The judiciary is sacred. It is to democracy what the vestry is to the holy temple. It is the sanctuary of democracy, the fulcrum of life of any civilized society.
I think that somebody, and this is not sarcastic, must volunteer to teach this freshman course to the leaders of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) party in Abia State. We may have been committing a very fatal error to presume that they know or that they should have known. Ignorance could be a valid claim to innocence in these matters. We forget that, as Amos Alcott noted, to be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant.
Every civilized society and every civilized person or group respect the sanctity of the judiciary. The judiciary as one of the three arms of government is so crucial and critical to the social contract that its independence cannot be negotiated. The ability to interpret the law and dispense justice accordingly remains the responsibility of the judiciary and that is why it is the last bastion of hope of the common man. The judiciary exists not only to check the excesses of the executive arm and the legislature but to check and control the society. It exists to control and direct the activities of man and, in that spirit, we avoid acting in contempt of the court.
It is from this premise that every well-meaning Nigerian must decry the campaign of calumny mounted by APGA against the chairman and members of the Abia State Election Petition Tribunal. Since the judgment of the tribunal in the petitions of the National and House of Assembly elections and the verdict of the Owerri Appeal Court where APGA went to seek for extension of time to present more witnesses, the party literarily went gaga against the honourable jurists of the Abia tribunal. In a well-orchestrated campaign, both in the print, electronics and on other channels, the party has accused the jurists of having been bribed and compromised to divert justice in favour of the PDP.
The height of this campaign of character assassination was the call by APGA for the jailing of the judges of the Abia Election Tribunal. It has been a sheer irony for a party which had earlier expressed an unflinching faith in the judiciary as a citadel of justice to turn around and launch such disparaging campaign not just against the jurists but against the institution of the judiciary, simply because their canvassed wheel of justice (which they have been waiting for) doesn’t seem to be swinging in their favour.
Let’s sample the aspersions of Abia APGA against the tribunal. In a full page advertorial published on page 41 of The Nation of Friday, October 16, and personally signed by Reverend Ehiemere as the chairman of APGA, he declared as follows: “Huge sums of money in form of gratification have exchanged hands between the PDP leadership in the state and cronies of the justices. Consequently, some of the judges have been responding in line with the dictate of the lucre as evidenced in the current dismissing of all petitions filed by our party against the PDP candidates. The bribe funds, we understood, were delivered to the judges outside the country and through proxies in order to leave no traces”.
In another full-page advertorial titled: Abia Election Petition Tribunals; The Height of Travesty of Justice, published on page 47 of The Nation of the same date, the party wrote: “There should be no space for corrupt judges in the present Nigeria. It is not enough to just retire them, they must be tried and if found guilty, jailed or even shot to death as the people of Ghana are asking their president to do”.
On Sunday, October 18, in another full-page advertorial published on page 10 of The Nation APGA fired again: “In the last few weeks, suspicious but serious moves involving the officials of the Abia State Government have been made across the borders of Nigeria to seek a possible and highly secretive way of compromising the judges either in cash or through the purchase of very expensive property.”
The party continued again on Wednesday October 21, on page 39 and 40 to denigrate and malign the character and integrity of the tribunal. Their language is uncouth, derogatory and abusive and only projects a picture of a desperate people. Considering that there is still a window for APGA to seek further redress in the Appeal Court, if it thinks that its petition has not be judiciously addressed, one could only conclude that their action in the last couple of days is intentional to ridicule the hallowed institution of the Nigerian judiciary. If the party is convinced that it still has some claim to make, the right action should have been to proceed to the higher court which has the jurisdiction to vacate the judgment of the lower court rather than resort to uncivil and barbaric actions of name-calling and mudslinging.
It is clear that the whole aim in the scenario is to tarnish the coveted image and reputation of the honourable jurists and cast aspersion on the credibility of the Nigerian judiciary. This, precisely, amounts to taking election gangsterism too far. And this does not portray us positively before the civilized global community. The party would also add salt to injury by calling out paid touts and street urchins to attempt to orchestrate an unrest purporting it to be a reaction to the judgment of the tribunal, the aim being to create an atmosphere of pandemonium and thereby portray the state to be in crisis over the rulings that was indisputably fair to all concerned. Politics should not be this dirty and filthy and politicians should play it with some conscience.
There is need for members of the Nigerian judiciary both the bar and the bench to rise up in condemnation of the attack that has been unleashed on members of the Abia tribunal and the denigration that has come to the way of the judiciary, no thanks to the Abia branch of APGA. There is a sense in which this smear campaign has a spiral link to how every other tribunal should or should not be treated. And this statement must be made unequivocally as a lesson to the Abia APGA. The court is a hallowed entity that should not be treated with disdain or held in such contemptuous manner that cast a bad image on our total outlook as a country. Somebody must call the party to order and reverse this flagrant descent to indecency.
The people of Abia respect the rule of law and the impartiality of the judiciary and do believe that the judgments so far delivered by the tribunal are fair to all concerned. Abians see the attack on the tribunal as transcending the borders of decency and sanity. Nigerians owe a duty to uphold the sanctity of the judiciary.