A week after the September 11, 2001 attack, President Bush told a joint session of the Congress: ‘’whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done’’.
At this juncture, Nigerian judges must come to terms with, and tackle three sets of enemies: the few judges in their midst, driven by greed and avarice and know no honour politicians, who go about painting judges in grotesque pictures just to cover up their failures, and lastly, lawyers, who collected monies from litigants and pocketed same, but return to explain to his client that other parties bided higher, and at any given opportunity, they lend voices to judicial corruption discourse.
If a judge can file a petition against a sitting governor in Osun State, demanding his impeachment, there is nothing stopping a judge from calling on judicial authorities for the discipline of a fellow judge he/she considered desecrating the temple of justice.
The leadership of the Judiciary cannot afford too, to keep such elements in the system.
To effectively tame the remaining two sets of enemies perhaps, require some illustrations.
In 1841, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, entitled Compensation, was published suggesting “every man in his lifetime needs to thank his faults” and “acquire habits of self-help” as “our strength grows out of our weakness.”
In this context, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ’’No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
The right of self-defence is the right for persons to use reasonable force or defensive force, for the purpose of defending one’s own life or the lives of others, including, in certain circumstances, the use of deadly force.
Take for instance, in August 2014, Ram Kumar Singh, a practising advocate since 1983, sent a notice to the Supreme Court as well as the Chief Justice of India, alleging that the Chief Judge of the Allahabad High Court was “pro-government” and “unfit to administer in his present capacity”.
He also accused the Chief Justice of India of helping the Chief Judge and the Supreme Court, saying the apex body was “captured by corrupt gang of people”.
The court said the allegations were “contemptuous, wild and reckless”. It barred Singh from entering both the District Court and the Allahabad High Court (including Lucknow Bench) for six months.
Following the order, advocate Singh, who was present in the court and had argued his case in person, was taken into judicial custody.
Eventually, the court’s order read: “We are of the view that any lenient or sympathetic approach, if adopted by the court, would give a wrong message to all concerned and may cause serious damage to the authority of the court.
“The allegations are apparently scandalous and lower down the authority of the court. We, therefore, hold the contemnor guilty of criminal contempt.”
Holding the lawyer guilty of “maligning the reputation” and “lowering the authority of the court” through his comments, the Allahabad High Court sentenced him to four-month imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 1,500.
On November 08, 2003, a combative criminal defence lawyer who represented some of the most notorious defendants in Northern California (USA) went to jail to serve a 20-day sentence for “extremely offensive” and “utterly unprofessional” conduct during a trial four years ago. She also was fined $4,300 for contempt.
Maureen Kallins, 54, who began practising law in 1976, left a packed courtroom with her hands cuffed behind her back after a judge refused to modify her sentence for contempt of court.
Kallins received five contempt sanctions from the judge during the 1999 trial, in which she represented an accused rapist who was subsequently convicted. Her appeals were recently exhausted.
Kallins had been a well-known legal figure in Northern California, particularly for her aggressive style in the courtroom and her tendency to enrage judges and prosecutors.
Appellate courts chastised her for “outrageous” conduct and for being so “out of control” in one trial that it became “the trial from hell.”
The 2011 Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal led by Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs (now JSC) on 5 October, 2011 summoned the National Publicity Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mr. Rotimi Fasakin for allegedly calling the five justices of the tribunal “a cash and carry panel”.
The said controversial press statement led to the tribunal summoning Nigerian Tribune’s Editor, Mr Edward Dickson and reporter, Christian Okeke, who were later discharged and acquitted after giving evidence that it was issued by Fasakin. In what could have served as a lesson for our politicians of today, the panel also allowed Fasakin to walk out of the court a free man.
Ever since then, attacks on judges have not just increased, but added some new dimensions.
A High Court in Ahoada East Local Government Area of Rivers State was bombed on January 6, 2015. Justice Charles Wali was to hear a suit instituted by the then Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Otelemaba Amachree, and others seeking an injunction to retrain a member, Evans Bipi, from parading himself as the Speaker of the Assembly, when the incident occurred.
On 22 May, 2015, angry youths took to the streets in some part of Kano State, protesting what they call an abuse on the Prophet Muhammad by some members of Tijjaniya Movement during a lecture in Kano. The accused person and a female who organised the lecture were to be arraigned before the Kurna Sharia Court the same day it was set ablaze.
A new dimension to delaying criminal cases was witnessed in Ekiti State prior to the swearing in of the state Governor, Ayo Fayose.
Fayose was under trial for allegations of financial misappropriation during his first term as governor between 2003 and 2006 when he was removed from office through an impeachment.
Prior to the swearing-in, a group, E-11, and others challenged Fayose’s eligibility to contest the election. In a determined bid to stop the case from being heard, judges, lawyers, court officials, and journalists were, on September 22nd and 25th, 2014, beaten or assaulted. Judges’ suits and court records were also torn to shreds, while windows and furniture of the courts were smashed.
Curiously, Ekiti State Chief Judge stepped out to administer oath of office and allegiance to Fayose shortly after the incident.
A big lesson could have been served on politicians if the Chief Judge refused to administer the oaths to Fayose.
A horrible precedent had been set. All the corrupt governors or ‘’very important persons’’ need to do is to cause the disruption of a criminal trial by sending thugs to beat up judges and force a shut-down of the “helpless” Judiciary.
Also in Bayelsa State, gang of thugs repeated the Ekiti incident when, on March 30, 2015, they attacked a Federal High Court in Yenogoa in order to prevent the court, which was in session, from delivering a judgment on Senator Heineken Lokpobiri’s case against the governor’s preferred senatorial candidate, Foster Ogola, over the validity of the latter’s candidacy for Bayelsa West senatorial district.
The fact remains that those who invaded the court acted criminally, but got away with it as well as with benefits, which makes the crime attractive to these personalities
Coming back home, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Austine Alegeh (SAN) during the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2015-2016 legal year and the swearing-in of newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria, accused some judges of rendering judgments for a fee.
Alegeh said: “It is indeed very worrisome that certain judicial officers still engage in rendering judgments for a fee. Instances abound where judicial officers have resorted to turning the law on its head and making pronouncements which are at variance with the provisions of the law.
“A few others have formed the bad habit of ignoring judicial precedents even when such authorities are brought to their attention by counsel’’
Even in some developed countries, it would not have been out of place for a court of competent jurisdiction to summon the NBA president the following day to name those he found to have engaged in ‘’rendering judgments for a fee’’.
The Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, went on air on October 19, 2015 to accuse the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa of undue interference in the activities of various election petition tribunals and other judicial cases and working to sway decisions in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Again, Metuh did not cite one example of cases or judges affected, except just to bring the judge or the judiciary into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt.
In view of the harm being done to the Judiciary through these acts, judges can no longer afford to continue to look the other way; they must draw lines and go to equity by taking recourse to self-defence or self-help. But it is trite that he who must go to equity must go with clean hands. The Judiciary therefore, must first get rid of the ‘’few’’ indulging in denting the images of the Judiciary.
Ahuraka is the Media Aide to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed.