SUPREME COURT, SUPREME CORRUPTION!
It is often said that the court is the last hope of the common man. This implies that if a common man find himself at the receiving end of the manipulation of powerful individual or group of people that seeks to deprive him of some valuable possession or jeopardise his interest in any way, that citizen could seek redress from the courts, which will ultimately ensure that justice is done to him in the matter. However, in Nigeria of today, does the common man have confidence in the courts? Where is the fight against corruption? Who is fighting the corruption in the judiciary? Do the courts serve as the saviour of those whose rights and privileges are infringed upon sometimes with impurity? The answer to these questions is an emphatic NO!
This is one national institution, like the Nigeria Police Force, that should have been insulated from corruption at all cost because of the devastating effects it would have on the society at large, but this (Judiciary) institution is however so enmeshed in corruption that many believe it can hardly be able to discharge its constitutional responsibilities effectively as desired in a country that is desperately yearning for rapid progress.
The persuasiveness of corruption in the judiciary and the legal profession, whether one off or endemic, is very worrying because it directly undermines the rule of law and the ability of the judiciary to guarantee the protection of human rights. A judiciary that is not independent can easily be corrupted or co-opted by interests other than those applying the law in a fair and impartial manner. Strengthening the judiciary from within, as well as providing all the safeguards for its independence vis-à-vis other public officials and private actors, is essential in combating and preventing instances of judicial corruption.
Corruption is undermining justice, denying victims and the accused the basic human right to a fair and impartial trial. It is difficult to overstate the negative impact of a corrupt judiciary, it erodes the ability of the National Judicial Council to tackle injustice, it denies citizens impartial settlement of disputes with neighbours or the authorities. When the latter occurs, corrupt judiciaries fracture and divide communities by keeping alive the sense of injury created by unjust treatment and mediation. Judicial systems debased by bribery undermine confidence in governance by facilitating corruption across all sectors of government by starting at the helm of power. In so doing, the judiciary send a blunt message to the people: in Nigeria corruption is tolerated. From the above scenario, it is true that the injustice made Nelson Mandela, (the most celebrated world leader today), rise against the injustice and falsehood of Apartheid in South Africa, Martin Luther King (Jr.) rose against the American state. So unfortunate, the Nigeria judiciary has lost international recognition and patronage. It has lost its usefulness and value. The reason is that allegations of corruption and bribery have so hit the judiciary especially the Supreme Court in the land where our supposed Justices have sold their conscience for a plate of porridge. This disgraceful act was admitted and confirmed by the leadership of the Nigeria Bar Association, both past and present, some of the past and the present Chief Justice of Nigeria. Today, the judicial system is so tainted and rotten that judgment are now exclusively preserved for the rich, powerful and the political class like the families of the People's Democratic Party. The way and manner judgments are delivered, stands against the national law of justice, morality and truth. As they (Justices) are unwilling to forgo their corruption-based income because they consider their wages as being too low. Disciplinary systems have broken down and are difficult to repair. These Justices can hide behind judicial independence that makes its particularly difficult to reform a corrupt judiciary.
A case study was the former governor James Onanefe Ibori. After the conduct of the 19th April, 2003 governorship election where INEC under false pretence, shamelessly declared Ibori as the winner despite a petition for the electoral umpire to restrain him from contesting the said election, it (INEC) went ahead to clear Ibori without any form of investigation. Thereafter, the National Judicial Council, through its five man panel headed by Honourable Justice Muhammadu Uwais (Rtd) which was petitioned against his (Ibori) swearing in, compromised and ruled in Ibori's favour. Also, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal that the said James Onanefe Ibori was not sufficiently identified and threw away all electoral cases against him inspite of the facts of the judicial reports, the police report and the Justice Avwal Yusuf's testimony (the judge that convicted Ibori on 28th September, 1995). Interestingly, the National Judicial Council was put to shame when the same James Onanefe Ibori it freed, admitted to forgery, theft, e.t.c and was convicted and sentenced by the Southwark Crown Court in the United Kingdom. People like James Onanefe Ibori and a couple of others who are still alive, took over the judiciary and brought it to its knees because they literally destroyed the cases that were already in existence with the intention of wiping out the war against corruption.
