In the wake of definitely the most unprecedented arraignment in the history of Nigeria; the planned arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the unpardonable is the role so called lawyers have played in dragging the judiciary and the entire justice system to this unpopular denigration. Lawyers must begin to practice an unflinching duty towards constitutionally protecting the very institution through which they thrive.
The Courts in NGANJIWA V FRN (2017) already settled the law on trying a sitting judicial officer. The Court of Appeal made it clear that any misconduct attached to the office and person of a judicial officer must first be reported to and handled by the National Judicial Council. This decision agrees with S. 153 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which establishes the National Judicial Council and states its powers in Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution to include recommending to the President “the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.”
At the risk of being judged by some sect resolute in seeing everything including the nobility of the profession through which they have flourished crumble, I strongly suggest that the NBA and the Body of Benchers rise up to meet roar for roar. First, it was judges’ quarters that were invaded in a Gestapo manner, then the NBA President (though I retain earlier expressed opinions on that). As though the executive arm was doing a warm-up for its real agenda; distressing the judicial arm with executive powers in preparation for the election year, it then supervised the most unlikely, against the CJN himself less than 35 days before the presidential and National Assembly elections. Even the likes of Mugabe and Pinochet will affirm foul play in this. Added to these are several court orders being flouted, extra-judicial actions and killings. Yet we practice a democracy, don’t we? I believe those lawyers at the NBA 2018 Conference who clapped when the President vaunted national security against rule of law now see their shame.
But while we speak against outsiders who understand next to nothing on the reverence due to the head of the hallowed temple of justice, the NBA and BOB must act against so called lawyers who have induced and aided these actions. These basically include the trio of Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, Abubakar Malami and Prof. Itsay Sagay who occupy vantage positions that definitely require consultations before these stunts can be pulled. More disturbing is that these persons carry the highest toga due to a member of the noble profession in preserving and ensuring the rule of law in the country. But their continual actions have not in any way urged this administration in that path, rather they seem to encourage it in the contrary direction. Not one of them, including the VP can rightly call the President into knowledge on the position of the law. Their actions or inaction, in my humble view are incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner. I happened to have been at Wuse II when the Shiite group protested the continual illegal detention of their leader, El-Zakzaky. To my surprise, I saw for myself the killing of protesters by armed policemen. We had to scuttle into a supermarket to avoid gun fires and treat gas released by a very uncompassionate security force. Then I wondered, what kind of legal advice is the AGF giving the President and security agencies in the nation? What is the Prof of law cum SAN sitting as Vice President doing as a minister in the temple of justice about these onslaughts against the rule of law in the nation?
The questions I ask are these: What is the security for democracy if the judiciary is successfully suppressed in fear of the executive arm? Who will guarantee the common man’s hope in this commonwealth if the judicial arm is weakened against unresisted executive persecution? Who stands to gain the most at this time in the face of a judicial unrest? Yet, these acclaimed legal idols have thought it wise to remain idle and riddle themselves with political privileges that are at best transient. When they are done, WE WILL NOT WELCOME THEM BACK!
My suggestion to the NBA and BOB is this: if this trio can be courageous enough to recommend and watch to their ignoble pleasure the prosecution against due process of the head of the institution that has made them, the NBA and the Body of Benchers must equally be courageous to recommend their suspension or outright debarment. The BOB and NBA must meet roar for roar; they can’t afford to cringe at this time.
The trend of unprecedented assaults on the legal profession and its beacons, against due process of law should not just be curbed but stopped. And the appropriate body to initiate and navigate this is the Nigerian Bar Association. Unfortunately, the NBA seems to have gone into a deep slumber ever since Okpoko’s tenure in 1998; a slumber from which it must now awake. Like I said earlier, lawyers must begin to practice an unflinching duty towards constitutionally protecting the very institution through which they thrive.
A question that still resounds in my mind though is ‘how and why has the NBA become more of a jellyfish in a democratic era measured against its courageous stance in the face of real military scares?’.