BY Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN
The recent recall of suspended judges by the National Judicial Council, NJC, gladdened my heart to no end. They were unduly punished, even before arraignment, trial or conviction. That was putting the cart before the horse. That was carrying vindictiveness and lawlessness by the so called anti- corruption fighters, too far and to a ludicrous level. I have even read some people’s articles saying that the judges should not have been recalled until the â€œalmighty â€ security agents, decide in their whims and caprices, when to charge them. This is incredible.
What such protagonists are saying is that eight months were not even enough, to gather evidence and prosecute the judges; and that the judges should be criminalised and denied their job, and their means of livelihood, until whenever it pleases the powers that be to charge them to court.
Honourable Justice Ademola
As for Justice Adeniyi Ademola, he has been tried and discharged and acquitted. There was therefore, no reason whatsoever, to continue to prevent him from working. Until the appellate court upturns the earlier judgement of the lower court, such judgement subsists and is enforceable, as has been done by the NJC. The only exception is if there was a stay of execution duly granted, to stay the judgement, or if there was evidence of a valid appeal having been duly entered with the lower courtâ€™s proceedings, having been transmitted to the appellate court.
This is because a mere appeal does not operate as a stay of execution. It was therefore right, proper and legal for the NJC to have recalled the suspended judges to work. It was even very late in coming, since the initial recuse from work was done without legal justification. The State should actually make restitution, by apologising to the judges involved for the public odium, ridicule, denigration, embarrassment, obloquy and shame, which their unjustified arrests, detention and media trial, had negatively impacted on them and their families.
The State should immediately halt its indecent and mindless impunity and persecution of innocent citizens, rather than the legally allowed prosecution. We are not living in a Banana Republic, Thomas Hobbesâ€™ state of nature or George Orwelâ€™s, Animal Farm. Respect for citizens’ fundamental rights and the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, a free, robust and unencumbered press and giving the citizens democratic dividends, are the hallmarks of democracy.
The reverse is tyranny, despotism, absolutism, fascism or dictatorship. Nigerians didnâ€™t vote for this.
Mike Ozekhome, SAN, Constitutional lawyer and Human Rights Activist