September 4, 2021

Our Lordships and their rotten bazaars

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Please resist the temptation to call it a cash-and-carry judiciary. It is unlawful to hold our revered lords in such gross contempt. But at an evening market in Degema, a man found a secondhand order to curb the nuisance of Secondus. Proxies do the dirtier jobs. The PDP chairman wouldn’t have been astounded.

His godfather had long run out of patience. Irritated by a wayward lackey, the temperamental godfather wouldn’t bark for too long without biting; his homilies against godfatherism, notwithstanding. The big man had told the world that Secondus, his erstwhile stooge, had become bereft of leadership qualities. The leadership qualities of the chairman, it appears, expired when he discarded sheepishness for some manliness and foresight and started carrying the bag of a Dubai based politician.

The new, improved, Secondus didn’t sulk. He took the Degema abracadabra on the chin. Two days later, we saw his hand. He steadied his man on the throne before some astute errand boys appeared in a Brinin Kebbi evening market looking for a Degema antidote.

The nation is conversant with the judicial shenanigans that abound, like the notorious water hyacinth, in the backwaters of Rivers state. Last year, on the eve of the Edo governorship election, some career tax collectors in the PDP tried to constitute themselves into a nuisance. The emperor wasn’t amused. From somewhere in Rivers, a roadside exparte injunction was rustled up to remind all and sundry of the ugly consequences of playing fast and loose with a learned emperor.

Many years ago, when the EFCC had fangs and a fearsome reputation, it was in Rivers that a world-acclaimed perpetual injunction was manufactured to handcuff the EFCC. That injunction remained the envy of looters globally. In the last six years, Rivers has prided itself as the champion of democracy, independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. But despite these lofty claims, Rivers has not lost its mastery of the courts.

The paradox of mimicking a fountain of justice while functioning as a bakery of startling court injunctions might not trouble emperors. In any case, this casual juxtaposition of bold acts of righteousness with naked, despicable, and contrasting evil started neither with that emperor nor in Rivers.

As a child, I was fed maxims. Gambling was satanic. Church-going was good. Then sometimes, we went to church, and the church organized bazaars. Bazaars, riotous events where God’s gifts were auctioned, hustlers sold everything and many other things that shouldn’t happen in church happened.

At the bazaars, we were allowed, perhaps, encouraged to gamble. I liked gambling innately. But my father’s passionate hatred for it helped me find it summarily devilish. Yet, when presented with a gambling opportunity in the house of God, I gambled with glee. The gambling at the bazaars didn’t leave any bitter aftertaste of guilt and didn’t infuriate my dad. So it felt righteous.

The priest said it was a way to raise money for God. I always left the bazaars with empty pockets. Last-ditch attempts to save all I had lost always left me forlorn, inconsolable. The suspicion that all evils, if practiced in the right places or for the right purposes, could be condonable came to me later.

What I learnt when I became an adult was that rather than rolling the dice and throwing my money away, I could have devised my own lottery scheme and helped fatten the pockets of God while fattening mine. That was what many of those who brought those cards we scratched giddily did; that was why they longed for the bazaars.

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Like the church bazaars, the judicial bazaar in Rivers hasn’t scratched public conscience. Somebody gives judges 150m to buy houses. When he wants to buy cars for them, he buys top of the range SUVs. When he has a political emergency as he had when Secondus started rubbing shoulders with him, he will rely on the tools he has oiled to manufacture a bizarre injunction, and the nation would call him a courageous and workaholic man. When the DSS came at night for corrupt judges, the emperor jumped out of bed, rushed out in his pyjamas to stand like a bulwark against the anti-democratic forces.

Even the self-righteous in the church supported the bazaars because they thought everything done to help God was righteous. The public, it seems, approves of or extends leniency to the brazen atrocities in Rivers, surreptitiously, enabling the emperor to fiddle with the judiciary perhaps in order to help strengthen the opposition and fortify democracy.

Couched like that, it no longer sounds unspeakably immoral, does it? That has to be why the emperor feels entitled, does it brazenly, sometimes with righteous indignation. Like a man driving against traffic to help an accident victim scowling at accusatory fingers aimed at him.

Two days after a lord in the emperor’s domain pulled out a Degema rabbit from his bowler hat, another lord in Kebbi pulled out a cat from his starched Fula. There is nothing innovative about minting wait-and-take injunctions. But it took that sordid tit-for-tat that left PDP stalwarts gathered at Wadata plaza abashed and head-bowed for the NBA to speak up.

The Anambra bazaar had happened, and the NBA said nothing. The NBA loves to preach about bad governance, but it keeps mute when an esteemed Silk is hired to defile the judiciary. After he received an award from the Rivers government last year, Burna boy eulogized Wike. He said no one had courage like Wike.

He might need a remix to accommodate the injunction merchants in Kebbi. Because it requires a bit more than courage for a high court in Kebbi to suspend the order of a high court in Degema. Now, the NBA president is convinced politicians using lawyers to seduce and defile the judiciary.

Any foreigner listening to him might believe the term “lawyers” is also a Nigerian colloquialism for minors or the mentally deficient. Because legal practitioners who have sworn oaths to defend and promote justice cannot be described so condescendingly by their union leader.

The Chief Justice has summoned some judges. Perhaps he is now embarrassed. At least, it means the judiciary is not altogether shameless. But while he must stop courts of coordinate jurisdiction from the clownish usurpation of appellate status, he must find a solution to the sort of ex parte madness that happened in Degema.

The courts must embrace good faith and allow political parties to run themselves with minimal nannying from the susceptible judiciary. And a firm direction must come from the supreme court. If the supreme court fails to treat as contraband all dubious injunctions and shenanigans perpetrated in Degema and other funny places, as it failed to do by choosing legalism and excluding the APC in 2019 in Rivers and Zamfara, then the Chief justice is wasting his time, perhaps shedding crocodile tears. The time to look for a black goat is before dark.

Like a circus, an Asaba court has jumped onto the stage. It has restrained Buni who has been limping from wounds sustained  from a supreme court minority decision from  parading himself as the APC caretaker committee chairman. The entire Caretaker committee has been handcuffed. You can bet on it.

Another court in Damaturu or Potiskum might suspend the order of the Asaba court and instruct Buni to resume his parade. And if the court manufacturing the Asaba antidote is sufficiently incensed or motivated, it might choose to suspend the entire judiciary of Delta state from work pending the determination of the suit before it.

I can’t tell how much the bazaars helped dilute the church. I know that a gambling culture has now seized the country. If the bazaar patented in Rivers continues, then our judiciary is on its way to becoming a Bet Naija PLC where the judiciary can allocate all electoral seats through diabolical pre-election injunctions.

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