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By Cadre Drake
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Liberate – Delta Peoples Movement
In any progressive society, the role of the Judiciary and the institutions within it are of most critical importance for the maintenance of the rule of law, the promotion of justice and the fundamental centrality of protecting the rights and freedoms accorded to citizens by the constitution of the land and international treaties. These precious institutions enable the resolution of disputes that have wide social and moral implications for the society in a way that is independent, impartial, applying the law without fear or favour and without regard to sentiments. It is therefore the foundation for the maintenance and preservation of a free democratic society. And given its primacy for the realisation of this outcome, its failure is even more fundamental for a society than say, political failure.

It is contended that the increasing failure of the Judiciary in the country to live up to its billing and its growing failure to shield itself from the exposure to the corrosive forces of political corruption, now poses the gravest and most severe threat to democracy in Nigeria! And with every obnoxious, corruption-fuelled judgement that emanates from the Nigerian Judiciary, the Federation takes that small but destructive step in what is an inevitable march towards a 'failed State'.

There can be no doubt that the Nigerian Federation is facing unprecedented challenges. In the last few years, the ruling classes have gravely subverted every institution of state in their efforts to sustain themselves in power. Owing to the obvious and unrelenting corrupt appetite of these classes, we now have a situation that can only be described as chronic corruption that has infiltrated all the key institutions of our society including the highest court of the land, The Supreme Court of Nigeria.

It has long been known that the legislative and the executive branches of government in Nigeria are corrupt, but this cancer has and is spreading fast; such that the three branches of Government can now be said to be operating without the consent of the governed; and solely for the benefit of those in power. The overriding impact of this gradual but certain erosion is that those who by whatever means have obtained power, afford themselves immunity and as such behave with extra-ordinary and corrosive impunity.

A case in point is the anomalies surrounding the supposed election of Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan as governor of Delta State, the ensuing case of electoral fraud brought by the Democratic People's Party's candidate, Great Ovedje Ogboru and Uduaghan's ongoing maladministration of affairs in the State. In the recent past, Uduaghan boasted that he can win any case in any Court, so long as the court was in Delta State. This unashamed attitude exemplifies the utter disregard that some in the political class, and specifically Uduaghan now have for the rule of law and for our Judiciary, they see the judiciary pretty much as rent boys who will do their bidding so long as the price is right.

It is well known, that within the PDP circles in Delta State and beyond, the mantra is 'we will rig the election, you can go to court'. What this attitude further exposes is that far from the immunity clause in the constitution inspiring odd and brazen behaviour amongst our governors, it is actually the knowledge that members of Judiciary have their price that is the cause of the untoward means employed by Uduaghan and his Delta State PDP during elections. Don't take my word for it, just look at the recent US Department of State's report on human rights in Nigeria which clearly cited Delta State as a case study of where the ruling People's Democratic Party in Delta State, under the leadership of Uduaghan, systematically used violence, kidnapping, intimidation and bullying as part of their electoral strategy. In fact, during the Court of Appeal-ordered re-run election (one of the few rare flashes of courage from the courts) in the State that held in January 2011, Professor Jega (INEC Chair) himself witnessed ballot box snatching and other forms of violence and electoral malpractice in the State.

Uduaghan, of course, is not acting without training and experience, having served as SSG to James Onanefe Ibori, the former governor; he is deploying the same tactics of using force to secure elections and relying on the duplicity of the Judiciary to guarantee himself a full term of office. It was Ibori of course, who forced Uduaghan, a most unpopular individual, on both the Delta State PDP and the citizens of Delta State at large. This extremely undemocratic and corrupt act has since meant that Delta State has remained in a precarious position; deteriorating rapidly into a state of arrested development with politically motivated violence being the order of the day.

To the citizens of Delta State, Uduaghan is simply an unmitigated disaster more so than Ibori despite the billions that Ibori undoubted stole from the State. All onlookers can see that even the little infrastructure developed by Ibori during his reign has deteriorated beyond repair and the State is littered with ill-conceived, ill-executed, incomplete and abandoned projects. Uduaghan has refused for 5 years now to audit the accounts of the State or to provide a programme of work to help move the State forward, instead he focuses on launching models, artist impressions and photos of proposed projects which have no hope of seeing the light of day; earning him the popular title of 'the billboard governor'.

Even in the light of Ibori's guilty plea in a London court to, and subsequent conviction for, stealing over £250 million from the coffers of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan insists that no money is missing and refuses to audit the accounts of the state! There can be no doubt that his continued occupation of Government house Asaba, is of grave detriment to the social and economic well-being of the people of Delta State!

