Barely 24 hours after I described the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, as Nigeria’s ultimate “outdoor leader”, in a Facebook tribute to his impressive achievements in the State, the governor was out at 1:00 AM on the streets of Port Harcourt to stop the abduction of a federal high court judge, by hooded men of the Department of State Services (DSS).
The DSS men had arrived at the home of the judicial officer in a manner disturbingly similar to how Boko Haram marauders stormed the female hostels in Chibok in 2014. It is a tragic parallel to draw, but a thread of impunity runs through both incidents.
In both raids, the invaders acted outside the law, they had no court orders, no arrest warrants, no search warrants, and their victims had committed no crimes.
After the 320 Chibok school girls were stolen by Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s blood-thirsty leader, released a sickening video in which he claimed to have acted on the exact orders of Allah.
When confronted by Governor Wike and other State leaders on the legality of the invasion of the judge’s home, the DSS simply justified their action by citing, not the law of the land, but “orders from above”.
The press statement released by the DSS following deafening public outcry on this unwarranted attack on the country’s judicial system, must rank as the most self-indicting statement ever made by a public institution in Nigeria. The DSS has said its assault on the judiciary was part of a so-called anti-corruption crusade. But are we to accept “anti-corruption” as our new national moniker for arrant impunity? Is a fight against corruption outside the rule of law not itself the grossest form of corruption?
After a series of Supreme Court judgements in favour of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) earlier in the year, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had launched a bitter and unprecedented campaign of calumny against the integrity of the justices of the court.
In a widely publicized media interview, Mr. John Oyegun the National Chairman of the APC, had castigated the nation’s judicial system, and declared that “Something is fundamentally wrong in the judiciary”.
Oyegun had also made the shocking suggestion that all oil-producing states of the Niger Delta region were prized assets to be acquired at all costs by the APC.
“We have lost very important resource-rich states to the PDP. No matter how crude oil prices have fallen, it is still the most important revenue earner for the country”, Mr. Oyegun had said.
The illegal invasion of the homes of judges across the country must therefore be seen as a full frontal reprisal attack launched by the APC against our evolving democratic culture, and the judicial institution that supports it.
I recommend that the public statement released by the DSS should be made a required reading in all schools in Nigeria, as the sorriest justification for executive lawlessness in a democratic dispensation.
I appeal to the international community to not look away as Nigeria’s fragile democratic order faces its gravest existential threat in nearly two decades. Governor Wike’s courageous insistence on the supremacy of the law, even as he was physically assaulted by men of the DSS, is his finest service to Nigeria.
The governor’s historic intervention reminds us of the sacrifice every Nigerian must now be prepared to make, as we challenge the tyranny and anarchy that loom over our nation.
–– Dr. Austin Tam-George is the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Rivers State.