In another development, among all the election petitions that arose after the military had handed over to a civilian rule, was the 26th April, 2011 governorship elections in Nigeria, where the Ogboru vs. Uduaghan's election petition was in the front burner of national discourse because of the interest it generated all over the world. In recent times, this is one case that has really put the Nigeria judiciary on trial before the global public because it was an open and shut case. Olorogun Great Ovedje Ogboru of the Democratic People's Party is a regular guest in the Nigeria Courts, be it the Federal High Courts, Election Petition Tribunals, Appeal Courts and the Supreme Court because of his strong belief in the rule of law, justice and truth. The repeated sojourn of Ogboru in the courts to seek redress and justice in a system of oppression and repression has truly exposed the undeniable beauty of democracy. His (Ogboru) entry into the murky waters of Nigeria politics marked the beginning of political rebirth and transformation. He came at a time when the country was in dire need of good leadership. Ogboru with the style of his leadership has proven to the whole world that there is no democracy, no free and fair election, and no true justice in Nigeria. A man who is firm and resolute in his pursuit for justice despite the injustices meted on him so far by the politically affluent and the judiciary. He has the golden gift of freedom, good governance and justice to offer the Nigerian State and Deltans in particular; the reason why he ever ventured into politics in Nigeria. He uses his hard earned-resources, energy and effort to try to build a better society for all. His decision to get involved in the pursuit of better life for his people, and other disadvantaged African Societies calls for commendation by all Nigerians. He is a man who strongly believes that politics is an art of rendering selfless services, hence, he saw the need for a change in the Delta State Government because the good people of Delta State were battered by the ills of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan's bad government, his predecessor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori and the power-brokers in the country, who saw his entrance into politics as a serious threat to the status quo, because those who benefits from an illegal arrangements are not at peace when this is being challenged. So the 19th April, 2003, 14th April, 2007, 6th January, 2011(Re-run) and the 26th April, 2011 governorship elections respectively, has proven the worth and value of Olorogun Great Ovedje Ogboru as an indomitable, dogged and visionary leader. He fought the ills of the courts with courage and determination. The love which the majority of the people of his state (Delta State) has for him, translated into action by voting enmass for his victory at the polls in the only governorship elections so conducted by INEC in the 6th January, 2011 and 26th April, 2011 respectively where they exercised their franchise because the people saw in him as true leader who fights for aspiration, cause, dreams and interest but unfortunately, the people's mandate was aborted when INEC blatantly and deliberately announced a false result and declared Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan as the winner. More unfortunate was when our supposed courts of justice sold its conscience for some financial inducement by allowing it to be used to pervert justice and affirming Deltans' stolen mandate for the politically influential.
It is pertinent to state as a fact that the purported judgement delivered by Justice Joy Uwana of the Trial Tribunal deliberately ignored the total cancellation of the entire Warri North LGA where she found that only three polling unit results out of the one hundred and sixteen polling unit results matched with the ballot papers provided by INEC, but had to cancel only thirteen polling unit results leaving a whooping sum of one hundred polling unit results for the same reasons she had used to cancel the said thirteen polling unit results, the entire Bomadi and Burutu LGA, parts of Ethiope West, Warri South and Warri South West LGA respectively. Shockingly, the Supreme Court goofed when it struck out the Ogboru/ DPP's appeal in which it built its judgment on a nullity based on the preliminary objection filed by INEC that the appeal that arose from the Trial Tribunal to the Appellant Court had lapsed. More shocking, was the fraudulent ruling of the Supreme Court delivered on Friday, 21st June, 2013, when it dismissed Ogboru/ DPP's motion for review.
It is a shame on Nigerians that at the time they were trying to recuperate the ills committed by the Supreme Court in the Ibori's ex-convict saga, the same court has goofed again. In a decision it delivered on Friday, the 21st day of June, 2013, the Supreme Court somehow ended the judicial quest to know the duly elected governor of Delta State based on the majority of lawful and valid votes cast in the general elections conducted on the 26th April, 2011. The case was not decided on its merits. No decisions or investigation on who actually scored the majority of the lawful votes. But Deltans will in humility, solemnly accept these ills committed by the courts as an opportunity to heal strained bonds of unity. Rather than asserting its power as stipulated in Section 22 of its Act, it allowed itself to be used to pervert the course of justice. What worries me was Justice Ogunbiyi Clara's lead judgment which adopted the submissions of Uduaghan and PDP's counsel respectively, to the effect that a counsel has unfettered authority to conduct his client's case and levelled a fine on Ogboru for wasting the Respondents' time. So surprised, the precedence the court (Supreme) has set when it empowers an employee (lawyer) to withdraw his employer's (client) case without the prior consent of the employer (client). This implies that, for example, after a counsel has filed a case and he requested for a pay of N 10m, and the client says he cannot afford the charges, then the lawyer is duty bound to withdraw the case and possibly consent to the judgment delivered by a lower court, if any. What a show of shame in the entire judicial system of the Nigeria courts which strangulates justice and promotes injustice, and one wonders the corruption the National Judicial Council under the headship of Honourable Justice Aloma Mukhtar claims to be fighting in the judiciary. How dreadful it is when the right justice(s) judges wrong. The salient questions are: Why was the Apex court afraid of looking at the merit of the Applicants' case? Why did the Justices shy away from the overwhelming evidence without looking at the merits of the sound briefs (petition/appeal/motion) before them?
