Friday, February 1, 2019
[email protected]
Port Harcourt, Nigeria

y now the noise I used to hear about being patriotic and not washing our dirty linen in public, and not de-marketing the country by telling how really bad it is around here ? have become whimpers and mumbles. The enormous advancements in information technologies have shrunken the world, such that it is no longer possible to shield our shame. Thank God. IT IS NOT GOOD to pretend about the truth, a failing and perhaps, a tragic flaw in Nigeria.

For a long time now, it is not a secret that Nigeria's judiciary is corrupt. No surprise. A corrupt and debased society inevitably begets corrupt institutions and structures. But I suppose there was this despairing hope that perhaps, the judiciary, made up of the learned and the (most?) 'honourable' sections of society might save the day; the clergy having failed woefully and miserably in this direction. The news trickled in, then increased in numbers; and soon became a deluge that judges demanded and received bribes. In different forms and fora it happened. And people saw it; they wondered, they complained, they were embarrassed; but the bribe takers on the bench refused to budge. It is appropriate to refresh our memories with sample pieces of news items that show that everybody now knows that corruption is not peculiar to our judiciary; it is our birth right.

According to Olisa Agbakoba, one of our foremost legal practitioners, what Nigerian lawyers do these days (in court) is just a "charade" because Nigeria's "legal system is dead". (See at -https://www.proshareng.com/news/Politics/Stagnated-Development--Charade-In-Courts-and-Absence-Of-Leadership---Interview-with-Olisa-Agbakoba/42667). Sometimes in 2016, Nigeria's Vice President, Yemi Osibajo declared in Ado-Ekiti that the three arms of government in Nigeria is bedevilled by the same vice - corruption, and that none of these three would be spared in the fight against corruption (See at - https://guardian.ng/news/osinbajo-no-arm-of-government-will-be-spared-in-anti-corruption-war/). And in the words of Justice Onnoghen himself, corruption by judges is not only limited to bribe-taking (See at - https://www.vanguardngr.com/2018/03/corruption-judiciary-not-limited-bribe-taking-cjn-laments/). Another interesting read, as regards the level of decadence in Nigeria's society and its judiciary is that of the accomplished poet, Niyi Osundare (University of New Orleans), who wrote a satire which he aptly titled "My Lord; Where do I keep your Bribe?" (See at - https://www.nan.ng/feature/my-lord-where-do-i-keep-your-bribe-2/).

The foregoing proves that corruption is a stronger institution than all our national institutions rolled into one; it is a stronger tie than our so-called cultures and traditions; it is stronger than even our religious, marriage and filial ties! In short, in Nigeria, corruption is the tie that binds!

To return to the courts, what started as 'charge and bail' bribes by magistrates in their courts had quickly grown into a monster. Back in the day, young 'green wigs', who lacked scruples resisted the harsh economic environment by simply keeping vigil in the vicinity of magistrate courts, waiting for that ominous looking dark truck we know as 'black Maria' in Nigeria. There was always an adrenalin-aided dash to its tail as soon as it makes its entrance into the magistrate courts premises; after which its tail gate opens to discharge half clad, gaunt-looking and severely malnourished citizens of Nigeria, who had come to court, amongst others, to take their pleas on the charges brought against them by the police. The predatory lawyer's job is simply to ask for bail on behalf of the accused, whom he had met five minutes earlier, and whom he might never meet again thereafter.

The job is made the easier because the application is made orally, since the magistrate court is not a court of record in Nigeria. Bail is quickly granted and the relatives of the accused pay the lawyer enough to accommodate the magistrate, his staff, and most times, the prosecuting police officer; thereafter, everyone disperses happy and content. This was the reason (then, and I hope now as well) most decent lawyers avoided the magistrate courts like a plague; but not for long. Because those magistrates soon get promoted or elevated to the higher Bench as judges (from 'your worship' to 'your lordship'). Of course, their new names change nothing of their old afflictions; the cancer is in the cells, not in the office or its furniture. Initially, they blushed and were uncomfortable, and tried to hide under technicalities. Subsequently, however, they learnt from their sister institutions (the Police, Customs and Immigrations, etc), how not to blush. How? They got and watched movies on the N50.00 toll collections on our roads by the Nigeria Police, for instance. They swallowed and digested everything. And so through the same facility or resource or factor of production (pray, where does corruption fall amongst these three?); they climbed until they now have taken over in the highest Bench, the Supreme Court.

