To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice
—Proverbs 21: 3
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?
—Psalm 82: 2
If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice… marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they
Let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream
—Martin Luther King Jr. in “Letters from the Birmingham jail”
No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed; if not now then certainly later; if not by man, then by God; for the victory of evil over good is temporary
NINETEEN-ninety-nine (1999) till now (2019) is the longest unbroken span of democratic governance at a stretch that this country has experienced. Self-rule preparatory to Independence for the Eastern and Western regions (1957) and the North (1959) pre-dated independence on October 1, 1960. Up till January 15, 1966, the country enjoyed a spell of democratic governance before series of military interregnum, after which we moved again to July 1979, when the then military Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. That experience lasted till December 31, 1983. It was, thereafter, rigmarole after rigmarole under different military dictators until the return to civil rule on May 29, 1999. Reasons commonly adduced for the truncating of civil rule by the men on horseback, as Samuel P. Huntington calls the military adventurists, are bad governance epitomised by corruption, ostentatious living, profligacy of the few on one hand and dearth of basic necessities of life on the side of the suffering majority on the other; and the perversion and subversion of the people’s will epitomised in the rigging of elections. Since 1999, the alibi for soldiers’ incursion into politics has not abated; if anything, it has assumed monstrous proportions; meaning, then, that there must be other reasons keeping the soldiers within their barracks. An argument often canvassed is that military rule has become anachronistic and untenable and, thus, has lost its allure and gone out of fashion. The international community, we are told, has lost its patience for military rule and is vigorously opposed to military takeovers. Through training, the right indoctrination and political education, the military are also said to have become more professional and less inclined to stepping out of their barracks at the least promptings to take on roles they are not trained or cut out for. Plausible as these arguments may seem, we have, nonetheless, seen military takeovers in a few places such as Egypt and Sudan. One point which is often glossed over in Nigeria is the decisive action taken by Obasanjo when he assumed office in 1999. He made a list of military officers who had eaten the forbidden fruit of political office and promptly retired them from service. Those with the most likely urge to topple a civilian government thus lost the much-needed pedestal. It also sent an unmistakable signal to others of the dangers of professional imperilment should they fall out of line to seek filthy political lucre.
If corruption and election-rigging alone determine the survival or otherwise of any nation’s democracy, Nigeria’s would have long ago come to a disastrous end; for at no time in the history of this country has corruption become so rampant. Even the government that pretends to fight corruption is itself whacked by corruption. In its ranks are fabulously corrupt Nigerians who are protected by their membership of the ruling party and government while a mockery is made of the anti-corruption war running after opposition figures. The brains behind the country’s first coup, Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu et al, who bellyached about First Republic politicians’ corrupt tendencies, describing them as “ten-percenters,” would turn in their graves to see that, today, the whole 100 percent of project and contract sums are spirited away without contractors visiting the project site or government officials turning the sod. In those days, however, the country had something going for it; there were fearless and upright judges despite the authoritarianism of military dictators. We had judges who were bold; who looked the military adventurers straight in the face and told them bitter truths. We had judges who were minded to do justice regardless of whose ox is gored. We had the likes of Akinola Aguda. We had philosophers and Socrates who sat on the Bench and made pronouncements that would make Britain’s Lord Denning green with envy; we had the like of Chukwudifu Oputa and Kayode Esho. But, no more! The few upright judges that remain are hounded and side-stepped via forum shopping.
Today, politicians kill our democracy; judges bury it! Both work hand in glove. They are arrayed in tandem in an unholy alliance that makes the conscionable distraught. We have never had it this bad. Not only are men and women of conscience in short supply in the Bar and on the Bench, little or no effort at pretence is made at all these days. It is like the Nigerian policemen who collect their bribes in broad daylight without caring a hoot about who is watching or passing by. The other day, some policemen were caught by the Inspector-General of Police himself; the errant officers having demanded bribe from their “oga at the top” without knowing who he was! These days, powerful litigants and big-cat lawyers have their favourite judges and courts that would do their bidding. When you think of the lawyer’s fee, you must also package the judge’s bribe. It is no longer the law you know or the “justness” of your cause. Once the list of judges is made known in a case or the court is mentioned, you know the likely outcome. Some judges are known as “client” of this or that; the names of judges who act as consultants and go-between between judges and politicians are open secret. How did we get to this sorry pass? If a judge proves stubborn or is not amenable, you can quickly pack your bag and baggage and relocate to a pliant judge, regardless of the provisions of the law. The law here is an ass that panders to the wiles of the powers-that-be – and they are riding it to its death.
