IS THE PUBLIC TRIAL OF JUSTICE ARIWOOLA FAIR?
Many a time, the public only keeps an eagle eye on Nigeria’s executive arm of government, precisely the country’s president and states’ governors. Whereas, the full composition of government includes the legislature and the judiciary. Over the years, little or no attention is paid to both the heads of the federal upper and lower legislatures, the Speakers of State legislatures and the various heads of the judiciary.
Though the rumor of a clandestine rendezvous between the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Honourable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola and the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, may have some mischievous intents or political undertones, it is pertinent that every progressive and patriotic Nigerian examines the rumor beyond the negative scope of interpretation. Conspicuously, the integrity of Nigeria’s judiciary has been undergoing some questionings prior to the unholy and political alliance accusation against the CJN.
The integrity of Nigeria’s judiciary has just been tested through the allegation levelled against Justice Ariwoola. In this particular phrase of integrity test, it is visible to every progressive mind that Justice Ariwoola overcame the public trial through photospeak evidence released by some journalists and the lucid and a well detailed account of the CJN foreign trips given by the Supreme Court’s spokesperson.
Justice Ariwoola was tried and came out victorious in the court of public opinion. It has been a longstanding tradition of the good people of Nigeria to prosecute public officers and give a conviction or acquittal verdict in the court of public opinion based on available information via circumstantial or concrete evidence. The members of the public who accepted the unfolded allegation against the CJN hook, line and sinker and wrongly convicted him could not be totally faulted on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
In the build-up to the just concluded general elections, Justice Ariwoola visited Rivers State for the commission of some judiciary projects. It was unfortunate that the CJN unconsciously dabbled in partisan politics in a dinner organized in his honour. The CJN publicly commended Engr. Seyi Makinde, the Executive Governor of Oyo State, for being a member of the factional group of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) five governors. The CJN also fell into the trap of unconscious political campaigns at the event.
In other developed nations, this singular gaffe of Justice Kayode Ariwoola is capable of generating intense national uproar which would lead to his forceful retirement. The gravity of the CJN partisan public conduct therefore justifies the public apprehension and hasty conclusion on the blatant fabrication against him. Rather than instilling fear in the mind of the public for spreading propaganda against the CJN, the members of the judiciary need to comport themselves in the international standards that boost public confidence. This is the only means to safeguard the heritage and sanctity of the judiciary.
In 2013, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Shirani Bandaranayake, was unceremoniously dismissed from office. In 2014, the Maldivian executive arbitrarily removed Ahmed Faiz Hussain, the Chief Justice of the country from office despite that Article 154 of the Maldivian Constitution only empowers its Judicial Service Commission to exercise such disciplinary powers. In 2022, President Saied of Tunisia unconstitutionally dissolved the country’s Supreme Judiciary Council.
None of the above-mentioned abuses of executive powers went unchallenged by the citizens of those nations. It was only in Nigeria where history repeated itself twice on the unceremonious removal of her Chief Justice and the public felt unperturbed. In 1975, the military regime of Gen. Murtala Muhammed sacked Chief Justice Taslim Elias from office and the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration removed Chief Walter Onnoghen from office in 2019. No amount of propaganda or political attacks would have sufficed or stood against any Nigeria’s CJN if the judicial institution truly reflects the will of the people.
Binzak Azeez, Newworth LLP (Legal Practitioners), Onikan, Lagos