected by all Nigerians and he would have been forcefully removed from power if he did not leave voluntarily and he stepped aside. I wouldn’t know why it is difficult for the General to simply take responsibility for the June 12 debacle and apologise and spare the country further trauma from June 12, but that’s the way of Judges without justice, the maradonas of the bench.
One would have thought that the politicians and Judges would learn some lessons from the inappropriate use of the judicial process to bring down political enemies, during the military regime, but it is obvious that they have not learnt much in Nigeria. Uche Secondus’ godfathers in PDP are towing the same lines and doing the same things. We must not be deceived that it is only the Judges of the lower courts that are found wanting in this malaise. We witnessed with utter consternation as a former Chief Justice of Nigeria used the instrumentality of interlocutory order to arrest the judgment of the Sokoto governorship election, which by law, ought to have terminated at the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court did this, knowing full well that it lacked jurisdiction to handle the matter, because the law, as it then was, made the Court of Appeal the highest court in matters of the governorship elections. I have also seen how a Senior Lawyer openly made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against the Judges of the Supreme Court to their faces at the court. We witnessed how a former Chief Justice of Nigeria made incorrect statements in his asset declaration form and was forced to resign. We also witnessed how a President of the Court of Appeal was promoted to the Supreme Court and he rejected the promotion, regarding it as a Greek gift. If we have come to the stage where judicial personnel live only by their legitimate income, would a Court of Appeal Judge not quickly accept speedily the offer to be promoted to the Supreme Court, no matter the motive of the officer making the promotion? Could it be that the office of the President of Court of Appeal is more “financially lucrative” than being an ordinary Supreme Court Judge? The whole idea is that Judges must live above board. The standard of judging them is above the standard of judging ordinary citizens. Life and death, at times, are in their hands. We need a thorough purge of the entire judiciary to refine it so the golden age could return once more.
As we are about to celebrate the 61st anniversary of Nigeria independence, it should be uppermost in our minds to reform our judiciary. We have to overhaul the manner of recruitment to the bench. Capacity, competence and character (both personal and federal) should be the consideration for appointing our Judges. The Federal Character principle will enable us feed the court with qualified judges from all sections of Nigeria that will provide a pool of knowledge that will assist the courts to understand the culture and way of life of all Nigerians which facilitates the dispensation of justice in a diverse nation like ours. The independence of the judiciary, especially financial independence, must be respected and enforced. The President of the Court of Appeal has hinted on the need to upgrade the salary of judicial personnel. This should be taken seriously as there’s no reception to theology when a man is hungry.