By Taohed Ajao
This column does not make any pretensions to legal erudition or ability for forensic gymnastics. A moderate understanding of the instrumentality of law – acquired through a fairly decent education – for the orderliness of society and to establish conditions under which individuals enjoy a maximum of self-assertion, has been the basis of its concerns about recent rulings, judgments and pronouncements from some Nigerian courts which as it were, make compelling further explication about the end of law itself.
There has always been a philosophical argument dating from antiquity about the essence of law, its end and salience to organized societies. While there are many ideas about how law should serve society, the two most dominant juristic thoughts have been by those who advocate for the conservatism of legal systems on the one hand, and those on the other hand, who believe in the necessity for change and the dynamism inherent in the nature of law.
The conservative jurist follows analytical methods in arriving at legal positions. He therefore, banishes all ethical considerations, all criticisms of legal precepts about morals from the book. It is a central dogma of conservative jurisprudence that the judge has no hand in creating the law because it is their philosophical template that the judge is just a mechanical mouthpiece of the legislators, his only function being to apply to individual cases, the general command of the lawgiver, on the presumption that all future situations occasioning litigation were foreseen and regulated at the moment of legislation. Thus, by shutting the door to judicial creativity, such a theory serves the conservative purpose even though it highlights the absurdity of supposing an omniscient legislature!
The progressive jurist starts from an acknowledgement of the fact that nobody can read the future in the detail necessary for deciding the locus of justice in every case using a given precept. Incessant changes occurring in the human and physical materials that laws are supposed to provide the framework for, in the first instance require the need for continual modifications in the formulations and application of same laws to cope with the dynamism of human existence. The progressive jurist therefore holds it to be sacrosanct that the social interest in the general security of man is the first determinant of law.
The above contending philosophical views about law have always presented a juristic dissonance about the end of law in societies. With the dawn of modern societies and the undeniable dynamism in human life, came the social awareness that law can and should not be abstracted from the realities of existence. That is, a mechanistic interpretation and implementation of law without recourse to its effect on society as it affects the commonweal, cannot serve the interest of meaningful existence. To regard law as not having the end to serve humanity in a positive essence but, to serve law as an end in itself, has become a jurisprudential anachronism in most places.
The recent rulings and judgments coming from Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja High Court when juxtaposed against the aforementioned convention raise a lot of worry and anxiety. Not only has there been a proclivity for entertaining political matters, Justice Abang’s court seems to be the first choice among many when cases get to be intractably woven around interests that many see to involve the federal government. Dispensing judgments that sometimes look removed from reality, severely being criticized by superior judges and issuing counter-rulings to judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction, Justice Abang has turned himself into the face of the Nigerian judiciary that is at loggerhead with the commonsensical understanding of the role of law in modern societies.
Nothing showcases the absurdity of Justice Abang’s rulings more than his court’s authentication of Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim’s claim to the Ondo State PDP’s gubernatorial ticket. Not bothered by the widely circulated fact that Mr. Jimoh was not a PDP member and in fact, was an aspirant for the governorship on the platform of Accord Party a few months ago, Justice Abang, had strung together all manners of legal and ethical travesties to arrive at a mind-boggling conclusion that has outraged not only voters in Ondo State but, bewildered many elsewhere! Only a mind regulated by machine-like impulses and devoid of considerations for the sensibilities of the people can, in all conscience, give such a ruling that is ungrounded in law, logic or political reality.
Such a reduction by Justice Okon Abang, of Jimoh Ibrahim’s straight forward underhand strategy of power ambush by turning the judiciary into a legal analytical process devoid of either ethical or logical considerations, calls to memory the possibility of the cataclysm that attended the midnight judgment of late Bassey Ikpeme given to the shadowy Arthur Nzeribe-led Association for Better Nigerians to stop the June 12, 1993 presidential election. It bears repeating again that it is a generalization drawn from the facts of history that the social interest in the general security of the people is the first determinant of law.
Even if some judges are unable to contemplate – probably because of present luxuries – the ignominy that awaits those of them with a bent for the mechanistic interpretation of law after leaving the bench, society and the learned profession must make it a duty to censure them so that the practice of law can be made more ennobling and the end of law can be geared towards serving humanity in positive ways.