When The Apex Court Rumbles, Quivers And Quakes (Part 1)

When The Apex Court Rumbles, Quivers And Quakes (Part 1)

It is not usual or commonplace to see the bastion of justice and the highest court of the land quaking, trembling and quivering. Remember the “Rumble in the Jungle ” of Mohammed Ali vs George Foreman in the epic heavyweight boxing Championship in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974? The Supreme Court had more than that. Ali was stinging like a bee, using the rope-a-dope tactic. The Apex Court Justices did just that.

How did this happen? A slumbering country had woken up on Monday, 27th June, 2022, to the shocking news of the resignation of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad. The Jurist said he was doing so, on health grounds. The resignation came about 18 months ahead of his official retirement date of December 31, 2023. Tongues wagged because the resignation, though predicated on health grounds, came in just barely two weeks after the other 14 serving Justices of the Supreme Court had frontally confronted the CJN over the abysmally poor welfare of Justices of the Supreme Court. He had denied the allegations through Ahuraka Isah, his spokesperson. Irrespective of Justice Tanko’s reason (s) for suddenly throwing in towel prematurely, let me state here that the step he took constituted a reinvigorating breath of fresh air that blew across the dark crevices of the nation’s judicial landscape and democratic space.

The 14 Justices in their “Book of Lamentations”, had insisted that no past administration since the birth of democracy in 1999 had ever treated Justices as shabbily as the erstwhile CJN did. This apparent vote of no confidence on Justice Tanko, is the first time that such would occur in 58 years of the history of the Supreme Court. Is it that they were crying wolf? Had they tried, but failed, in using inbuilt internal conflict-resolution mechanisms to settle the matter? I do not know. Or, do you?

My Earlier Intervention on this Brouhaha

I had earlier written in support of the Justice’s cause, course and protest. Inter alia, I had said:

“What I expected the CJN to have done is to have balmed their oozing bruises; bandaged their bleeding economic sores and say, ‘’Ok, I have heard you loud and clear. I am going to take up your complaints and champion your cause before the executive and legislative arms of government, arms that have turned themselves into rampaging bulldogs. As the head of the Judiciary which is the third arm of the government, I will make sure that you have more allocation, your welfare enhanced and your life made better.’’ Shikena.

“It was Alexander Hamilton in his Federalist paper number 78, who once said the Judiciary is the weakest of the three arms of government; and that it has neither purse, nor sword to enforce its judgements.

“Are we going to say that the Judiciary should remain forever in the doldrums, trampled upon by the two other arms of government? I think not. When I read about the entire annual allocation of the Judiciary, I wept. My heart bled. The entire allocation is like what some Governors in this country simply pocket as security vote, and walk away as if nothing has happened. The allocation is less than ¼ of what some ministries have in this country; and we have more than 30 Ministries in Nigeria. Yet, we are talking about the head of the whole third arm of government – the Supreme Court. Yet, we expect these Justices to be aliens from another planet, maybe from Saturn, Mars, or Jupiter, so that they won’t be corrupt. We expect them to act like Archangel Michael or Angel Gabriel, who must not touch money with a ten-foot pole, even when they are hungry and starved.

“So, when we are crying that some Judges are corrupt, we also have to look at it from the angle of the rotten milieu within which they operate. Whilst not advocating for corruption (God forbid; very far from it, because I believe that any corrupt element within the Judiciary should be kicked out and dismissed after proper investigation and trial), I also believe that we must not allow a system where corruption becomes so attractive as to form a clear and present danger and become a fundamental objective and directive principle of State policy. We have a proverb in my language, which translates to say that you must keep away the white cloth from the palm oil, just the same way you must keep the palm oil away from the cloth. If you bring an insect-infected piece of firewood into your house, you have requested for a visitation of a colony of lizards. So, you must not complain when you see a colony of lizards descend on you, because you asked for it.

“If you starve Judges and Justices, and you make them believe that they don’t matter and will never have a home to retire to, and some Justices of the Supreme Court, in spite of the danger inherent in their job are renting houses inside towns, living amongst people, some of whom have been tried and jailed by these same Judges and Justices, then you are begging corruption to embrace them. You are not even giving them enough protection and security.

“The society must not appear to be telling the Justices to either take it or leave it; to either kow-tow and agree with their present perilous, impoverished, sorry situation, or they resign. It should never be like that. I expect the CJN to engage them more and pacify them. I want to believe that before they wrote that letter, they must have complained severally, and serially quietly in secret, in the underground, without being heard, or their complaints being remedied. That must have been why they went so formal, by writing that historic letter.”

Is the Judiciary Now Naked?

No. The Judiciary has not been left naked, because the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Olukayode Ayoola, has since been sworn in as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria in line with Section 231(4) of the 1999 Constitution. He will act for three months pending when, cateris paribus, he will be made the substantive CJN, in accordance with Section 230(1) thereof.

Justice Tanko Muhammad did the Right Thing by Resigning

Whatever reasons Justice Tanko Mohammad had for resigning (whether due to poor health as he said, or due to the ricocheting effect of the protest letter by 14 Justices of the Supreme Court which greatly embarrassed the Judiciary and country), the important thing is that he must be praised for his courage, masculinity and wise counsel in honourably resigning. Resignation from office is a very scarce commodity in this part of the world, where public officials hold on to office, no matter the odious perception by the Nigerian people. Justice Muhammad will therefore be remembered in history, as a CJN who walked away from his lucrative office whilst the ovation was loudest, albeit, being subjected to gradual muffling. He has entered the pantheon of the few historical figures, who threw in the towel whilst in office.

A Peep into History

As a Historian and Archivist, I love situating my discourse in historical perspectives. It helps to open up the topic under discussion. Let us therefore, take a look at history to see some instances of Justices and government officials who had stepped down from office, for the greater good of the people.

In 1795, John Jay, a foremost Federalist, resigned as the US Chief Justice, to become the Governor of New York.

In 1800, Oliver Ellsworth, US Chief Justice, had to resign on grounds of illness and unpopularity, after negotiating the Convention of 1800.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson resigned as the Governor of New Jersey to become the US President.

In 1955, Winston Churchill, the Second World War hero, resigned as the Prime Minister of the UK due to poor health, but remained in the House of Commons.

In 1963, Harold MacMillan resigned as Prime Minister of the UK, after the profumo scandal (the third consecutive resignation of a Prime Minister under the watch of the present Queen Elizabeth II).

In 1967, Gamal Abdal Nassar of Egypt resigned as President, UAR. However, he later retracted his resignation. Sweet power, always an aphrodisiac and intoxicating liquor!!.

In 1969, Charles De Gaulle of France resigned following a defeat in the French referendum.

In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as President after the infamous Watergate scandal that rocked US history.

In 1981, Hussein Onn resigned as Prime Minister of Malaysia due to poor health.

In 1984, Pierre Trudeau, the then Prime Minister of Canada, retired from politics due to unpopularity.

Bill Clinton in 1992, resigned as the Governor of Arkansas to become the United States President.

Sylvio Berlusconi resigned as the Prime Minister of Italy in 1995.

In 1997, Zhan Videnor resigned with his entire government as Prime Minister of Bulgaria.

John Major, as Prime Minister of the UK in 1997, resigned as leader of the Conservative Party.

Tony Blair, as Prime Minister of the UK, stepped down in 2007 as leader of the Labour Party.

It was the turn of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011, when he threw in the towel and resigned due to the Egyptian revolution.

In 2016, David Cameron resigned as the UK Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party due to the Brexit vote which allowed the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. (To be continued).



Culled from THISDAY

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