It was true that the Supreme Court shied away from its responsibilities because Ogboru's former lead counsel, Mr. Sebastian Tar Hon (SAN) has alleged strongly that one of the Justices who sat to hear the Applicants' motion for review on the 15th October, 2012, had informed him (Sebastian) that nothing on earth would make the court grant his prayers, that the case was capable of bringing the court (Supreme) on collision course with politicians and ridicule the judiciary. To the extent he (Sebastian) threatened the National Judicial Council that there was an electronic evidence to back what he has said and had used that as a pretext to withdraw the said motion. He made the allegation known to Nigerians and the world at large in his interview published by the Nation Newspaper of 13th November, 2012 at page 53 and the allegation has played out in the frivolous and fraudulent ruling it delivered on the 21st June, 2013. This allegation, that of the Secretary to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay and others that Uduaghan had succeeded in bribing the panel especially Justice Tanko, Justice Chukwuma-Eneh and Justice Galadima was not refuted. The fears of the Supreme Court to shield these allegations were to avoid more revelations; that was why in its fraudulent ruling, the Justices of the Court exonerated Sebastian and showered praises on him. After all, Deltans were not confident in the five man panel led by Justice Ibrahim Muhammad Tanko in the review case who had earlier made the fundamental error in the lead judgment he delivered on the 2nd march, 2011 where the concurring judgments of Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen and Justice Adekeye Olufunlola (Rtd) respectively were at variance with the said lead judgment, which was Ogboru/DPP's contention. This gross negligence of the National Judicial Council was the same it committed in the Justice Ayo Salami's saga under the former headships of Justice Aloysins Katsina – Alu (Rtd), Justice Musdapher Dahiru (Rtd) and its present Chairperson, Honourable Justice Aloma Mukhtar, where they (Justices) deliberately committed an error and routinely stuck to its error to avoid disgrace and shame. The good people of Delta State felt ill at ease when they (Justices) shied away from investigating Sebastian's allegation and Ogboru's letter written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria dated the 19th day of October, 2012 where he (Ogboru) complained of the ills committed by Sebastian, his re-employment of a lead counsel and his re-listing of the said motion for review but they (Justices) tactically and technically dismissed the motion based on the ill-gotten act of Sebastian filed in the preliminary objections of Uduaghan, PDP and INEC respectively.
I am aware from the oration of pericus during the poloponician war that if a man takes no interest in public affairs, we should not commend him from been quiet, we should condemn him for being useless, but it is right to esteem those men braveth of spirit who have the clearest understanding of the pains and pleasures of this life and do not on that account string from danger because every land is a reciprocal from famous men, they are not only commemorated to these preaching and monument in their own country but even in foreign lands that dwelt an unwritten memory of them. They have lost so much on stone that is in the heart of men. For a man of spirit, it is more painful to be operating like a weakling than in the consciousness and common gold to die the death that came from them. This braveth of spirit Olorogun Great Ovedje Ogboru has so displayed. But with profound respect to a brave and sound lead counsel, Dr. Osuala Dickson who took up Ogboru/DPP's brief because he was aware that injustice has been done and it is in the public domain. It is the duty of every lawyer to pursue justice. The pit and marrow of the oath that was administered to every lawyer the day they were called to bar is that of defending liberty and pursuing justice and that was exactly what he (Osuala) has done. At what the Justices had to say about him, that was their opinion. Neither Ogboru nor Osuala hold an apology to anybody.
Indeed, corruption in the judiciary discourages people from resorting to the formal justice system, thereby diverting dispute settlements towards informal systems that more than often do not abide by the basic principles of impartiality, fairness, non-discrimination and due process. I strongly believe that the existing principles and standards on human rights and corruption provide adequate guidance on how to tackle judicial corruption while respecting the independence of the justice system and human rights.
To this end, the bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to institute an independent judiciary, Justices who can be so brave to make decisions independent of the political minds that are blowing.
Comrade Omonigho Akpahwe is a public affairs analyst and writes from Benin City, Edo State.