The Orbit

November 7, 2021

Opinion: Odili’s ordeal



I’d like to be upfront, right from the get-go, and say that Justice Mary Nwakaego Odili’s brother, Okey Nzenwa is an old pal of mine and that the good judge is a proud daughter of the very proud Mbaise clan, who are prouder still of her accomplishments at the bench of justice.

Her father, the redoubtable BSC Nzenwa, famous for his time as Chairman of the Rangers International FC of Enugu in its very glorious days was the first among the Mbaise to qualify, himself as a barrister, and be admitted into the Inner Temple of the English bar, sent forth to that aim by being among the first recipients of the Mbaise County Scholarships in the 1950s.

And so, yes, the Mbaise are very proud of their daughter and are very protective of her. She is “Okpu Mbaise.”  I might, therefore, seemingly connected to that nexus of care, be a little more than impartial in my disgust, as I intend to hopefully, fully communicate it in this week’s column, about the scandalous treatment of Justice Odili, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, by desperadoes of the Nigerian Police and associated security agencies.

The story is already out there, but needs to be put into proper context: on October 29, an armed team of Law Enforcement officers led by a Chief Superintendent of Police, Mr Lawrence Ajodo invaded the home of Justice Odili on Imo River Street, Abuja. According to reports, Chief Superintendent Ajodo had obtained a warrant from the Chief Magistrate of the Wuse Zone 6 Magistrate Court in Abuja to search the home of Justice Odili under direct orders from the Ministry of Justice. The warrant to search was obtained from a whistleblower’s tip suggesting that “criminal activity” was taking place in the Maitama residence of Justice Odili. But what kind of “criminal activity” takes place in the home of a Supreme Court Justice to warrant such a brazen search? Nobody seems now to know.

I should say this: the police have a duty to investigate any ongoing crime, whether this crime is committed by the President of the country or a Supreme Court judge. None should be above the law. But if you wish to invade the home of a Supreme Court Justice, on suspicion of an ongoing commission of a crime, you’d better be sure of your facts. You better line all your ducks in a row.

Your leads must be sure, and your case better be watertight, if you are an investigator, or you risk the current scandal. The scandal of course is that every agency purportedly associated with CSP Ajodo’s search of the home of a Supreme Court Justice promptly denied any knowledge of the mission. The EFCC denied knowledge of the search. The Magistrate who allegedly issued the search warrant promptly revoked the warrant on the same day on the grounds that he had been misled.

Even the Ministry of Justice put a very sharp distance between it and the Chief Superintendent, who now alone carries the can of his own misadventure. And I should say, a pox on him! Officers of the law, who should stay above the muck, but choose instead to do the murky political bidding of their corrupt political masters deserve to be canned. And CSP Ajodo must be canned.

The Odili case has roused various interests to real anger, from the Bar Association to the Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly, to the Supreme Court itself, which for the first time, issued a broadside against the state as a body.

Along with the statement with Governor Nyesom Wike of River State, himself a lawyer, the Supreme Court in its own claims suggested that CSP Ajodo’s now disreputable “search” was actually a mission to kill? But who would wish to kill a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria? What case lies before her? What is the implication of this terrifying assault on the sanctuary of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court? There are three arms of government: the President is head of the executive branch, no question.

The Parliament as one constitutes the other branch: which means that, individually, every elected representative of the National Assembly is equal. The leadership of the Assembly is merely administrative. When that body of elected representatives gathers, that is the power of the union fully constituted.

In much the same way, the third co-eval branch of the government, the Judiciary, is not embedded in the power of the Chief Justice. In other words, the Chief Justice is not the court. When all the judges of the Supreme Court gather, that is the Head of the Nigerian judiciary.

The office of the Chief Justice is merely administrative because the Chief Justice of Nigeria is just another Justice of the Supreme Court and sits equal with his peers of the Supreme Court of the land. That court is the sanctum sanctorum of Justice in Nigeria. These Justices traditionally enjoy certain privileges and courtesies, including the protection of their persons by the seen and unseen security services of the land.

An armed invasion of the home and an attack on the person of a Supreme Court Justice is an act of treason because it is like physically attacking the head of state by an armed guard.

It is like attacking the foundation of Nigeria’s legitimacy. This is what makes this raid of Justice Odili’s home, as it is based on unfounded claims, as egregious as it is dangerous.

There had never been a time known in Nigeria’s colonial and postcolonial history, not even under the military regimes, until now, when armed police officers or military officers, or any sworn officer of the law, attacked the home or person of a judge or a Magistrate, not to talk of a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

The Buhari administration, and under the lead of the current Attorney-General, Malami, has violated the sanctity of the person of the judges of the highest court of the land! It is even now, unthinkable, that such a thing should happen. Back in 2016, this same ignorant, poorly trained Attorney-General of the federation, doing his masters bid, authorized the midnight invasion of the homes of Supreme Court Justices and Justices of the Court of Appeal with utter impunity.

He supervised the arrest and prosecution of a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria on trumped-up charges, in order to simply effect a change in the hierarchy of the courts, to suit the political and ethnic agenda of the president. This corruption of the judicial standards attracted little consequence, either from the National Assembly, or from the Bar Association, which should have sanctioned the Attorney-General, and defended the sanctity of the courts.

The effect of their cowardly silence and inaction has led to this, and to other terrible fallouts, including the distrust of the independence of the Nigerian Supreme Court, one of whose most historical judgements is to award a man who did not even come third in an election, the governorship of the state. So, what is the plot this time?

The Anambra election? A nation in which judges homes, including the homes of its Supreme Court judges, are routinely invaded, is clearly an anomic state. When judges, including the Justices of the highest court of the land, are intimidated by armed officers of the law who ought to be answering to them and protecting them, there is little hope for true justice and for the rule of law. We must keep watch and we must at the same time loudly demand protection for Justice Mary Odili.

Her ordeal reflects the deep crisis of the current Nigerian state under the watch of a man whose idea of governing a modern republic in the 21st century is based on the 18th Century Mahdist Jihadism. There is no other way of looking at it: the president and his men must be made to account for this infamy.

It is time for the Nigerian Bar Association to query and sanction the Attorney-General of the Federation under whose watch this infamy continues to take place.