Why the judges do not care – or are yet to notice – that they are losing self-respect and relevance is baffling. The Judiciary is treated like scum by the Executive, yet, it does not care. Judges behave like Samson before Delilah; and like the proverbial foolish cock which exposed its joker to the wolf. Baron de Montesquieu, father of the theory of separation of powers, would turn in his grave. Judges are treated as trifle; they are treated as rags; their orders are spurned; yet, they remain chummy with the vile offenders. They loath to fight for their rights and dignity! The Judiciary is co-terminus with the Executive and Legislature; being the third Estate of the Realm, each independent and possessing equal powers and acting as checks on one another to prevent dictatorship. Says Lord Acton: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Judges ought to fight back and possess their possessions – but they acquiesce. It beggars belief how they display such a huge propensity to cringe and be servile. What has become of judges? Spineless! Wole Soyinka says in The Man Died: In those who keep silent in the face of tyranny, the man dies. Not only do judges keep silent in the face of tyranny meted out unto others, they themselves have become victims of self-same tyranny that whacks the entire citizenry. Judges lose their voices – and balls – when their corruption is exposed and waved in their face. It is flagged and brandished to intimidate and compromise them. How can a judge do justice when his soiled hands are tied behind his back? They become caricatures and impostors profaning the temple of justice!
Mercifully, there is nothing hidden (today) that will not be made known (tomorrow). Corrupt judges should know that we know them. Oh yes, we see you! Your wheeling-and-dealing is not unknown. You who dispense technicalities in the place of justice; vermin and vampires devouring the truth and upholding falsehood: when a Daniel shall come to judgment, you will come under the full weight of the law you have so shamelessly, wilfully and whimsically perverted. It is travesty when the so-called last hope of the common man becomes his last scourge; consenting to the rape of our democracy and putting justice, their very raison d’être, to the sword. Theirs, like Brutus’, is the unkindest cut of all on the bleeding body of Caesar; nay, Nigeria!
LAST WORD: Aftermath of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin’s killing in Ondo state by suspected Fulani herdsmen, I wondered what had become of the security summit Ondo State organised with fanfare on Thursday, January 17th this year in Akure, to which I was invited. Responding, Jones Ogunmusire, chair of the organising committee, dispelled my suggestion that it was mere jamboree, adding that soon, we shall see action. Adekola Olawoye, SAN, Ondo’s attorney-general and commissioner for justice, said government was “still studying the recommendations (and) government’s position will be made public very soon.” How soon is “very soon” sir? Not after we are all dead! A snail will move faster than the Ondo State government!
June 12: Sweet victory at last!
The joy of your numerous readers in Nigeria and across the globe, including this writer, knew no bounds after reading your narrative about the landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered in your favour and your former employers, The Punch, on Friday, June 14, 2019. The genesis of the case started with “the historic invasion of, and forceful but illegal closure” of The Punch premises and your unlawful detention with the threat to your life by gun-toting soldiers (being the editor of the newspaper) on June 11, 1994, during the “dark days” of the nation’s history under a military junta headed by the self-proclaimed evil genius, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and his accomplice brutal despot, the late General Sani Abacha. Having considered the action of the military junta as crass abuse of state power, intimidation, unwarranted harassment, and arbitrary suppression of the free flow of information through the press, you and your employers headed for the courts to seek instant justice. The tortuous legal journey to obtain justice lasted for approximately 25 years (!) before you and The Punch attained “sweet victory” at last! Your tenacity to obtain justice at all costs reinforces two legally known affirmations. One, the wheel of justice may grind slowly but the righteous will definitely get justice. Two, there is a strong belief in the court system as the proverbial “last hope of the common man.” While history informs us what bad government is, it also teaches us about the cardinal tenet of good governance – that people’s fundamental human rights are sacrosanct. It is the people’s entitlement against every government and no government must violate those rights. In this instance, the luminary judges at our apex court, by their unanimous decision, acquiesced to this line of reasoning. Whenever the chequered history of democracy as a political system and the concomitant struggles in Nigeria are chronicled and documented by erudite political historians for posterity, in terms of the media dramatis personae who fearlessly used their intellectual skill with rare chutzpah (audacity) to confront tyranny and tyrants in khaki uniform; who also exposed the civilian politicians that betrayed the trust of Nigerians for selfish interest and filthy lucre and the timid among the elite who remained silent when Nigerians were being brutalised by goons in military uniform, your name, Bola Bolawole, and The Punch’s will feature repeatedly among “the true patriots” who fought gallantly using the “power of the pen” at the risk of their lives to make sure “democratic tenets” are entrenched in our polity willy-nilly, despite the ignoble efforts of a few despots among our pseudo-leaders (both military and civilians) who tried unsuccessfully to thwart the growth of democracy and its norms in Nigeria. By your singular actions in the past and present, you have wittingly created today’s blueprint for future footprints in the annals of Nigeria’s political evolution. Yours is a true testament of the axiom: “He who laughs last, laughs best.” Congratulations!
—Yacoob Abiodun, Hayward City, California, USA.