A judge is not a lawyer, and neither is he an advocate. A judge is a priest. His vineyard is the temple of justice. But a judge doesn’t make prophesies. He doesn’t have a crystal ball. He only makes pronouncements. But he’s guided, not by the gods, but by the rules that define justice. He is an interpreter of the law when justice is at stake.
That is why he is a revered priest because in his interpretation lies life and death. He must not succumb to the human whims, yet he is a human being. He must keep fidelity to the lifeless words of the law. That is why the law has been described as an ass. The law is a tyrant, and the judge is always a victim of that tyranny.
That is why dubious politicians don’t take chances. They find ingenious ways to sway the judge. They hire lawyers in good reckoning of the judges who act as go between, and dangle sometimes irresistible offers. Some judges succumb to the lucre and desecrate the temple. They compromise the law, and justice. This country has seen it often and often.
Thus when the Department of State Security recently raided the residences of some senior judges believed to have soiled their robes, many were not surprised. But many were scandalised only by the manner of the raid, which portrayed the system as crude and uncivilised.
But since after the raids, the tables have started turning and the hunters are becoming the hunted. The judges whose homes were raided started fighting back. It was Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal Capital Territory High Court who fired the first shot. He wrote a well-publicised letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, NJC, explaining why he became a target of the DSS. He pointed fingers at the Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice as the man behind his travails.
He said his arrest was a revenge from Malami, whose arrest and detention he ordered over a professional misconduct while he was judge in Kano between 2004 and 2008.
But when Inyand Okoro, a Justice of the Supreme Court, made his own ‘pronouncement’, and narrated how Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transport, committed blasphemy, it was not only damning, it was earth-shaking! Okoro, in a letter to the CJN wrote that his ordeal was tied to Amaechi’s visit to his residence, alleging that the minister “said that the President of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress mandated him to inform me that they must win their election appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State at all costs.”
Justice Okoro also claimed that Amaechi stated that he sponsored Mr. Umana Umana, candidate of All Progressives Congress for that election and that if he lost Akwa Ibom appeal, he would have lost a fortune.” Okoro further revealed that Amaechi had promised that if Umana won the court case, he (Umana) would pay the justice “millions of naira monthly” for subverting the law.
For a man who raised the bar of his integrity when he told the Senate last year, during his screening as minister, that he had never offered nor demanded bride in his entire life, the allegation came to some as shocking. But for many Nigerians used to politicians’ lies, the allegations only went to confirm their suspicion that Amaechi, just like many politicians, is also a pathological liar.
In truth, they are mere allegations, and a man is innocent until proven guilty. Okoro only reported Amaechi to the CJN, and has not sued him. But the minister wasted no time in debunking Okoro’s claims as ‘fiction’, and has the desperate antics of a sinking man. Amaechi seemed to have confirmed and condemned Okoro as guilty, even when the court is yet to hear his case. Yet Amaechi wants Nigerians to believe he never did as Okoro claimed, by simply saying the Justice lied.
Amaechi also wasted no time in saying he would sue Okoro for defamation of character. It is a step many expected him to take. Amaechi would prefer the law court to the court of public opinion where he is sure to lose. But going to court is a commendable first step. But that is not enough. He must pursue his case in court in order to clear his name. But while doing so, he should go a step further by immediately offering his letter of resignation. His continued stay in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari is a stain on the reputation of Mr. President, and that of his administration.
This is more so as another Supreme Court Judge also made similar allegations against Amaechi in a letter to the CJN. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, in his letter accused Amaechi of attempting to compromise him to rule in favour of the APC, in the Ekiti and Rivers states election disputes. Amaechi also called the allegations fiction and concocted lies by people who planned to destroy him politically.
These revelations must no doubt be embarrassing to Amaechi. And coming from senior judges, they are weighty allegations that require Mr. President’s action to save the integrity of his anti-corruption war. No nominee of Mr. President has cast public doubts on the integrity of Buhari’s administration as much as Amaechi.
When he was nominated as minister, no one expected he would be cleared in view of the significant disregard for due process unearthed by a probe instituted by his successor- Governor Nyesom Wike. Not only was he alleged to have benefitted from sale of government entities he sold, huge funds belonging to River State were also found to have disappeared from bank accounts. Specifically, the commission of enquiry heard with evidence that Amaechi diverted N3 billion CBN loan allocated to agriculture, to fund election.
Of course, Amaechi denied all the allegations against him and said Wike was on a witch-hunt. Not a few Nigerians were shocked when the APC–led Senate asked Amaechi to take a bow without a grill on the revelations from the commission of enquiry report. It was a sham ministerial screening exercise that looked more as confirmation, instead of screening.
But if Nigerians had moved on over Amaechi’s clearance to be minister, the new revelations that have come out of the closets have made his continuing stay in the cabinet an embarrassment to Nigerians who support Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade. Of what value is leadership that lacks the force of personal examples?
If Buhari wants Nigerians and the international community to continue to take his administration seriously, he must show by his actions that there is indeed no sacred cow in the fight against corruption. If Amaechi and other ministers mentioned in bribery attempts are allowed to stay a day longer in government, then the anti-corruption war is already lost, and the country must begin the search for genuine leaders.
.Suleiman wrote in from Abuja