Saying ‘no’ to judicial terrorism

TIME it was when Nigerians only heard and read about terrorism. It was a strange phenomenon which happened in far-away countries and it was one of those things we were sure would never happen here. No more! Nigerians nowsleep and wake up with terrorism right on our own shores. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) brought terrorism to Nigeria in its vicious war for resource control. Their weapons included sabotage of oil facilities and activities; kidnapping, first of foreign oil workers and later of just anyone; and murder of security officials/others. Although MEND had since agreed terms (amnesty deal) with government and ceased hostilities, the pass-on of its campaign remains with us. Also, a new Niger Delta militant group called the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has resumed where MEND left off.

MEND started under former President Olusegun Obasanjo but waxed strong under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. A smart Umaru, however, chose the carrots approach rather than wield the big stick and got the reprieve he wanted; but not before many, especially from the North, had seen the militants’ action as a ploy to make the country ungovernable for a president of Northern extraction. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw from the Niger Delta, took over as president after Yar’Adua died in office. Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group linked with former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff,came in handy to execute the North’s tit-for-tat(following after the same pattern of the January 1966/July 1966 military coup) to make the country ungovernable for Jonathan. While Sheriff, right now fighting tooth-and-nail to impose himself on the opposition PDP, has denied the allegations linking him with Boko Haram, the Islamists militants had since made the exploits of MEND a child’s play. BK is now rated as one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the whole world; it also recently pledged allegiance to terrorism’s chief-de-mission, ISIS. President Muhammadu Buhari boasts with some justification that his administration has degraded BK; his inability to fulfil his election promise of rescuing the Chibok girls within his first three months in office, however, remains not just a blithe but also a source of lingering embarrassment.

Closely following in the steps of BK are its cousins, the Fulani herdsmen, whose notoriety has earned them international recognition ofa deadly terrorist group. Everywhere, the Fulani herdsmen have maimed, raped, destroyed farmlands and other property, killed people as well as burnt down entire villages. What intrigues many is that these same herdsmen had live peaceably with other Nigerians before now; their new-found blood-thirstiness appears to coincide with the Buhari presidency. Mr President is said to be a cattle owner as well as patron of the cattle owners’ association. Worse, he has maintained “criminal silence” in the face of the herdsmen’s onslaught. This contrasts sharply with his overzealous disposition to wield the sledge hammer against pro-Biafra and resurgent Niger Delta militants. Religious intolerance is as old as the North itself; there, region-wide pogrom of non-Muslims have taken place times without number.

Relative peace had been witnessed since 1999, but the dam of intolerance has burst open; again, coinciding, again, with the Buhari presidency. Until last week, in the wake of the visit here of John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, mum had always been the word from Buhari. It remains to be seen whether his tepid condemnation of religious and sectarian killings will amount to anything. It should be noted that the heads of all of the country’s security outfits are Northerners/Muslims. Frustration fuels self-help. In Ekiti State, South-West, which the herdsmen violated a couple of months ago, the legislature last week passed a law criminalising illegal cattle grazing in the state. It is certain as daylight that Governor Ayodele Fayose, who responded promptly and forcefully with counter-measures to the herdsmen’s bestiality, will append his signature to the bill. Other embattled states have Fayose’slead to follow.

Nigeria’s plate is full already. Why, then, add new items? It bears repeating that the way the anti-corruption agency has carried on with its activities is terrorism on its own. The ground is not level for both the opposition and the powers-that-be. Some of its methods, if found true, are also Hitlerite, such as the alleged forging of bank letter-heads. Nigerians must cry out against such under-hand tactics because history teaches that once the perpetrators grow confident enough in them, none is safe.

Another danger to our renascent democracy is the judicial terrorism that is creeping in on us. In the evergreen theory of the separation of powers, the Third Estate of the Realm (i.e. third arm of government) is meant to impartially interpret our laws, adjudicate in disputes between government and government, between government and the people; and between citizen and citizen. It is to do this without fear or favour, and regardless whose ox is gored. It is in the performance of this sacred duty that the Judiciary is seen as the last hope of the common man. If the two other arms of government misbehave and if citizens trample upon citizens, once the Judiciary stands tall and firm, all will be well. Wrongs will be righted and society will move forward on the rule of law and due process. Where the Judiciary is compromised, however, all, I dare to say, is lost and the Hobbesian state of nature “of the war of one against all, where lifeis nasty, brutish, and short” beckons. I recently perceived us moving in this direction and decided to sound a note of warning. An abridged edition of my intervention published elsewhere is repeated here today.

“When Federal High Court judge, OkonAbang, delivered his judgment sackingAbia State governor, OkezieIkpeazu, on June 27, this year, I was flabbergasted. The learned trial judge, a high court judge, assumed the air of finality on the matter and spoke as if he were the Supreme Court,even when everyone, including himself, knew quite well that a high court has not been designed as the last bus stop on the matter. Parties to the case still had the opportunity to approach both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. But it would seem as if Abang would have none of that. He whimsically sacked an elected governor and maliciously proceeded to try and handcuff him and deny him the opportunity to seek reprieve. He ordered the INEC to immediately issue a certificate of return to a man he appeared to have made up his mind to make governor through the back door; ordered the Chief Judge of Abia State to immediately swear in this man as governor; and he expected all of us to chorus, as lawyers do before judges in the court room, “As your lordship pleases!”

Regardless, it was impunity of the highest order! Abang’s misadventure reminded me of one-time U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig. President Ronald Reagan had just been shot; Haig came out and announced “I am now in charge!” If the attempt on Reagan’s life was shocking, Haig’s statement was ludicrous, brazen, and bewildering: it attempted tosubvert the Constitution of the USA. But he was wrong! The Secretary of State was not the next-in-line; the Vice-President was – and still is. The pugnacious Haig was soon put in his place, tail behind his legs and the then vice president stood in while Reagan recuperated. A similar redemption came Nigeria’s way penultimate Thursday when the Court of Appeal put Abang where he properly belongs. And, oh my God, the Appeal Court ran Abang ragged!

Now, high courts upturn magistrate courts; appeal courts upturn high courts; and the Supreme Court upturns Courts of Appeal. There is nothing unusual in this; in fact, it is the norm. Usually, judges are reserved, temperate and measured in their choice of words; they are conservative and not flamboyant and treat colleagues with respect bothering even on veneration. However, whenever they are upset by what they see as a vicious assault on the Bench, many of them are usually unsparing in their choice of words. Most judges take special exception to anyone defiling the temple of justice; more so, when the offender is someone standing inside and pissing into the temple of justice. It is my considered opinion that this was how the Court of Appeal judges, five of them, viewed Abang’s handling of Ikpeazu’s case. Their judgment was unanimous and it took Abang to the cleaners.

I shudder to repeat the words used by the Court of Appeal against Abang’s judgment. Like Nobel Laurete, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said of one political character in “The Man Died,” they are words that leave sour tastes in the mouth. The Appellate Court found that Abang engaged in “quasi-justice”; imagine that he tried to cast this patently defective and atrocious ruling in iron and prevent those at the receiving end of it from seeking reprieve! Even the INEC obeyed him! Not only must this judge watch his outings henceforth, the National Judicial Council should also take notice of his activities. Abangis the same judge whose controversial rulings and orders have ensnared the opposition PDP. The inflammatory and incendiary words he employed even against fellow judges were something else. Some misdirected and compromised judges played an ignoble role in the June 12 impasse that nearly tore this country into shreds. We must prevent a recurrence capable of truncating our renascent democracy. A stitch in time, as they say, saves nine.