By Chukwuma Chinwo
October 8, 2016
Nigeria witnessed an unprecedented threat not only to the administration of justice, but to justice itself on the October 8, 2016 when armed men of the Department of State Security in the dead of the night, stormed the official homes of some Judges of this Country including two Justices of the Supreme Court, Justices Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro. The only other times security or military officers engage or have engaged in that kind of operation in Nigeria is during coup d’états. And that is what the judiciary suffered that day.
October 8, 2016: Remembrance Day for Nigerian Judiciary
The incident of October 8, 2016 (October 8 should be to Nigerian Judiciary what 9/11 is to the United States and May 30 is to Biafra), and the silence that has followed among lawyers in Nigeria, especially the Nigerian Bar Association, which claims to be a body that stands for the rule of law, demonstrates most poignantly, the dictum of the Ghana Bar Association President at the 2004 Annual Bar Conference of NBA at the International Conference Centre in Abuja. In his goodwill message at that conference, he had said that the day Nigerian lawyers change, Nigeria would change. That terrible night exposed Nigeria as a nation in serious darkness, which is determined to strike out the remaining flickers of light wherever they may be found. But for Governor Nyesom Wike, who dared the lion in the night when the marauders struck in the ‘Port Harcourt sector’, that night demonstrated that the Nigerian Government in its quixotic fight against corruption, has no regard for the safety and welfare of its officers or sanctity of its institutions, and has no moral scruples in its endeavour.
October 8, 2016: Questions
The night raised several questions, many of which are yet to be answered. They include –
•Where is the Body of Benchers of the legal profession in protecting the Bench and regulating the Bar, including the Attorney-General of the Federation and some lawyers, like Professor Sagay, SAN, who seem bent on destroying the legal profession in their claim to and exuberance of power?
• Of what value is the National Judicial Council, when it cannot stand up to protect judicial officers against a rampaging executive and its agencies?
• Is the Nigerian Bar Association still of any value to itself, its members and to Nigerians?
• Does the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria realise that it has a high calling for Nigerians, or does it just see itself as a club of lawyers who have arrived, and must observe ‘table manners’?
• Have all Nigerians become prisoners of hope in chains?
• Are judges in Nigeria such voiceless, nerveless and spineless nobles who hear nothing, see nothing and say nothing, even when their ranks are being decimated?
• Is the Chief Justice of Nigeria aware of his responsibility to defend not only the administration of justice, but also the administrators of justice, especially his brother Justices of the Supreme Court?
• Where are those who claim to be human rights lawyers in Nigeria, when the judiciary and judges are being harassed and intimidated by arbitrary behaviour of the executive?
It is a real shame, in this writer’s humble view, that the Judiciary in Nigeria has been harassed the way it has been by this Federal Government and lawyers, Judges and all others have conveniently looked elsewhere and become mute, whether out of malice or act of God, one knows not. Yet this is a country where the legitimate investigation of a traditional ruler warranted the intervention of the Acting President, leader of the ruling party and others and warranted the State Governor, who of course engineered it, to publicly write to the House of Assembly begging them to drop the investigation!
Justice Inyang Okoro
One is not asking for such dispensation for the learned judges, who may not be ‘politically valuable’ to the apostles of change. But it is distressing that a judge like Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, would be embarrassed and victimised by the Federal Government and left in limbo, only because some poster boy(s) of this administration is (are) involved and everyone keeps silent. How long shall this nation continue on the path of killing its best prospects, while we stand aside and look or even go to sleep?
Now, one does not know of any law or judicial order why the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Onnoghen, should let Justice Okoro in particular, continue to be prevented from performing his judicial function, more than eight months after the misadventure of October 8. No charge has been brought against him, and there is no indictment anywhere. The Attorney- General we have today has shown that the other sobriquet to his official title may be a surplusage, if not the opposite. Where is justice in all this? Even the Judges who are charged, have exposed the Attorney-General and his men for what they are – incompetent and misguided in the fight against corruption. They have, rather than help the President, embarrassed him in ways never before in Nigeria. Rather than admit their utter failure and shame, what Nigerians and the whole world are now hearing is, ‘corruption backlash’ or such bunkum and hogwash. And all this is happening when what we hear every day, is that the Presidency is led by men of integrity, who should know the difference between right and wrong!
For a change in this era of change, should the Acting President of Nigeria, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a very distinguished Professor of Law, on behalf of Nigeria not publicly apologise to Honourable Justice John Inyang Okoro? This is a man who proved his incorruptibility in the Magistrate Court, High Court and in the Court of Appeal; a man of whose like and testimony President Buhari should lift as a banner, if this Government means to exalt righteousness and integrity in public service in Nigeria. Injustice to one is injustice to all. The greatest threats to justice are not the perpetrators but those who, thinking that they are saving themselves, do nothing to aid the cause of justice.
With the treatment being meted out to Justice Okoro, there is no better advertisement that under this dispensation, “Blessed are those who are corrupt, connected and clever enough’. Unfortunately Justice Okoro would rather suffer, than be part of such ‘blessed gang’. “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, who had the privilege of succeeding that rare man of courage, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, should in the name of all that is right, recall His Lordship, Justice John Inyang Okoro to his service of Nigeria unless he has joy in the unjust suffering of an innocent man.
Chukwuma A.J. Chinwo, Legal Practitioner and Law Teacher, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt
Editor’s Note: Honourable Justice Okoro was one of the Judges recalled by the NJC
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria