By Awa Kalu, SAN
In the installment published on February 14, 2019, it was argued that the war against corruption has led to some misconceptions in certain quarters about the true dimensions of the criminal justice system. It has come into the public domain that any person who is charged with corruption or any other charge alleging financial impropriety, should be without the service of counsel, particularly senior counsel. It is now also within the consciousness of the public that the judicial system has been turned upside down and polluted by senior counsel, whether dead or alive.
Unfortunately, notwithstanding the ill wishes that the war against corruption has brought upon senior members of the legal profession, the profession would continue to thrive and its members must also prosper, because the legal profession exists for the preservation of democracy and of justice itself. Practising lawyers who constitute only one arm of the legal profession will not run away, nor will they varnish because ill feelings are being deliberately generated by a tiny section of society.
It is must be remembered that when the law is against you, when you are oppressed or downtrodden or when society pitches its tent against you, unless you resort to God, you must find solace under the canopy of human justice i.e. justice as administered by man. It is, therefore, necessary to say that the sustained campaign against the legal profession from certain quarters is an ill wind that would not blow any good and that ill wind has blown at a faster rate with the arraignment of the number one officer of the legal profession. We touched on the suspension of the Learned Chief Justice of Nigeria, which has resulted in suspicion about the motive for his suspension. So many other things have happened since his suspension, including the swearing in of an acting Chief Justice. Despite several objections to the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, to try the learned Chief Justice and the pendency of at least three appeals against multiple rulings delivered by the tribunal without first determining its jurisdiction, the tribunal issued a warrant of arrest against the Chief Justice.
In response to the warrant, the Chief Justice appeared before the tribunal voluntarily, on account of which the warrant was discharged. The Chief Justice has been arraigned, and the matter was thereafter adjourned to a future date for trial. Quite a number of questions have arisen in the public domain as to whether or not there has been indecent haste in the manner in which the Chief Justice has been treated. Perhaps, part of the reason why questions have been raised about the handling of the Chief Justice’s matter is because politics is in the air.
Are there political motives behind the speed with which the Chief Justice was suspended and arraigned in preparation for his trial? Does the arraignment of the Chief Justice, who, possibly is only one of two figures in the judicial apparatus of the Government of the Federation, an exacerbation of the present divide between the North and South? Would it have been more salutary to wait until the elections are over and post-election disputes resolved before his arraignment? As the legendary musician, Bob Dylan would say; “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” What is obvious whether we like it or not, is that, what has happened is like harmattan dust, the haze occasioned thereby would last for a while.
Why do we say so? It is because history has a long memory and occasionally repeats itself. Take a cue from the precipitate action of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which postponed the
Presidential, as well as National Assembly elections, with a short broadcast in the stealth of the night. When you imagine the repercussions- political, economic, and social- then you will understand why the Black’s Law Dictionary defines corruption elastically as; “symptomatic of depravity, perversion or taint and may suggest an impairment of a public Officer’s duty by bribery.” INEC, used possibly, the last three and a half years to prepare for elections, gave a timeline to over 90 political parties, accepted candidates nominated by those political parties and gave all the parties the go ahead to mobilise their supporters, and after massive campaign across the country, the Commission continued to give assurances that the election would hold as scheduled.
Following the mobilisation of voters, supporters and stakeholders, all those who were interested in exercising their civic responsibilities, i.e. voters, observers (both international and local), also mobilised themselves to their respective locations in readiness for voting, only to be told six hours to the voting time, that, for logistic reasons, the elections will not hold. What do we have on our hands? It is legitimate to note that general elections were postponed by INEC in 2011 and 2015. In 2011 also, we had inconclusive elections in certain places and in certain states. It was rationalised by persons who benefitted and down the road, another postponement has also been experienced.
We had inconclusive elections only recently and we must pause to ask: what is the answer?
To put it mildly, the answer is that we must learn to do what is fair and just in order to accommodate doing good for the benefit of the greatest number.