By Jude Ndukwe
Two issues that have put our judiciary in the eye of the storm in recent times are the anti-corruption war and the election matters. These two issues are very dear to the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari for different reasons. On the anti-corruption war, President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have always made it look like an all out war against the opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Almost all those being arrested and tried for alleged corrupt practices are members of the PDP even when a good number of senior APC officials have been in government for so long and a majority of them can therefore not claim to be clean.
The naked power, exuberance and over-zealousness exhibited by security agencies in the handling of these corruption cases and the accused leave much to be desired. The continued flagrant disobedience of court orders with respect to these cases is overwhelming evidence of the tyranny of the current administration.
Under this administration, and under the guise of fighting against corruption, the executive has continually disparaged the judiciary by making it look like an incurable corrupt institution militating against the success of the anti-corruption war. This has, no doubt, led to the intimidation of judges who now feel harassed and obligated to give judgements not based on facts before them but in obeisance to the whimsical wishes of the president and his party. Having shown signs of weakness and fear, security agents are emboldened to treat court decisions with contempt and ride rough shod on the judiciary. Such a pitiful situation!
Recently, President Buhari openly said that the judiciary is his headache in his fight against corruption. Following suit, the national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, borrowed the impudent audacity of the president by calling for the investigation of Justices of the Supreme Court simply because the apex court gave judgement in favour of the opposition party, the PDP, in the Rivers State governorship election matter, thereby, denying the APC their life-time ambition of turning Nigeria to a one-party state. At several other forums, the president and his associates have casted aspersion at the judiciary all in a bid to put them in an awkward position before members of the public and extract judgement from them in their (APC/presidency) favour.
This act of subtle intimidation of the judiciary is no doubt taking its toll on the bench as judgements emanating from the lower courts these days have become doubtful. A situation where similar cases with fairly same features have different judicial outcomes gave the Chief Justice of Nigeria great concern that at a recent retreat of Justices of the Appeal Court, he lamented, and rightly so, the quality of judgements that do not depict coherence and consistency among the justices.
With the contradictory judgements from the different Courts of Appeal handling political cases, one can safely conclude that the ultimate plan of the president and his party was to use their criticisms of the judiciary in the anti-corruption cases as a means of whipping the judiciary into line and hand them victory in the political matters.
However, one is glad that Justices of the Supreme Court have shown with recent judgements that such tactics by the executive and the APC do not affect them in any way. For all the political cases which were delivered in favour of the APC in error at the lower courts, the Supreme Court has upturned them and delivered justice fairly and firmly irrespective of whose ox is gored. From Abia to Rivers, from Delta to Akwa Ibom etc, the Supreme Court has validated the people’s will against the show of might by the executive and the run of propaganda by the executive.
With these judgements, the tyranny of the executive has been neutralised to an extent. We now urge all judges at all levels to emulate the example set by their Lordships at the Supreme Court and ensure that justice is dispensed to all parties at all times, fairly and firmly, without fear or favour. They cannot afford to let themselves be intimidated by anybody or institution. The high profile cases before them, be they corruption or political, are enormous opportunities afforded them to further solidify the independence of the judiciary. They must do everything within their powers to ensure that their orders are not only obeyed but that reliefs/prayers sought by the executive are denied them until previous orders are complied with in all cases. It is their responsibility to ensure that those who are persecuted are protected from undue suffering and torture. They must ensure that no one is persecuted before them but only prosecuted in accordance with the law. This is the only way the judiciary can carry out the onerous and unenviable task of saving our democracy from crass impudence and tyranny of this administration.
The principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty must be protected at all times. Rather than blame the judiciary for failed cases in courts, the executive should ensure that they have water-tight evidence against anyone before they approach the courts. To do otherwise would amount to taking coals to Enugu, and the judiciary should not be blamed for shoddy jobs by security agents. Everyone wants justice and we all want corrupt people to be punished with the full weight of the law and not the full height of tyranny.
With the judgements in the Abia, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ebonyi, Rivers etc elections, the Supreme Court has once again redeemed the judiciary from the tightening hold of the executive and asserted its independence. One must not forget that even the ruling party has also enjoyed and benefitted from the sagacity of the Supreme Court judges as elections of Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, Ibrahim Geidam of Taraba State etc, all of APC were also recently upheld by the apex court. These go a long way to show that the apex court is consistently impartial, fearless and fair to all irrespective of status and or party affiliation.
Lastly, we urge all judges at all levels to take courage from the honourable justices of the Supreme Court and reassert their authority as a way of saving our democracy from further sliding into tyranny and reclaim its place once again as the last hope of the common man, the helpless and the persecuted. It is only by doing this that our democracy would enjoy prosperity.
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