By Silas Jock Santoi
I write this rejoinder in reference to reports published on the News page of November, 09-15, 2009, captioned “Army Officer Drags Yar ‘Adua To Court-No Lawyer Is Willing To Take Up The Case” and the Guardian report of Thursday, December 4th 2014, captioned “Era Of Secrecy In Judiciary Over, Says Cjn”, Hon Justice Mahmud Muhammed, considering President Muhammadu Buhari’s determination to fight corruption in Nigeria but his headache being the judiciary, which he has criticised of recent, leading to lawyers’ reaction as reported on the Daily Sun of Wednesday, July 20, 2016,
“Lawyers Reply Buhari” The report carried that lawyers yesterday tackled President Muhammadu Buhari over his criticism that the judiciary has failed Nigerians and is frustrating the speedy determination of corruption cases. It further said that President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday said that the judiciary was yet to perform its function to the satisfaction of Nigerians, in spite of the reforms brought about by the administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015. It will be recalled that the Daily Sun had also earlier reported on Monday, February 2016, on a similar issue that, “Corruption War: Judiciary, My Headache – Buhari. “The judiciary remains my main headache on the anti-corruption war and the ongoing fight against corruption can be effectively tackled with strong support of the judiciary”. However, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, Mr Augustine AIegeh (SAN) was reported as having reacted, saying that an enabling environment must be put in place for Judges to perform optimally in the discharge of their duties and that President Buhari should put something in place for Judges to perform their role without inhibition. What a flimsy excuse by the NBA President! Instead of the NBA to render their apology to Nigerians for the glaring negligence of protecting justice and of course, the Nigerian constitution which is the anchor of democracy everywhere.
In his explanation, Mr Amobi Nzelu emphasised that President Buhari only expressed his personal opinion on the matter, he also lauded the anti-corruption war of President Buhari. According to Mr Nzelu “I appreciate what Buhari is doing and I doff my cap for him for touching those who were perceived to be untouchable and he further said, there was massive corruption, the country was looted dry and people are now in pain as a result”. May I therefore take advantage of my experience as a victim of judicial ill-treatment due to conspiracy against justice in the Federal High Court since 2004 to date, by reminding the NBA on previous worrisome reports credited to some concerned Nigerians on the degrading state of the Nigerian judiciary of which to my mind, are enough reasons that deserve not only an apology from the NBA but require total over haul of their leadership and review of their roles to effectively protect the Nigerian democracy. Firstly is a publication by the New Nigeria on Wednesday, March 25th 2009, captioned “Nba Dashes Army Officer’s Hope For Justice”, this report pointed out how the NBA refused to intervene on a petition against professional misconduct done by a lawyer over a case in the Federal High Court. The report said that the NBA National Secretariat, which is the umbrella body for all lawyers in Nigeria to which the petitioner went as a last resort, hoping that his case would be accelerated, had written to him saying, after going through his petition of denial of fair hearing, and that due to the fact that NBA has a standing policy of non-interference in matters pending in courts, the matter is beyond our jurisdiction. It is regrettable that we cannot help you” this was contrary to the action taken by the Kaduna chapter of NBA that had earlier intervened and referred the matter to the NBA National body, insisting that it was the appropriate place to handle such a matter of conspiracy against justice in the court. In another report that reacted to the NBA was the rejoinder on Yar’Adua not taking corruption seriously as reported by the New Nigeria, Friday May 22nd, 2009. The rejoinder to the NBA president stated that “Sir, may I first and foremost congratulate the NBA for its sensitivity as to the Nigerian situation, having come out with the resolution that “the time to act is now”. I sincerely hope you will take this stand seriously and stop fooling Nigerians. This was when the NBA president accused late President Yar’Adua of not taking corruption seriously. The rejoinder further challenged the NBA on issues including, what the NBA is doing about innocent Nigerians that are languishing in prisons for lack of justice; the frustration by many Nigerians with genuine cases in the court due to conspiracy against justice by Judges and legal practitioners; the complaints of happenings at the election tribunals as a result of compromise by lawyers and Judges and also that the NBA president should explain why a case of seeking for redress in the court will have to pass through about three Judges and over 10 legal firms without having the controversy on the matter determined but yet the NBA refused to intervene on such report.