So where have all the States resources gone? It cannot be denied, that Uduaghan is emboldened by his ability to use the States resources unchecked both for his own personal gain as well as maintaining himself and his party in Power. He is currently operating two strategies for milking the State of its resources; one, by preventing local government elections thereby remaining in control of the entire resources of the State and two, a new approach of borrowing from the bond market, in effect, mortgaging the future of the State to fund his bad habits of rigging and bribery; all to fend of the onslaught of a much more organised opposition who has the popular support of the people.

It is not disputed that the April 2011 gubernatorial elections were marred by Uduaghan's usual tactics of violence, intimidation and rigging. An election where scarcely populated rural riverine areas polled twice as high as densely populated urban cities and towns in the State giving Uduaghan a grossly inflated vote count, and which INEC has subsequently been unable to produce the necessary documentation to support.

In court, and at all stages for the lawsuit which followed, the Judiciary frustrated the efforts of DPP/Ogboru with antics including the strategic removal of the first Judge at the Tribunal, the delay and scandalous non-sitting of the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court applying the letter of the law wrongly rather than ruling in the spirit of the law, in the interest of justice and the need to privilege the rule of law in the Federation. Needless to say, the judiciary has marred itself in mud over this affair and similar cases across the country.

The effect of such abdication of responsibility on the part of our Judiciary is the message it sends to the ilk of Uduaghan, that they can carry on destroying the very fabric of our society. Uduaghan, given his ineptitude and lack of commitment to democracy, is first to take the bait; it is clear that it is these failures of the Judiciary that led to his mis-pronouncements on Democracy Day at Abraka on 29th May 2012 that he has the power to kill, to demolish any property and get away with it!

His activities have become progressively more bizarre, on 17th April 2012, Uduaghan's mentor, James Onanefe Ibori was finally jailed by a British Court for various crimes of fraud and corruption against the people of Delta; crimes over which he had been charged and acquitted by the Nigerian judiciary (under the watch of Justice Marcel Awokulehin) and crimes in which Uduaghan himself is obviously complicit, indeed his name was mentioned several times in the litany of criminal trials that convicted the players in the Ibori heist.

Uduaghan's response was to say that he could not trust anyone anymore! His dereliction of duty continued with the same impunity with which he has always acted, conspiring to cover up Ibori's fraud and indeed his own, by refusing to investigate the crimes for which a proper court of law had sentenced Ibori following his guilty plea. This is once again, a total disregard for the rule of law, justice and the protection of a free democratic society; and it is so because Uduaghan is clear in his mind that whatever challenge comes by way of a case in court, he will inevitably triumph because the Nigerian judiciary is for sale and can be bought.

By all accounts, Uduaghan has declared war on the people of Delta State, preferring to issue warnings and threats against critics of his misappropriation, fraud and lackadaisical attitude to the delivery of public services; rather than focussing on actually delivery tangible benefits to the people. But the people have wised up to his antics which they see as being vicariously supported by the Judiciary.

This realisation is happening at the national level. The average Nigerian now sees that the Judiciary, which is meant to be the cornerstone of a democratic society and the custodians of the rule of law, are by their complicity with political rogues, systematically undermining our democracy and the very rule of law which they are supposed to protect. The reputation of judges and the Judiciary at large is at an all time low and the general perception is that it is rotten to the core. Its impact at the local and personal level for individual citizens is one of devastation!

Access to justice seems to be the privilege of the powerful few who are using the wealth they have stolen from the people to subjugate them with the full participation of the judiciary. To be frank, it is not the people who will clean up the disrepute that the Judiciary has brought on our Nation, it must be the Supreme Court itself! It must act to restore its pride of place, its reputation and its fundamental independence. Failure to do so will (failing divine intervention) be to guarantee that the nails will continue to be driven into the coffin in which Nigeria will be buried and sent to the grave yard of failed States.

The call for judicial review filed by Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru must be seen as an opportunity for the Judiciary to begin what will be a long process of redemption. For the sake of justice, the rule of law and for the development of our democracy, it is essential that the clean up begins as a matter of urgency. We are on a very slippery slope and it will take great courage and bravery for the Judiciary to press the “reset button” and retrieve for itself what should be its due: 'A Great Institution'!

The entire nation and its survival depend on what the Supreme Court chooses to do in the near future. Deltans, Nigerians, and indeed the entire world are watching!