According to an ancient Malayalam proverb “Eliye pedichu illam chudaruthu” meaning “Don’t burn your house to smoke out a rat”. As the nation burns there is a need to dispassionately reevaluate the propriety of the JUSUN shutdown. The victory JUSUN seeks is under threat by greater considerations. A victory at all cost now, may mean a loss for the Country.
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that is not worth winning because so much is lost to achieve it. It is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. The phrase is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus whose story serves as a lesson to everyone throughout history.
Pyrrhus was a Greek King who ruled about two hundred years before the birth of Christ. He was a great General and tactician loved by his people and feared by his opponents. Pyrrhus lived life to the fullest. He was even married 5 times. He was a charismatic and brilliant leader who enjoyed the company of intellectuals. Among other noble qualities, King Pyrrhus inspired and encouraged his men on the battlefield, he would often fight with them in the thickest of the action.
King Pyrrhus is regarded as one of the greatest commanders the world has ever seen. The historian Plutarch wrote that Pyrrhus came second only to Alexander the Great. It is therefore ironic that Pyrrhus is remembered today more as a symbol of failure than for all his military successes which included regaining the throne of Epirus after he was deposed, forging alliances with powerful rulers like Ptolemy 1 (later Pharoah of Egypt), creating an empire greater than his forbears could have dreamt of. He even became the King of Macedonia.
Pyrrhus’ two most significant victories against the Romans: one at Heraclea, where he was significantly outnumbered, and another at Ausculum were feats of Pyrrhus’ superior military ability. These victories however came at a very steep price because Pyrrhus lost most of his most loyal and skilled fighters. In the end, the victory was as costly as a defeat. In response to congratulations for his victory over the Romans after the battle at Ausculum, Pyrrhus remarked
“Ne ego si iterum eodem modo vicero, sine ullo milite Epirum revertar.” Rendered by Plutarch as
“If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined”
When Pyrrhus returned from Sicily, the Romans had regrouped and he found himself facing a superior Roman army under Manius Curius Dentatus.
In 272 BC, a few years later, King Pyrrhus was unceremoniously killed in a street fight with a soldier. He was hit on the head by a roof tile thrown by the soldier’s mother.
As we proceed into the 4th week of the JUSUN shutdown in support of financial autonomy or autotomy, all indices show that this protracted shutdown of the halls of justice may yield a Jusunic victory. This will be the case if the Courts remain shut down.
In this battle for autonomy, JUSUN has violated a cardinal rule of engagement; that the weak and the vulnerable must be protected at all cost. In other words, as the faceoff with the Executive draws on with no real end in sight, the helpless masses and everyday people are the true casualties. What use is a judiciary devoid of public confidence?
Now is the time for JUSUN to return to the drawing board and re-strategize because the industrial action is a win-win for judicial staff and the Executive- the Judiciary staff get a paid vacation while the Executive gets a blank check to act without the interference of the judiciary. Without the Judiciary, Governors have become Executive Administrators. JUSUN should learn from Pyrrhus, the sanctity of your population is equally and even more important than the battle at the battlefront.
Many argue that JUSUN as an association is only fighting for the interests of its members which merely coincides with the issue of judicial finance. An examination of their antecedents should bear this out. What has JUSUN done to address the problem of corruption in the judiciary? What has JUSUN done to address unethical conduct of its members? Our brethren in JUSUN should tell us, financial autonomy will make the court staff and bailiffs resume at 8 am? Or whether the Judiciary will return to its old ways of delay and deferment of justice. After this paid vacation, will the Bench still proceed on its usual vacation? Will the judiciary finally protect the interests of the common man or will the courts continue to grant long detention orders against Nigerians on the strength of ex-parte applications by the Police, EFCC, ICPC, DSS and other ‘acronymus’ agencies?
Another voiceless casualty of the JUSUN shutdown is public confidence in the judiciary. Never in the history of this country has the public confidence and trust in the judiciary been at an all-time low. Isn’t it a sign of the failure of the judiciary that Nigerians have been able to survive for almost a month without the judiciary? How are disputes being resolved?
In the book of Luke 14: 28-31, Jesus captured the lessons from Pyrrhus perfectly when He asked
“Which of you, wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost to see if he has the resources to complete it? Otherwise, if he lays the foundation and is unable to finish the work, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This man could not finish what he started to build. Or what king on his way to war with another king will not first sit down and consider whether he can engage with ten thousand men the one coming against him with twenty thousand?”
The principle espoused above was as true 2000 years ago as it is today. As Lawyers, we communicate through the hierarchy of principles because we are creatures of precedent.
My simple advice to JUSUN and those of us egging them on is: Remember King Pyrrhus of Epirus.