Another reaction to the NBA is on the National Mirror of Tuesday September 27th 2011 captioned “Fashola Condemns Rot In The Judiciary. In the article, it says that he, as a lawyer by profession also flays lawyers over unethical practices, whereas the Daily Sun of Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, reported that “Judicial Officers Endanger Democracy – Itse Sagay, who is the present chairman on committee of corruption of the judiciary. He spoke in an exclusive interview and said the development constitutes a grave danger to the nation’s democracy, that the crises in the judiciary is created by a group of high judicial officers who have political affiliation to satisfy their political masters at the expense of the integrity of the judicial system. In the Daily Sun of Tuesday October 4th 2011, Captioned “Devil Has Taken Over Judiciary — Opadokun”, he warned that the country will go under with the way judiciary was being treated in the recent past, that a nation where the last hope of a common man and the stabilising force like the judiciary is being subverted and pigeon — holed will go under.
More interesting is the confession done by none other person but the then NBA president, Mr Okey Wali, who was reported by the National Mirror of Thursday May Ist, 2014, as having said that “Some Serving Judges Are Worse Than Boko Haram” and appealed to the Federal government to fix the judiciary so as to win investors, while the No. 1 judicial Officer in Nigeria, the Hon Chief Justice of Nigeria and chairman of the National Judicial Council, Hon Justice Mahmud Mohammed, also emphasised that The Era Of Secrecy In The Judiciary Is Over, this was reported on the Guardian of Thursday December 4th 2014. According to the CJN, the media was critical to election performance of the judiciary even as he said that the era when the activities of the judiciary were shrouded in secrecy is over. He said that there was the need for the public to be properly informed about the nature and activities of the judiciary and that the role the press played in enthroning integrity, probity and transparency in the judiciary could neither be underestimated nor over emphasised. Gone are the days of acrimonious relationship between the judiciary and the press, he further emphasised that in times past, the relationship between the judiciary and the press was not clearly delineated. “What the judiciary had on the ground were only restrictive prescription for giving out information from the judiciary or the courts. This made the activities of the judiciary shrouded in secrecy and the public were not properly informed or educated about the nature and activities of the judiciary. The general belief was that all the activities of the judiciary started and ended in the court room. The scare of the dreaded contempt of courts heaving ominously over every information or on the head of the information disseminator. The judiciary was a no-go area for the media by whatever means and the judiciary itself saw no use it could make of the press. The judiciary completely lived in its cocoon; any prying eye of the media into the affairs of the judiciary was treated as a satanic invasion or demonic intrusion that must be resisted and repelled by any means especially by the use of the doctrine of contempt of court ex facie curie.
However the trend has changed, the judiciary, as the third arm of government treats the press as the fourth estate of realm, since the judiciary as an arm of government is sub¬system within the state, it cannot therefore be insulated from the stimuli (both internal and external) which impact upon and influence the state as a system. In that wise, it is imperative that the conduct of the affairs of the judiciary should be brought to the full knowledge of the environment, which it serves through informed media participation as is the case with other organs of the governmental framework. The participation of the press in the judiciary affairs creates a healthy environment for the human elements in the judiciary to exercise their rights to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impact ideas and information without any hindrance as guaranteed by Section 39(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. The CJN was also reported to have said in Vanguard of Monday, December 8th 2014, that Some Senior Lawyers Are Behind Corruption In The Judiciary. According to that report, the Chief Justice of Nigeria made this allegation when the leadership of the NBA, led by its national president, the very Mr Augustine Alegeh, (SAN), paid him a courtesy visit in his office. The CJN maintained that some lawyers not only aid, but equally abet corruption within the bench, a situation he said portends danger for justice system in the country and he further tasked the NBA as a body to put in more effort towards purging itself of some corrupt elements within its fold.
In view of the above revelation on judicial misconduct which is corruption that must be eradicated and should be a very big concern to the NBA, that has woefully failed Nigerians in carrying out their responsibilities of protecting justice. It is therefore most ridiculous that Mr Alegeh, the NBA president, despite all these confirmations about the negligence of the judiciary in carrying out their professional responsibilities still has the guts to challenge the president and the commander in chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari for pointing out the simple truth on the state of the judiciary in Nigeria, which is even based on his personal experience with the judiciary in the past. The question now is, does the NBA president want to continue fooling Nigerians in their normal deceit that no one should comment on any issue about the judiciary even when lawyers glaringly carry out unethical practices in the court? This will definitely create more room for the perfecting of misconduct in the court and thereby render the good effort of fighting corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration counterproductive, because winning corruption war in anywhere must start with the judiciary which is the stabilising force in every country.
Lt Col Silas Jock Santoi, a member of 24th Regular Combatant Course has been a victim of injustice due to conspiracy against justice in the Federal High Court of Nigeria since 2004.