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CJN and the burden of justice

By Josef Omorotionmwan

UNEASY lies the head that wears the crown. Lately, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has cried out twice on the fate of the Nigerian Judiciary.

At first, he expressed deep concern that the Judiciary was fast becoming the whipping boy of society. And that’s how it has always been.
When it comes to elections, Nigerians are bad losers. Politics is unlike the game of football, which could sometimes result in a draw. In politics, there are only outright winners or losers; hence people talk of the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.

As soon as the election results are announced, the credit and the debit sides emerge – the winner rolls out the drums in rather wild celebrations while the loser begins to locate the areas of fault. He blames everybody, from the electoral umpires to the security agents. To him, all have compromised.

He proceeds, in all haste, to the election petitions tribunal as well as every appeal process available.

The final winner praises the Judiciary to the high heavens. It is time to remember that the Judiciary is the last hope of everyone. On the debit side, the loser goes wild. He heaves abuses and casts aspersions on the Judiciary. It is time to remember how very corrupt and inept the Judges are.

Justice Mahmud Mohammed
Justice Mahmud Mohammed

The politician never sees himself as defeated. Even those with obviously terrible cases still approach the Judiciary, if only as a way of assuring their leaders that they have not been bought over by the opposing party, and per adventure they could also stumble into Judges hawking judgment in the open market.

In any case, they quickly remind you of the Benin adage, “It is better to say this is where a man was killed than to say this was where he ran into the bush”.

On the credit side, though, two major entries came into our honours list in 2015 – former President Goodluck Jonathan and former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi. These lame ducks met electoral defeat and embraced it with equanimity. Despite the overwhelming pressure on them to behave Nigerian, they chose the path of honour and civilisation. We salute their courage and leave the rest to history.

Again, the CJN is beaming the search light inwards. He is deeply worried that in the last few months, the Appeal Court Divisions have delivered conflicting judgments in some of the National Assembly and governorship election petitions brought before them, even in cases where the facts and principles of such petitions were identical.

The CJN insists that as guardians of the law, judges must not only be just, they must also convey certainty in their justness. Hear him, “The over-riding objective of every legal system in the world is to do justice. However, this cannot be achieved where there is confusion as to the state of the law as pronounced by the courts… Such judicial contradictions only result in untold hardship to the litigants in their quest for justice. They further cast the judges in unfavourable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of innuendos, crass publications and editorials.”

We commend Justice Mohammed’s advice on the urgent need for the Court of Appeal to have an Internal Law Report for the use of Justices.

This is also congruent with the 2008 counsel of Justice Niki Tobi, Justice of the Supreme Court as he then was, that immediately judgment is delivered in one Division of the Appeal Court, it must be promptly sent to other Divisions. This will enhance uniformity and consistency of judgments.

Eminent jurists the world-over are agreed that the duty of deciding cases in accordance with the precedents that plainly fit them is similar to what the painter does. It is a process of searching and comparing. The judge matches the colours of the case at hand against the colours of the many sample cases spread out on his table. The sample nearest the shade supplies the applicable rule.

It is when the colours do not match; when the references in the index fail; and when there is no decisive precedent to go by that the serious job of the Judge begins. That is when he must spend sleepless nights searching the Constitution and the Statute books; and reading between the lines to ascertain what the law-makers had in mind when the laws were made.

Where are the laws on which anyone can prosecute a good war against corruption? In the area of white-collar crimes, we see victim-made laws perfectly tailored to suit the victim. What we have are the wrongs of paupers and the rights of princes.

In the abstract, we are quick to admit that corruption is the most heinous of all crimes. But each time we catch the armed robber – who by the standard of our treasury looters is a petty thief – he is dumped in prison while his trial lasts. We are told that his offence is not bail-able and no one talks of innocence before the establishment of guilt.

On the other hand, on the few occasions when we summon enough courage to question the politician who has stolen us blind, we spend a major part of the tenure discussing his bail conditions, until he is finally set free.

We even have cases where the culprits ordered the courts to slap perpetual injunctions on us, never to question them on what they have stolen from us!

Justice Mohammed should also realise that the Judge, too, has a duty to represent his class in society. We are constantly engaged in a class war in which the legislators and the judges are in the same category of princes.

This born-again President has seen it all. His experience should be an eye-opener that what is needed to truly fight the war against corruption is a benevolent dictator. The fight cannot be prosecuted with kid gloves that hardly scratch beyond the surface, such as we are currently doing. When will the prison gates be thrown open to admit these culprits?


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