NJC: The Waking of a Slumbering Watchdog

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POLSCOPE

with  Eddy Odivwri 

eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

The recent raid of the homes of some Judges has continued to dominate public discussions. That it has remained topical, three weeks after, is indicative of the effect the action has had on the polity. One reason it has remained a running issue is because of its inherent controversy.  Nigerians are sharply divided over the propriety or otherwise of the raid of the Judges’ homes at an unlikely hour.

 But the raid, it appears, has woken the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC) from its prolonged slumber.

Here is an NJC that had more or less existed in name, or at best like a typical civil service institution that is lame and docile. Or how else shall one explain the muteness of the NJC in the face of the many observable  shenanigans that take place in the judiciary, especially among Judges?

Many have argued that the NJC is so laid back because many of its members have also compromised themselves, and so are rather weak or cowardly in disciplining judges who commit ethical infractions every now and then.

 Would the NJC, in all honesty, claim ignorance of the atrocities of many of the judges? It was even more scandalizing to hear that the NJC has been treating its erring judges with kid’s gloves. A watchdog had become a lapdog. The story was told of a judge who received  huge bribe and when the matter got to NJC, all the watchdog could do is to advise the judge to pay back the money to the “customer” in various installments, whilst still allowing such a judge to preside over cases. In another case, a judge was said to have demanded a bribe of N200 million from a party in a case. Again, the “secret deal” leaked, and all that the NJC did was to retire the Judge in question. What kind of NJC is that? What kind of slap on the wrist is that? Why was such a Judge not  summarily dismissed by the NJC?

Those who have argued in defense of the actions of the NJC, thus far, cite the measly examples of tepid disciplinary measures meted out to some errant   Judges.

Yet we are suffused with instances of gross abuse of office by these otherwise “Honourable” superhumans who almost  approximate the status of God, as they can pronounce the death or otherwise of accused persons in their courts. And that would be it.  How could people imbued with such exalted and sacred responsibility be associated with such banal vices as collection of bribe?  Like Caesar’s wife, are Judges not supposed to be clearly and undebatably above board?

 As a people , we must make up our minds about what we want. We cannot be baying for a new order yet want to stick to the old ways of doing things. There is no middle point. It is either we want a better and safer society and thus deal decisively with every contrary act that takes us back to Egypt or we play politics with everything and then merely pine for a new dawn whilst we continue in our old depraved ways.

 We cannot be hiding under the guise of human rights and procedure to condone and encourage indiscipline and corruption in high places.

Those who quarrel with the raid of the judges are those who prefer to elevate the lesser issue of form over substance. The question to ask is whether any section of the Nigerian constitution or any enabling Act of law prescribes any hour of the day or night by which suspects cannot be arrested. Needless to reiterate that since Judges do not enjoy immunity, there is nothing that forbids the arrest of those adjudged to have questions to answer.

There are no two sets of laws: one for the poor and the other for the rich and the privileged. No, it is the same law for everyone. That is why it is said that the law is no respecter of person. We surely cannot continue in the way we have been going.

And as retired Justice Samson Uwaifo argued, if the DSS operatives are found to have breached their operational code, there are laid down mechanisms of dealing with such infractions.  But the more fundamental substance of whether or not the judges are corrupt should be addressed and settled.

The trouble with the judges did not start today. Many years ago, as a reporter, I had covered the annual lecture of the Nigeria Bar Association that held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, where the then Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Oladipo Diya (rtd)(himself a lawyer) delivered the keynote address. At that ceremony, Diya lampooned the judges and condemned the sale of justice. According to him, judges write two opposing judgments, and place them one in the left pocket and the other in the right pocket of their gowns, and depending on which of the parties who settled better, the “appropriate” judgment is pulled out and delivered.

But for how long shall we leave a major pillar of democracy: judiciary , in the hands of crooks and crank masters, all in the name of human rights and human dignity? Is it not a prized prism in law that those who come to equity must come with clean hands? How can a hand be so soiled and yet you demand to be equitably treated? Does corruption get guided by the ethos of human rights?

Two of the arrested judges:  Justice Inyang Okoro and  Justice Sylvester Ungwuta, have written to Chief Justice of Nigeria claiming that they were once approached and offered bribe by Mr Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation to swing their judgment in favour of the APC candidates in the gubernatorial election cases in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States. The Rivers election was decided on January 27, 2016. But the Judge in question kept and aided such attempted crime by his quietness for almost nine months, claiming that he informed the CJN of Amaechi’s move at the time. So what did the CJN also do for nine months? Did they both conspire to keep quiet, chosing only to spill the beans now because Justice Okoro is in the DSS net? Does this not smell like after-thought? It presents itself like a sinking person wanting to drag someone else down the river bed.

Yet another judge  Justice Ungwuta claims that the monies found in his home were planted in his house by the DSS. Really? Pray, where was the Judge when the said monies were being planted in his house? What about the Judge who was handed huge bribe money on the shopping floor of a supermarket while pretending to be shopping, unknown to him that the CCTV captured the “transaction”.

Several years ago, Nigerian judges were the toast of other African countries.

They presided over the judiciary of many African countries and reaped tons of honour both for themselves and the nation. Not anymore. Nobody is so naïve as to invite Nigerian judges to preside over their countries again. It is our collective shame.

