……. Elvis Wura Towolawi
Wherever there is power, naked and unrestrained – abuse of same is inevitable. This age- tested philosophy explains the grinding necessity for a Judiciary that is independent, firm, above –board and fearless: to curb arbitrariness in the exercise of Power ; and to serve as a bulwark against the desecration and violation of vested rights. It’s beyond saying that the Judiciary, anywhere in the world, plays a vital part in the cultivation of an even and egalitarian society; but all is lost when the Judiciary, like that of Nigeria falls to the dust in romance with Power – it openly pats Impunity on the back. And when this happens, Justice and Rights suffer.
It’s in the light of this assertion that one will examine in sketches the role of the Judiciary in fostering the festering sore of Impunity which is pushing our democracy and State (Nigeria) close to the cliff of anarchy, and bad governance.
The Nigerian Judiciary, at Independence started out bold and upright but started to lose grip of its integrity and gut during the military era, except for a Judges who wore integrity like a garment. A retired Justice actually apologized to the freedom fighter musician Fela for sending him to prison in the dark days of Buhari, stating his hands were tied.
The seed of impunity was however already sown and now and today the fruits are ripe: a Judiciary that sways and panders towards power. The Judiciary in Nigeria appears to be in constant conflict with the populace and the law; taking sides with the thieving elite of the society.
For example, during the Banking Reforms superintendented by Sanusi Lamido under the Yar’dua Administration, one Mrs. Cecilia Ibru (then Chief-Executive Officer of Oceanic Bank (now defunct ) was tried for fraudulent speculation with depositors money : buying luxurious goods and giving uncovered loans to her croonies running into billions. And what term did she get? Nothing but some months in a cozy hospital in the heart of Lagos. Compare this with the case of a man who was reportedly driven by the belly- goddess of Hunger, stole a goat. He got over 14 years imprisonment sentence.
Another indictment against the judiciary is Ibori’s case. James Ibori, a one- time Governor of Delta state (an oil- rich area) was accused of diverting funds meant for state projects into some personal accounts. The Prosecution’s case was dismissed by a Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State for ‘want of evidence.’ And Ibori was discharged and acquitted—walked away free! But nemesis overthrew him as he was nabbed in Dubai by the Interpol to answer to substantially same case. He pleaded guilty to the charges in a London Court.
What’s of import to us here is the flirtatious tendency of the Scale in weighing evidence. Could it be argued that the facts pleaded in the London Court were materially different from the ones tendered in Asaba? Why did he plead guilty in London? And why did Justice Awokulehin come out in public to defend his decision if he had nothing to lose? Facts don’t lie; but what baffles one is the propensity for a thief in London to be beatified a saint by a Nigeria Court.
The Pension Scam case is another where in a hurried-hush manner the Court scuttled the wheel of Justice for thousands of pensioners who worked their hands, heads, and hearts for a nation where a finger eats up a meal meant for others with imperial pride. The Nigerian Senate in exercise of its oversight function had invited one Abdulrasheed Maina (as Chairman of the Pension Reform Board) to appear before it to explain his knowledge and alleged complicity in the unlawful diversion of funds meant for pensioners all over the Federation. He scorned the invitation and approach an Abuja High Court alleging threats to his fundamental rights to ‘ life and liberty’ as provided and protected in the 1999 Constitution as amended. Without much musing, the Court granted an injunction restraining his arrest. Finally when Maina was tried, he got a plea bargain deal of N700,000 in lieu of 7-months imprisonment for graft running into 3.5 billion Naira citing an 1889 law!
This was justice by the courts for our armies of old penniless pensioners, some of whom have died without savouring the results of their sweat, saved up by the state, only to be grabbed by some greed –blinded individuals buoyed by impunity and sanctioned by the court. Maina breathes the air of opulence, reaping where he never sowed, whilst the workers grind the stone of poverty in their twilight. What justice is there? Allowing Maina and his cohorts to keep their loot is tantamount to an infringement of the pensioners’ right to a decent and dignified living as guaranteed in the African charter and the UNSECR BILL 1966.
Perhaps, it is worthwhile to argue here that Impunity is a child of corruption; for it is only on corruption- infected soil that the seedlings of Impunity can grow. Impunity thrives in an environment where there is “… a loose enforcement of law, selective enforcement of law or complete negligence in enforcement of available laws”. And one would dare add, a mechanical interpretation of the law. If one peruses the judgments of the courts, one would perceive a linear exposition of the law boarding on criminality which invariably gives a lee-way for escape to may connected and well-cashed hands. Why should a law passed in 1889 continue to be applied in the 21st century, when crimes have gone technological? Who says the law on embezzlement of public fund cannot be interpreted and executed in a progressive and forward-looking fashion to satisfy the yearning of the people?
Such unwholesome and untidy practice in judicial governance can only continue without shame or reform, if the judiciary dines with the corporate and individual perpetrators of impunity. Perchance, there is an unwritten code in that realm: the higher the loot, the lower the punishment. Any man who sleeps with dogs, should not complain of lice.