By Ikechukwu Amaechi
MARY Odili, Justice of the Supreme Court, JSC, has been in the news in the last one week for the wrong reason, through no fault of hers. A woman with impeccable judicial records, Justice Odili has all the qualities of a good judge, ticking the boxes in judicial temperament, intelligence, ethics, courage, integrity, experience and education.
As a judge, Odili applies the law to the facts and understands how a judicial decision affects human beings. Above all, she is a judge of immense courage, always willing to do what the law requires of her even when the course of action is not popular. In rendering justice, she has consistently shown compassion, empathy and respect for the essential dignity of all persons.
This is the same judge that the government embarrassed on Friday. Nigerians are outraged, no doubt, going by the seeming universal condemnation of the orchestrated assault on her Abuja residence. The move has been severely condemned from all quarters for being unconstitutional, illegal and an affront to the entire judiciary. Yet, I blame the people for her ordeal. Why? Because for too long, we have overindulged the whims of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government and the Odili saga is a natural consequence of that overindulgence.
A joint panel recovery unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice comprising the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Nigeria Police Force and the Ministry of Justice, we are told, sought a search warrant from the FCT Chief Magistrate after a so-called whistleblower, Aliyu Umar, claimed that he observed some illegal activities at No. 9 Imo Street, Maitama Abuja. Chief Magistrate Emmanuel Iyanna, approved the request on October 29, 2021.
Nobody was told what the illegal activities were and nobody, not even the chief magistrate, cared to ask. Armed with the search warrant, the security operatives marched off to Justice odili’s residence with all the swagger they could muster like a child sent on a larceny expedition by his father, who noisily kicks the front door open.
It is instructive that the chief magistrate who issued the vexing search warrant without any name on it revoked it same day, accusing the government of misleading the court. It is also good that everyone is claiming ignorance of what happened.
The leadership of the EFCC and Police have all distanced themselves from the tragi-comedy. Appearing on Channels Television on Friday night, EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, said: “It is not an EFCC thing. I have called all the security and law enforcement agencies in the country and they also denied that anybody has been sent to the house to carry out any search or arrest.”
Really? Nigeria’s all-powerful Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has also distanced himself from the shenanigan, pledging to make himself available for investigation if need be. Who will probe the man who has become, literally and figuratively, the Nigerian state writ large? If you believe that, you will believe anything!
It is also interesting that the Presidency is playing deaf and dumb. But most scandalous is the fact that it took the Supreme Court four days to react to the egregious assault by agents of the Nigerian state controlled by the executive, a co-equal arm of government, not only on the person of Justice Odili, but the entire Nigerian judiciary.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court Director of Press and Information, Akande Festus, condemned the siege calling it unlawful and uncivilised, an impunity taken too far, and a shameful show of primitive force on an innocent judicial officer. Good! But what stopped Chief Justice Tanko Muhammad from personally calling out those who not only debased the judiciary but whimsically violated the rights of the second most senior judicial officer in the country?
Of course, he cannot and we know why. Nigerians have themselves to blame for the way Buhari is treating them. Wittingly, we became cheer leaders, clapping and dancing, even as the government continued to trample on our rights, acting with impunity, beyond its powers. Instead of three arms of government, which is what the Constitution envisaged, we now have only the executive, with the judiciary and legislature acting as mere parastatals of the presidency.
When Buhari says jump, the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chief Justice of Nigeria ask, how high sir. This tragedy started in October 2016 when the government orchestrated what has gone into history books as the worst assault on the Nigerian judiciary with the midnight raid on the homes of some senior Nigerian judges, including Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja, as well as Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court, by operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS. Four days after the utter humiliation, Justice Ademola pointedly blamed Malami for his ordeal.
In an October 11, 2016 letter addressed to the then Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the embattled judge stated: “What is more intriguing in this whole episode is that I see it as a vendetta/revenge from the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Whilst I was in Kano between 2004-2008 as a Federal High Court Judge, he was involved in a professional misconduct necessitating his arrest and detention. However, with the intervention of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Kano Branch, the allegation of misconduct was later withdrawn by me.
“Consequently, the NJC referred Abubakar Malami (SAN) to the NBA Disciplinary Committee for disciplinary action. It was as a result of this he was denied the rank of SAN by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee for the period of four years until when he produced a fake letter of apology, purportedly addressed to me. It was then he was conferred with the rank. Since the above incident, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has threatened to revenge and swore to do anything to bring me down.”
Was any attempt made to investigate this weighty allegation? No! Instead, Nigerians cheered and clapped for their anti-corruption government. The consequence? Emboldened, three years later, Buhari went for Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and disgraced him out of office using, as usual, trumped-up charges of corruption.
The prudish, cavalier, humiliating and barbaric manner Onnoghen, head of an independent arm of government, was shoved aside, notwithstanding that the government failed to secure prosecutions for most or convictions for any of the earlier cases speaks to how much Nigerians have become accomplices to the crimes committed by the government against them.
It didn’t matter to Nigerians that Buhari’s move against Onnoghen was not merely unusual, it was also unlawful. They clapped, danced and made merry on Buhari’s anti-corruption altar.
On March 19, 2021, two years after he was disgraced out of office, Onnoghen revealed that he was a victim of the 2019 presidential election. “Prior to my suspension, I was confronted with no allegation. There were rumours that I met with Atiku (Abubakar) in Dubai.
“As I am talking here today, I have never met Atiku one on one in my life. As if that was not enough, I was also accused of setting free, high-profile criminals, whereas I ceased to be a High Court Judge as far back as 1978,” the ex-CJN said.
Five years after the midnight raid on judges homes in 2016, law enforcement agents again invaded the private residence of the country’s second most senior judicial officer on the preposterous and bizarre allegation of illegal activities. Barely one year to the 2023 elections, Justice Mary Odili, who may well become the CJN by the time the elections are held is being hounded and Nigerians are behaving as if they are surprised and pleading with Malami to carry out an investigation.
Good luck Charlie, as Ghanaians would say. But, mark my words, this is only the beginning of Odili’s ordeal. What happened to her is not an accident. Those who orchestrated this assault will not rest until she gets the Onnoghen treatment. The corruption allegations are loading and when they are unleashed, we will be out on the streets once again, gyrating to the lyrics of Buhari’s anti-corruption orchestra.
Déjà vu! Truth be told, Nigerians have overindulged Buhari’s executive indiscretions.