Olukayode Ariwoola CJN court

By Prisca Sam-Duru

Justice Tanko Muhammad’s sudden resignation as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN), since Monday, has renewed calls to reform the Nigeria judiciary; beginning with the apex court.

His resignation was followed few hours later with a replacement, in the person of Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the second in the Supreme Court ranking, who was sworn in by President Buhari as acting CJN.  Justice Muhammad cited failing health as reason for his resignation. Before then there were some rumoured allegations of corruption and maladministration at the apex court as cited in a petition brother justices wrote to him for which he addressed in another letter.

 In the light of unfolding events in the Supreme Court, many expect that the Justice Ariwoola’s tenure as CJN will see the need to reform the judiciary as its priority but Nigerians who have lost faith in the country, believe it is same old story. For them, it’s like pouring ‘new wine in an old wine skin’.

Lawyer and political activist, Dele Farotimi, is one of those Nigerians who do not see any change coming with the change of guard in the judiciary, especially regarding justice delivery in the country. 

“I don’t expect anything substantial to change in relation to justice delivery because one of the most violent injustices I’ve ever seen coming out of that Supreme Court came from a panel on which this particular Justice, sat twice- the case is Gbadamosi Eletu vs Akinloye”, he told Arise TV’s The Morning Show crew. 

“That is the most unusual case in my life where the Supreme Court turned itself into mathematicians; subtracting and dividing land, deciding on a case on a property that was not before it. So when it comes to expecting any justice from that court I don’t expect anything, not because of his person, because of incompetence and corruption in the system. So nothing will change; when you now begin to deal with the technicalities of rules of court administration of court, maybe he can perform some magic in that regard but if it relates to delivery of justice, I expect nothing”, he added. 

The change of guard in the judiciary at this critical period in the country when elections are close by, to many, has deeper undertone but Farotimi maintained that nothing will change.

“The whole of Nigeria has serious issues not just the judiciary. Nothing will change. The poor will continue to suffer when it comes to justice delivery. Those who know how to negotiate the corridors of the Lord Justices will get their way and the poor man on the street will continue to suffer injustice because Nigeria is designed to ensure that the law does not work but impunity is managed”.

Asked to assess Justice Muhammad’s period as CJN as well as the controversies surrounding his sudden resignation, the political analyst said, “Our problems are much deeper than some of these our analyses but let’s say this first, Justice Tanko had no business in that office in the first place. Not that Onnoghen himself was exactly a saint or anything but the process of his appointment had already compromised his position. He was a child of usurpation. General Buhari took upon himself duties he had no business with and unilaterally removed a CJN and imposed the current (former) one. 

“It’s unprecedented in the history of Nigeria that a CJN would emerge in the manner that Justice Tanko had emerged but it is also unprecedented that the entire bench of the Supreme Court would write a letter in protest against a CJN that would become the subject of public consumption. But then that has become the lot of the Nigerian in recent times; what shouldn’t happen, struts around broadly, boldly in broad daylight. Abnormalities have become normal and that is how we roll in our country.

“Justice Tanko found good grace to use his undoubted bad health because that’s been in the public space for some time, as a gracious exit from a very very ungracious situation; at least he saved everybody the embarrassment and he’s left”.

“That is not to say that anything is about to change in the issue of justice delivery. It’s about the system that allowed the emergence of such a man in the first place but again that is exactly the kind of thing the system wants and enables. So it’s a system issue- just another man sacrificed by the system when it became patently unsustainable; not that the next one will be any different or any better when it comes to the issue of justice delivery”, he stated further.

Unlike Justice Onnoghen who had a rough exit from office, Justice Tanko Muhammad may be allowed to enjoy a peaceful retirement as government does not appear ready to call him out in spite of the rumoured allegations of corruption and maladministration.

In spite of the allegations, Justice Muhammad may have left a legacy or taken some decisions in terms of justice delivery that stand him out from his predecessors; Farotimi disagrees. “Absolutely nothing!, absolutely nothing!!. The only thing I can say for Justice Tanko which is why I spoke about a gracious exit really is that you need to first of all understand that Nigeria does not function on accountability. Nothing would ever happen to Justice Tanko. Nothing! Nothing can ever happen to him. Did anything happen to Onoghen beyond the fact that he was removed? This is the way we roll. We always find a way to settle it. Nothing will happen to him; it’s a family affair.

“It only leaked out (petition) because it was not equitably handled within the coven, that’s why we became privy to letters. It’s a system that is not designed to run on law. It’s an administration of impunity, so, to expect that any sort of accounting would happen in relation to Justice Tanko is a complete waste of time. Nothing happened to Magu, nothing happened to that lady at the Nigerian Ports Authority. Nothing ever happens to them. It’s the poor and the disadvantaged that the law exists for.

“So, it’s yet another example of the level of impunity that has become exposed in the reign of General Buhari. It’s not that these things were not happening before; they’ve just become more common because it’s just the way it has become. Everything that shouldn’t happen is happening and that’s what you are seeing. Nothing will happen to Justice Tanko. He will ride gracefully into the night; he would enjoy his retirement in peace. It’s not about Tanko, it’s about the system that allowed this to continue”. 

Farotimi’s opinions are mind boggling as one wonders how a country can be built if people do not answer to whatever allegations or infractions that are against them. And with the judiciary at the centre of the allegations of corruption, it is not clear how the country is expected to survive.

“We don’t have a judiciary that is designed to dispense justice”, the outspoken lawyer stated, adding that “Our judicial system is designed to manage impunity. People account quite alright but it’s the poor that account disproportionately. A man steals a goat, he spends years in jail. A man steals billions, accountant…oh please, if you are talking about building a country, do we look like we are building any country? There’s nothing about Nigeria that suggests that a country is being built.

“I came into the States a couple of days back and I had to ask myself why I always come back to Nigeria when I have the opportunity to leave that place. We are not building anything sustainable. Others are racing towards civilisation but we are regressing. Nigeria was better in my youth than today and I don’t even see a future because we are building based on impunity on a daily basis”.

The country he stated further, is being destroyed by the people in power. “If anything, Nigeria is being systematically destroyed. Systematically, its infrastructures whether security infrastructure, even the unity of the country, as illusory as it was always anyway, the fault lines are being deliberately opened up. People in power in Nigeria are determined to destroy the country. It’s the common people that fight to keep Nigeria one; it’s not the rulers. They don’t even live in Nigeria. 

“You talk about building a country, first ask yourself, how come we’ve been shouting anti-corruption for years. This General in power now, came into power on account of anti corruption crusade; he fooled everybody into believing it. How many people who have been either charged or proven to be completely complicit in all manner of sickening corruption sit in that cabinet? Nothing will happen because we have not built a country where people are held accountable for what they do – not for killing people, stealing money or anything. And the citizens – followers are not different from the ones we are following. You see thieves yet you applaud?”

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