Saraki As A Test Case For Equal Justice, Now Is The Time For Mass Reshuffling Of Nigerian Judges
Muhammadu Bubari no longer carries a gun on his body as he once did in his military days. But today, his political presence as the nation’s President is putting fear into our institutions and public officials; however, it is a good fear which is empowering institutions and authorities as we have not seen in recent times.
To his credit, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, recently stated that the influence of shady persons in different judicial positions in the country has deeply soiled the nation’s courthouses. However, Nigerians want to see more boldness in this Chief Justice.
According to Justice Mohammed, “the Nigerian judiciary is now more prepared and more poised than ever before to rid itself of all ugly dirt inflicted on her by unscrupulous, fraudulent and corrupt persons occupying judicial offices in Nigeria”.
For the first time in recent years, one of our institutions like the Office of Attorney General in the Ministry of Justice, reminded judge Ahmed Mohammed of an Abuja Federal High Court of misuse of judicial power and influence; common occurrences in the judiciary of Nigeria.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s recent arraignment before Justice Danladi Umar at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over charges of alleged false declaration of assets was halted by Judge Mohammed.
Judge Mohammed in a manner becoming of judicial overreach went on to issue a summon of appearance on a fellow judge, Justice Umar—ordering him to come to his court.
He even extended his summon by ordering that the prosecutor on the case appear before him.
With a new day in democratic Nigeria, Judge Mohammed would be reminded by the prosecutor, Mr. M.S. Hassan, that legally he cannot stop the case against Saraki, and asked Justice Umar to issue a bench warrant against Saraki following his refusal to appear at the Tribunal; and for his absence before the tribunal a bench warrant was ordered for his arrest.
Justice Mohammed under this new government will become the first test case of what appears to now look as a play of judicial politics in the Nigerian courts.
The Ministry of Justice through Mr. Hassan, on behalf of the rule of law and the Nigerian citizens, reminded Saraki that in his position as an accused person “cannot sit in the comfort of his chamber and object to his trial in absentia”. Which Saraki did by engaging in “forum shopping” which he found in the Court of Justice Mohammed in a desperate bid to delay or stop his trial.
This Judge, Mohammed is certainly aware of the provision of section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, and knows that Saraki could only object to the trial after he had entered his plea to the charges against him.
This judge is also aware that his court like the Tribunal are both superior courts of record with coordinate jurisdiction, and are both recognized by the Constitution as equal.
Notwithstanding, that no Federal High Court has supervisory jurisdiction over another High Court such as the Tribunal where Saraki is being tried; this judge chose to be protecting a man like Saraki; a man who should be upholding the rule of law in his position as the Senate President in the parliament.
Justice Umar rightly reminded the likes of Saraki that in his current senatorial position and having been sworn to protect the constitution, should show respect to the Tribunal by appearing before it.
Even if Saraki sees the conduct of the Tribunal as partial towards him, he should have still appeared before the Tribunal for initial proceedings on this case.
Judge Muhammed and Senator Saraki are part of Nigeria’s public higher-ups who appear to think that they can continue to play ball with the rule of law and our democratic institutions.
It really does not matter in this discourse whether the court order for arrest goes into effect. But what is important here, is the reality that the misuse of judicial power is being challenge aggressively by the Ministry of Justice.
As history shows, it appears that there is long standing precedent in terms of how our Courts have become out of control in their actions.
Beginning with the case of a former Rivers State Governor, Peter Odili, in the year of 2008, a Court issued what is now a perpetual injunction that stopped law enforcement authorities from arresting, detaining and prosecuting him on a corruption case; the court also ordered that the police could not investigate State finances under Odili.
In the words of a former Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark called on the Nigerian judicial system to put its house in order; making an example of a perpetual injunction granted a former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili by a Court that prevents any possibility of him facing a trial in the country.
As such, what could now be called the Odili Court Injunction ‘Standard’ (OCIS) has come to stay and tarnished the Nigerian judicial system.
With OCIS in place in the Nigerian Court system through a series of adjournments and injunctions, it prevents any possibility of accused leaders fully facing a trial in the country.
With OCIS in practice, higher-ups under criminal investigation stand out as free persons and are parading themselves as State’s men and women.
As in the case of Stella Oduah, a former Minister of Aviation, now a Senator has the court’s protection from being probed by law enforcement agencies in an alleged case of corruption relating to the purchase of armored BMW cars while she was the Minister of Aviation.
As in the case of former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, she once sued a newspapers like PREMIUM TIMES and many other individuals and organizations. The Court also restrained them from further reporting on controversial missing $20billion oil money involving the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
We all remember the case of the book, My Watch, written by the ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, which was once banned in Nigeria and apparently across the whole world by a High Court judge, Justice Valentine Ashi.
Just recently, former President Jonathan's Adviser on Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku in a court under Justice Valentine Ashi, law enforcement and security agencies were reportedly restrained from arresting or probing Mr. Kuku.
In the interest of the public, Nigeria cannot continue on this part. The Nigeria judiciary under Chief Justice Mohammed during the Buhari presidency must rid itself of all insincere, duplicitous and crooked behaviors in the Nigerian judiciary.
While this writer is not accusing any judicial officer of corruption, it is time for full blown complaints to show our dissatisfaction with our judicial system.
Our collective complaint must send a message to the Nigerian Judiciary about the inequity in the justice system and how the OCIS has hammed, robbed, scammed or abused the court system, which cannot continue.
Our mass disapproval must point out that we will not allow judges and magistrates who trade rulings for cash or other benefits to continue with their subtle but destructive ways of issuing out justice.
Our strong complaint will reveal to the world of how dishonest judges/magistrates ignore evidence, twist rules/procedures, obstruct records, get even, manufacture facts, allow infirm claims, mischaracterize pleadings, and misapply the law—all to the non interest of the powerless and in favor of the powerful.
Our resilient complaints must show that our emerging and young Constitution was not conceived as a tool of judicial corruption but as a cover that gives all of us equal protection.
With our collective complaint we will let the world know how some judges/magistrates are snatching justice from ordinary citizens and acting as gatekeepers in order to protect the powerful all the time.
Our full objection must show that for far too long, the entire judicial system with all of its rot placed itself out of reach of the people, overcrowd our prisons with the powerless, and how many of its partial actions have gone unaccountable.
Through our collective disapproval we will show that our judges and magistrates are not above the law, and we should demand for mass transfer and reshuffling of these judicial men and women, periodically.
Our open complaints must state that prospective judicial officer go through personality/intellectual/ethical based psychological evaluation.
We certainly welcome the recent move of appointing Judges and others through advertisement as it allow vacancies to be filled in an open way with judicial officers’ persons who have no godfathers.
To protect the sanctity of the judiciary from the continued misdeeds of double-dealing judges/magistrates driven by some corrupt lawyers, let us continue to loudly speak out against judicial politics and injustice—all for the sake of pushing our judicial system into public trust so as to fully gain both national and universal confidence.
Dr. Oshodi is a Florida-based Forensic/Clinical Psychologist, a specialist in Prison/Police/National Security matters and a former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Psychological Association. [email protected] , drjohneoshodi.com