The shame of it all is that almost the entirety of Nigeria and Nigerians are in this business. Probably less than five per cent of Nigerians living in Nigeria have a mind-set that is corruption free! It is embarrassing and disgraceful that the Chief Justice of Nigeria was found to have refused or neglected (he screams that he forgot), to declare his assets when he should have; and after he was confronted with evidence of those assets, including foreign currency running into millions; he not only refused to resign, but he actually went to court to stop his trial before the particular forum established by law for such trials. A forum he had himself previously approved in one of his judgments! Predictably, a host of Nigerians (not a few), were as blush-less as Justice Onnoghen in the matter.

An interesting aspect and example of how dishonourable our judiciary have become is what is happening in Rivers State; which it appears have led to the rumbles that has all but swallowed Justice Onnoghen in its wake. It appears Buhari and his men have decided to fight dirty, as someone stated, against a PDP that know no scruples or morals. The primary elections of the Rivers State branch of the APC became steeped in controversies, for which they sought the intervention of the courts. The issue is not the veracity or otherwise of the claim that the Rivers State governor, Mr Wike had planted his moles in the APC to destabilize his most formidable rivals. Neither is it about how completely inept and incompetent our politicians are in their seeming inability to organize an intra-party election. Rather, the thing of interest is that Nigerian courts have declared that the APC have no candidates for the entire inter party elections in Rivers State! In other words, the party has no governorship, senatorial, house of assembly or federal house candidates, to represent the party in the elections, and the courts are actively allowing and condoning the unconventional methods adopted by lawyers who are representing the interests that are engineering this shocking anomaly.

Except the previous decisions on the matter are overruled in a Court of Appeal interlocutory ruling that should happen today; that is the position that obtains going into the election month proper. That right there is Nigeria's version of democracy. A government of vandals and criminals; supported by thugs and the judiciary, for the people. By the way, most of the thugs are lawyers, and that is my constituency regrettably; but that is how it is, unfortunately. The NBA, the umbrella body for lawyers has lost so much respect that its call for a two-day boycott of courts in Nigeria to underscore its consternation at the suspension of Chief Justice Onnoghen, was hardly obeyed. The Rivers State branch of the NBA then resorted to bullying and intimidating lawyers, who had come to court to represent parties involved in the APC primary election case. The news was that they actually invaded the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, to enforce the boycott. Enough reason to appreciate that the courts have lost all in prestige and honour in the eyes of all, if the so called officers of its temple treats it in this manner. The things that happen around here makes me wonder how even the sun still manages to rise over and above Nigeria.

The problem of Nigeria is corruption, not Buhari or any single man for that matter. Buhari tells us he came to fight corruption, I agree, others do not because they say corruption is all around him. But I say the reason is probably because there are no honest Nigerians or the honest Nigerians are shut out of government by the corrupt majority; I choose the latter possibility. At any rate, it seems to me a good option to let Buhari deal with his corrupt opponents first; and after him let another man deal with his lieutenants, and let that continue until we rid ourselves of this virus. Too easy for Nigeria; it will not happen.

I would like to state that sometimes discussions of this nature become individualized, for instance, when a particular personae becomes a symbol of what is wrong with Nigeria, especially, when such persons play the hypocrite. For example, I find myself always unable to agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo on virtually all fronts; his prevarications and self-conceited positions make matters a lot more confusing. Thus, his recent volte-face on Atiku's presidential ambition is hardly a surprise. Is the Owu Chief suggesting there is no better candidate than Atiku to unseat Buhari; assuming his endorsement carries the weight his mannerisms appear to suggest?

On the whole, the only superior argument that I see and accept is that Nigeria's structure needs an urgent and total overhaul. This has been the call of many, including lately, that of the octogenarian legal powerhouse and educationist, Aare Afe Babalola (Nigerian Guardian, Jan. 1, 2019). Leaders in this country do not take this view seriously, including the current leadership. I doubt that even another PDP leadership would fare any better. The present structure works wonderfully well to support corruption, which has become our culture and tradition. Buhari was, and is the best man for the job only because of this; and this is our fault, not his. Votes for Buhari never were for eloquence or Harvard or Oxford scholarship and accent, but for integrity. And he remains one of the few honest men that our national contradictions would allow to venture this close.