By Taoheed Ajao
Of the three arms of government – executive, legislative and judiciary – the one that is often thought to be the last hope of the common man is the judiciary. Governments are periodically overthrown during suspensions of civilian governance with the executive and legislative arms being the first casualties. The resulting contraptions from these forceful seizures of power still admit of some sanity as the juntas are usually seen as the fons et origo of both executive and law making capabilities. To the extent that such societies are still able to preserve the idea of justice and equity through the thoughtful retention of the judiciary, to that extent will people believe that their lives are not being regulated by any Hobbesian arbitrariness – of “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” – but, by some notion of law and order.
The Nigerian judiciary in the past, had rescued the nation from the valley of fascist dictatorship onto the mountain top of transcendent justice and equity; the Nigerian judiciary has been seen for a long time by the common people as the only arm of government still capable of being actuated by the fear of God in the uphold of the correct notion representing right and wrong and consequently, the templates of legalities and illegalities. One must recall the shining beauty of the triumph of the rule of law during one of the glorious days of the judiciary when in a series of legal victories, then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, was able to withstand the executive harassment from the Obasanjo presidency which equated the former’s bid to defect to the opposition Action Congress (AC) from the ruling PDP, with a relinquishment of his vice-presidential position!
Again, the saga of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko’s gubernatorial bid on the platform of the Labour Party in the April 2007 elections in Ondo State, marked a defining period in the nation’s crusade for free and fair elections; it brought out in bold and dialectical relief, the interplay between reactionary forces unleashed by authoritarian minds on the one hand, and the deployment by a focused and dogged democrat on the other, of the power of resilience, consensus, patience, long-suffering and, adherence to due process and the rule of law.
The inescapable David versus Goliath imagery evoked by a rampaging federal behemoth trying to emasculate the enlightened citizenry of a small state through the attempt to browbeat its political arrow-head into acquiescence to the status quo, was most riveting to the media which thereafter, internationalized the legal and clinical dismantling of the tissue of lies in the grand electoral larceny of the 2007 Ondo State gubernatorial election.
In a move that has defined his political courage and submission to democratic instincts, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, yielding to the urgings of his people and in open defiance of the powers that be, entered the gubernatorial contest and fought against its massively rigged results. In deference to the rule of law, he employed the legal option whose eventual outcome in no small way, helped to strengthen the people’s belief in the judiciary as a veritable organ of justice and, as the last resort of the common man!
It is against these shining examples of judicial courage and uprightness that the recent travesties of justice being handed down by the same Nigerian judiciary, particularly as it affects the Ondo State PDP gubernatorial candidature, constitute jarring dissonance to the jurisprudence that once exalted the nation’s judiciary as incorruptible and impartial no matter whose ox is gored. In an absurd vindication of lawlessness and glorification of aberrancy, the Nigerian judiciary has seemed to be helpless in determining whose PDP candidature meets the electorally prescribed process of primary election emergence: Eyitayo Jegede who emerged from a primary process in compliance with the relevant electoral laws or Jimoh Ibrahim, whose claims to the flag-bearer position are negated by all precedents of election primaries known to parties in Nigeria.
Pretending as if it does not understand the obstructive ploy of the duo of Jimoh Ibrahim and Poroye in their shop for pliant judges all over the country, the government and the judiciary have been wide awake while this duo and their lawyers bring down virtually any legally constituted Appeal Panel to hear the Jegede appeal through the insinuation of baseless, wild and mind-boggling accusations of bribery and bias against members of the different appeal panels! It is a sorry state in the country when the Nigerian judiciary at any of its three tiers, can randomly be brought to its knees by reckless and unsubstantiated accusations of bias. As the learned lawyer Akinlaja SAN, said after the Justice Salauwa-led Appeal panel declined to give its judgment in deference to the motion filed by the defendants’ lawyers at the Supreme Court, it is not Eyitayo Jegede or Jimoh Ibrahim that is on trial but, the Nigerian judiciary itself.
The Nigerian judiciary has let politicians soiled the Bench’s pristine temple of justice; it has succumbed to political pressures in the interpretation and dispensation of justice and the common people have been let down. The silver lining in all these gloomy pictures is that the preponderance of the Judiciary is still composed of men and women of honour. It is not reassuring that the war against material corruption of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is not being complemented by its flipside crusade against attitudinal and moral corruption of which, this do-or-die election mentality is just but one of its several manifestations.
The Nigerian judiciary cannot afford to fail the people!