By Douglass Anele
According to St. Augustine, one of the most eminent philosopher-theologians to emerge from the Catholic Church, without justice governments are nothing but gangs of robbers.
A momentâ€™s reflection would reveal the sound intuition behind Augustineâ€™s assertion. Augustine saw clearly that there is little or no difference between immoral and unjust exercise of state power and armed robbery.
This implies that the exercise of state power must be carried out with the guidance of the fundamental principles of morality, especially justice. Now, since the evolution of civil society in antiquity, the minority that oversees a community has always appropriated to itself the powers of law-making and law-enforcement.
The antecedent human condition that led to the emergence of civil society and government has been hotly debated since ancient times. However, despiteÂ differences in their theories, philosophers generally agree that civilization is impossible without organized society, although Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that civil society has brought about evils hitherto unknown in human history, and prehistory.
There are different forms of government. But they may be usefully sorted into two broad categories, depending on the mode of acquisition and exercise of power. In despotic systems, theocratic, military or fascist, one person or a very tiny minority acquires political power either through the hereditary tradition of divine right of kings or through force.
But in a proper democratic arrangement, members of the society periodically choose their leaders. Clearly, the fundamental advantage of democracy over totalitarianism is that in the former there are laid down democratic procedures for the peaceful replacement of leaders, whereas in the latter, such democratic opportunities are absent.
In any form of government, there is a segment of society charged with the responsibility to interpret and apply the law during disputes. This segment comprises the judiciary, which constitutes the third arm of government in a democratic setting.
In many parts of the world, it is generally believed that â€œthe judiciary is the last hope of the common man.â€ The thinking behind that clichÃ© is that the law is no respecter of persons and that justice will be dispensed by magistrates and judges impartially without regard to status, race, gender, religion, party affiliation etc â€“ which explains why Lady Justice is represented as blindfolded while wielding the sword of Justice.
Magistrates and judges are well respected in every society. As judicial officers, they are expected to conduct themselves at all times with dignity and self-respect, and avoid actions and conduct that will sully the image and reputation of the bench. But recently, the behaviour of some judges in this country has exposed the judiciary to ridicule.
Some judges now fight publicly in the streets, beat up their housemaids on unproven allegation of having affairs with their husbands, and molest journalists who come to cover court proceedings. These are thoroughly deplorable acts that negate the dignity appropriate to those who work in the hallowed temple of justice. But the greatest evil bedeviling the judiciary is corruption.
Several notable jurists and lawyers have spoken loud and clear about the virus of corruption spreading like HIV among judicial officers. For example, Kayode Eso, formerly of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, has expressed frustration at the elephantine level of corruption by judicial officers, and the manner judges and lawyers of big men and thick madams abuse legal minutiae and technicalities to delay and subvert the course of justice.
Eso is on a sound footing here, because several years ago he chaired a panel that unearthed mind-bending corruption in the judiciary, and recommended the dismissal of 47 judges. Unfortunately, due to lack of political will on the part of government and the desire to protect sacred cows, only six were kicked out of the judiciary for good. In similar vein, two justices of the Appeal Court, were sacked for graft in the 2003 Anambra State election petition between Ugochukwu Uba and Ikechukwu Abana.
Even the Supreme Court has been tainted with allegations of corruption. An organization called the Derivation Front in 2003 wrote a petition alleging that justices of the apex court each collected N5m to twist justice in favour of James Ibori, whose qualification for election was hotly disputed at the time.
From the shambolic judgments given by some election tribunals, the granting of frivolous injunctions that favour former state governors in cases they have with the EFCC, the disappointing and unjustified light sentences various judges gave against Diepriye Alameyeseigha, Lucky Igbinedion and Olabode George etc, one can conclude that the judiciary is the biggest impediment in the effort to tame corruption in Nigeria.
When Dimeji Bankole, the embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives (Misrepresentatives would be a more appropriate term here), was quoted as saying, with self-confidence regarding moves for his impeachment because of corruption by some aggrieved colleagues, that â€œthe law should take its course,â€ he was expressing what most Nigerian know already, namely, that the law in Nigeria is a respecter of sacred cows. TO BE CONTINUED.