Frankly Speaking

February 16, 2020

What do you do when your old parents undress in public?

Our land soaked in blood, gloom, South-East Bishops wail

By Dele Sobowale

A map of Nigeria

“It is all very well to paint justice blind; but she does better without a bandage round her eyes. She should indeed be blind to favour and prejudice, but clear to see which way lies the truth” – Lord Denning, 1889-1999, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 111.

Several calls and messages were received since the Supreme Court of Nigeria, SCN, delivered a judgment which even the winners are reluctant to rejoice about. The losers and non-partisan observers are livid with rage about it. Not since the SCN,

in 1979, delivered the infamous ‘twelve-two-thirds’ verdict in the presidential election case involving the Shagari-led National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and Awolowo-led Unity Party of Nigeria has one judgment created so much outcry and open attack on the judiciary. So ridiculous was the 1979 verdict, I doubt if it had been cited as a precedent anywhere since then. This decision too by the Honourable Justices of the SCN who participated in it might constitute a blight on their individual legacies. Chief Justice Fatayi Williams was never allowed to enjoy his last days on earth on account of that judgment – especially in Yorubaland where we have people like Eric Teniola with elephant-like memories. The Justices (our fathers really) who made this blunder will most probably suffer the same fate.

READ ALSO:Bayelsa: Supreme Court judgment would have nullified election — Oshiomhole

History never moves in straight lines. Sometimes, it acts like a boomerang. In 1979, ‘conservative’ politicians rejoiced; the ‘progressives’ cried ‘foul’. Today, it is the turn of ‘progressives’ to clink glasses; the ‘conservatives’ are in rage. But, the current victors should take my advice taken from the title of a book by Nelson Mandela – ‘Time is longer than rope’. Some of them might live long to receive the same treatment. The SCN is not a standing army but a moving parade – Justices come; Justices go.

“Sir, you have not commented on the recent Supreme Court abracadabra in Imo State called judgment. Do not abandon us to our fate please – Your fan.”

First, I thank the sender for reading VANGUARD because without the paper, there might be no Dele Sobowale whose views are sought on issues. Second, abandoning Nigeria to its fate is not an option for me. Left to me, Trump is wasting his time. I have no wish to go and live in America even if offered lots of money to migrate there. I have deep roots here – children, grandchildren and soon great-grandchildren. If only for them, I am going nowhere. Third, I honestly believe this nation can be saved still. Sowore might have acted before the appropriate time, but he is on the right track. This country is getting so close to being ungovernable – politically, socially and especially economically. In a few more years of the badly concealed anarchy, we will all be wondering why we did not troop out after the young man.

Fourth, just when we thought that the worst threats to our future are those in the executive and legislative branches, at federal and state levels, we suddenly discovered that the judiciary is also marching lock-step with the other two branches of government in the Three Arms Zone. Finally, I have had to think carefully of what I write on this matter. US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1856-1941, once said, “Difficult cases make bad law.” For me, this is one tough case and my ultimate position will probably be as defective as the SCN judgment. I am aware of that risk.

“An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent [jurist]. A society which scorns excellence in plumbing because it is humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in [the judiciary] because it is exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good [judiciary]. Neither its plumbing nor its [judgments] will hold water” – John Gardener, US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 1960s.

Nigerians tolerate shoddiness in everything. Our drainage pipes are atrocious and our court judgments are also exasperating. In the same court where a salesman was sentenced to ten years for stealing N150, 000 belonging to his former employers, a former governor or Minister will be sentenced to six months with an option of N500,000 fine after embezzling billions.

The “Justices” will go to bed without a pang of conscience; without losing sleep.
Readers probably have an idea of what I think of the (Imo) verdict. So much has been written about it that anyone writing so late can hardly find any point of law that has not been cited to rubbish the judgment. Some aspects of it are so absurd as to leave one wondering if it is possible for the imbecilities often associated with old age could affect so many people at once who were expected to see clearly where the truth lies. Two points will be sufficient to illustrate the sort of flaws embedded in that verdict which will make the Nigerian judiciary a laughing stock worldwide. It would have been bad enough if those blunders were made by lower courts; at least people can hope for remedy at the SCN. When the unpardonable error is made by the SCN, the result is fatal. The ‘fathers’ of the Third Estate of the Realm have set a bad example for their juniors on the bench.

