Reform: Is Judiciary raising our hope?

The byword for national narrative today is restructuring. In simpler form, it means a call for change. Since there is a worn-out old order, which nearly everyone is agreeing to be outdated, it simply means what is required is a reform. The over-used register has variants, which are used as convenient or situational, especially when the focus is narrowed to sectors, arms of government or policies. There is also the larger context, which is the Nigerian Project; the perennial demand for a holistic effort at addressing the dysfunction of a divided union. This bigger picture is what is really driving the national discourse and because everybody is speaking at the same time, generating a cacophony, the noisy agitation is drowning unstated efforts in the polity geared in the direction everyone is desiring the nation would go.

Nigerians, home and abroad, can be said to have seen the light of restructuring. Even those born against it are now born-again advocates. Opportunistic leaders and dealers in power corridors, who misapplied public trust while in control and authority, are even speaking up for reform. The sing-song in the land is reform or forever deform.

Magic captivates. But it is illusionary. Reform isn’t an illusion as it isn’t magical. It is a process of change and while the evolution unravels what is in existence doesn’t have to disappear for the new to emerge. Even nature harbours vacuum.

Truly, what is on ground today is as grotesque as it is unworkable. The three arms of government barely breathe. The three tiers are paraplegic. The local government is gone. People go there for everything except local governance it should provide. At the state level, the main discourse now is who is liquid and who is close to liquidation. Close to 90 per cent of the 36 entities has been run aground, according to official surveys. And at the federal level, the toad says when the conversation gets to tail matter, it should be skipped.

For the three arms of government, three huge flogging logs are justifiably reserved for them. It isn’t that occasional plaudits aren’t earned, but deferred hope is making millions of heart sick.

As the one with the “last hope” affix, the Nigerian Judiciary simply can’t afford to be like others and truth be told, it hasn’t completely discharged itself. On this page, I have had reasons to hold the feet of the top operators of the nation’s Judiciary to fire and justifiably so, particularly, for not developing the balls to rebuff the erosion of its independence and constantly cutting the image of pathetic helplessness.

But fair is fair. The justice sector may not be where Nigerians desire it, but its due should not be denied, particularly at the level of the National Judicial Council, the warehouse of the judiciary. Its Chief Operating Officer, the reticent Saleh Ahmed Gambo is a perfect poster-boy for the conservatism that has come to define the system, saying little amidst the much needed to reveal. But something is progressive about his thinking, with his leadership also striving to earn honour at home, with the active support of the CJN. The deficit in Justice Tanko’s public perception is more about his courtroom activities and less of managerial back-up for everyday running of the Council.

The bright side to the coronavirus tragedy of the outgoing year is giving thinking leaders and organizations the opportunity to shine, using their seventh sense, when the rest of the world, was marooned. On this score, the Nigerian Judiciary would score high, though it belatedly belled the cat of Virtual court proceedings and got the justice system working again, which was a timely intervention as the boomerang effects of shutting the courts down, were beginning to strain the justice delivery chain.

On 22nd April, the Council earned its bragging right, holding the first virtual meeting of any government institution, when the virus was really viral. Both Tanko and Gambo made history.

But there is what could be likened to a winning streak for which the Judiciary has not been fairly commended. Since, there is a consensus that self-cleansing is sine qua non to getting the rest, both human and material, to change, a bigger applause, should have been showered, for the constant internal purification NJC has been doing, without pontificating. Its regular meetings have become a graveyard for many crooked judicial careers. The Council is constantly seeking out the straight to hire, and the crooked, to fire. Whenever the guilty are smoked out, they are straightaway, taken, to the guillotine. Meeting after meeting, dislocated wigs bite the proverbial dust. At the historic Virtual meeting, there were two Bench casualties. One, for sleight of hand on his age and the other, for dereliction of duty. With the current leadership, there isn’t go and sin no more after apologia. If crooked wigs are by any means told so that would have been after the honour of justice had been stripped off them, among other comeuppances. Such admonition then becomes the kind Jesus offered to anyone rescued from demon possession who still won’t seek a closure from iniquity. He said his/her end would be worse because more wicked demons would accompany the expelled one back into the life of such a fellow.

World over, Judiciary has been crucial to survival of nations, especially those in desperate search of nationhood like Nigeria. Countries on the verge of collapse, have been salvaged in the past by judicial pronouncements and in Nigeria, the justice institution, is perhaps, the only humanity efforts, keeping the fractured structure standing, though, yet without the requisite balance.

But the way the judiciary keeps purging itself of the undesirable elements is raising fresh hope it could be the ace for the nation, to play at this crucial time. Maybe the leadership should also be more proactive in answering tangled national questions and not always waiting for politicians to muddle things up, before being called in, to mop up mess. Law, at this point, should become a full-fledged and effective instrument of social justice and national rebirth. Can we count on NJC?

(To be continued).

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