The judges, no doubt, are taking their time to craft their own defence stories that can brush the guilt off them. Nigerians are wise and discerning. They see how some of the judges live large and undertake epicurean life styles. Many people have suffered gross injustice in the hands of such Justices. In many instances, justice had been on sale to the highest bidder. Sad!  Little wonder that as much as 308 petitions are pending against Judges before the NJC.

 Only now, the NJC is rolling out new rules: of not accepting gifts from other arms of government, or that judges should declare their assets before and after giving judgements. These are tokenistic measures coming too late and obviously susceptible to circumvention by smart Judges.

In all, the NJC seems woken and Nigerians should begin to see a more responsible and visible regulatory  judicial organ.

 

Canticles…

Between the Oza Room and the Engine Room

Did you hear that the Supreme Council of Fulani Elders has called a meeting?

Meeting? For what? And which body is that anyway?

How can you be asking such questions? When you hear Fulani elders, wouldn’t you know it is to put out the fire on the mountain?

(aghast) Fire? Where? Which mountain are you talking about?

What a question! What fire could be more than the one flaming in the home of the first family?

Oh, is that what you are dancing around? Don’t exaggerate issues. Mr President has long returned from his German trip and resumed his duties in the Engine room of the nation.

And that is the issue the Fulani Elders are determined to sort out.

How?

There is a strong fear that the Engine Room will soon be getting cold and will not be receiving any fire or combustion to keep firing and that will be very dangerous for the nation ship. I cannot imagine that the ship will lose fire and steam mid sea. The danger is unimagi—

(cuts in) What are you talking about? Which ship?

Look, you don’t understand that ever since Mr President returned from his German trip, where he declared that his wife, Hajia Aisha, belongs to his kitchen, living room and the Oza room, that the President’s kitchen has refused to function? Don’t you know what that means? If the kitchen is deactivated, both the activities in the living room, the oza room and even the nation’s engine room are all in danger of shutting down. And you don’t know the implication of  such a deactivation of the nation’s Operating System (OS)?

Look, Mr President did not say Oza rooms. He meant “other rooms”. You know he has peculiar phonetic streak.

By the way, who told you his kitchen has been shut down?

Need you ask? Are you not aware that Madam Aisha is still sequestered in London? And even if she returns, you think it will be business as usual? As in supplying the domestic gas (from the kitchen) that will power the engine room? You mean you cannot smell the looming danger?

(releases a long hiss) You don’t understand the tenacity, depth and adroitness of a Fulani General. Mr President will contain the rage of the wife and flog her into line. Just watch if you will ever hear her grant such unguarded interview again.  I can assure you that the Fulani Elders Council will tell Hajia Aisha that we must first blame mother hen for exposing the chicks before blaming the hawk that swooped on the chicks and carried them away.

So what are you saying in effect?

I am saying that the Fulani Elders will remind Hajia Aisha that this is Africa, not Europe or America. That the woman’s primary responsibility is in the kitchen from where she services the household.  That she was wrong to have gone to wash the dirty linen of the first family at the global square. Who asked her to grant that obnoxious interview? Did she have the permission of her husband to do so? And couldn’t she be more discrete in expressing her anger? After all, she shares the “oza room” exclusively with Mr President every night. Why didn’t she say all that she told the BBC Hausa service to Mr President?

Don’t you realize she is the very person who has triggered the global outrage on her husband, our President?

But two wrongs don’t a make a right.

Couldn’t Mr President have been more diplomatic in answering such a delicate question knowing that he was standing right beside the most powerful woman in the European Union? Couldn’t Mr President have parried the question or even feigned ignorance or even say he did not believe the wife said so and would rather not comment until he gets in touch with her at home? Wouldn’t that have saved the day? How can a perceptive president go and commit such a diplomatic gaffe and faux pas at that global stage? Even if that is his traditional belief, must he announce that his wife belongs to his kitchen, in (of all places) Europe? It was a monumental presidential gaffe.  With UK led by a woman, EU shepherded by a woman and even US (very likely soon) headed by a woman, don’t you know what the president did and said is a diplomatic suicide, especially for a nation begging for alms from across the globe?

But let me ask you. Did Hajia Aisha think that only those involved in a political campaign will get into position in a democratic government? Does she not understand the dynamics of power?

But is it not true that Mr President has been hijacked by a cabal? During the campaign and all the struggle to get him even become the APC candidate, where were people like  Malam Abba Kyari, who is now the President’s powerful Chief of Staff or Mr President’s  influential nephew, Malam Mamman Daura? Where were they when all the money was being spent to prop up Buhari? But today, they are the overlords, calling the shots and determining the tempo of governance Are people not reaping from where they did not sow in this government? (in lowered tone) Or is it true, according to Reuben Abati, that there is an Aso Rock force, call it principality, that makes Presidents who step into the Villa to make terrible mistakes?

This is not new. It is called kitchen cabinet in every government

Kitchen again? Please be ware of that word now.

Every government has got inner-circle operatives. Hajia Aisha must not fail to understand this. But above all, if she feels all is not well with the power configuration in the President’s administration, she can use other methods, including the power of the “other room” to make a change. She should go and read Shakespeare’s Macbeth to understand the huge effect a woman has on a politically-minded husband. Not even Mrs Patience Jonathan with all her Corinthian conduct dared to attack her husband in the public square.

And that is why the Fulani Elders Council will decisively deal with all the matters arising from the presidential faux pas of the first family.