First, numbers are powerful – especially when they can be ascertained. That is what everybody was supposed to learn from Nursery School till their dying day. They can make one look foolish or intelligent – irrespective of status in life. The Justices made themselves look ridiculous when the winner of the election was awarded more votes that the accredited voters who participated in it. The votes in excess of the accredited voters amounted to judicial padding of the votes cast on that day. It is impossible for anyone to defend that lapse – not now; not ever.

“Silence is not an option when things are ill-done” – Lord Denning, VBQ, p 227.

Our “My Lords” have maintained a studied silence individually and collectively. That ordinarily is the official response to criticisms of judgments made. But, this is an extra-ordinary case, at least in one other respect. It is unprecedented for judgment to be delivered in the open court and for the document to be altered and words not uttered in court to get smuggled into the proceedings later. This is simply unethical. Back room judgments take us into the realm of kangaroo courts – where anything goes. But, if we land there, the worst victims will be the Justices themselves. Once the high regard given to them is gone; anything can occur. We have read of countries where the judiciary is treated with a great deal of contempt by litigants. We should all pray Nigeria never experiences the sort of chaos which follows the total lack of confidence in a nation’s judiciary.
“….To err is human; to forgive divine” – Alexander Pope, VBQ, p 49.

It is clear that I strongly believe that the Justices made a grave mistake in that judgment. They had the option of calling for a completely new election or election in the affected areas. None of those would have resulted in the avalanche of curses and maledictions being thrown at them now. They acted unwisely.

“If you can keep your head/while others around you are losing theirs…you will be a man my boy” – Rudyard Kipling.
That said, however, the judgment has thrown up a serious issue. What is the appropriate response to this sort of judicial atrocity – particularly when it occurs at the SCN? The National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, cautioned Nigerians against rubbishing the judiciary on account of this unpopular verdict. I totally agree. Asiwaju, to me, is one of the few Nigerians keeping their heads on this matter. Granted, political opponents might argue that it is easy for him as one of the beneficiaries of this injustice. I also agree that it is easy to be generous when you are not a victim of wrong-doing. However, even people like me, who cannot possibly benefit from the outcome, can see reasons why it will not be in our national interest to disgrace the SCN as an institution simply because some of the Justices were involved in what we consider gross miscarriage of justice for the following reasons:

One, the current transient occupiers of the seats will go; they will walk away. But, the court will remain. By not losing our heads on account of this case, we will not be giving approval to what they did but we will be honouring the institution – the Supreme Court. In time, another SCN might reverse the ruling in another case. At any rate, we have no other court to turn to. We might as well keep a stiff upper lip on this matter and move on.
Second, the incident reminded me of a true story from 1976 when I lived in a block of six three-bedroom flats. One of the flats was occupied by a young banker who lived there with his wife, two kids and his aged parents. A more cantankerous couple than the old parents would be difficult to find. It would appear that they both suffered from dementia. They could do virtually anything; their favourite past time was to fight and undress themselves. It was terribly embarrassing enough when they acted like that in the house because the son could just lock the door and leave voyeurs guessing what was going on inside.

But, one day, the pot boiled over. The son was working over-time and the wife went to the market to buy foodstuff. The young couple returned only to find the old couple in the street stark naked after tearing their clothes off. The traffic hold-up they caused was the first bad news the weary banker got. It was unusual for that time of day. The real shocker came when he discovered the cause of the ‘go slow’. He parked his car and eventually got the two combatants to get in. As he drove away, he could hear people jeering and making crude remarks. We were very close and I was away when the incident took place. He ran out to meet me as soon as he heard the sound of my car.

“Mr Sobowale, please tell me what I should do? My parents have disgraced me. I feel like poisoning the two of them and get rid of this problem”, he said.

“You can’t kill them because the consequences, if caught, will be different from what you expect. Let us think of something else to do.” That was my reply.

Our parents in the SCN have behaved, in this case, in a manner not too different in terms of social and political repercussions from the 1976 couple. But, we cannot destroy them. We must collectively think of something else to assuage the feelings of those who feel, rightly or wrongly, cheated. I only hope that those among the Justices who might still be around to handle election petition cases will be more careful next time. Let us put this behind us and move on.

I now have all the information needed to respond to those wanting to participate in honouring the Father of Modern Akwa Ibom State – Obong (Dr) Victor Attah. I will soon contact those who have shown interest as well as those just knowing about it. If in doubt about what to do, JUST ASK ME. Thanks.