THE judiciary is one sacred institution that is pivotal to societal development. It is the bulwark for the underprivileged against the whims and caprices of the haves. For Plato, one of the greatest Greek philosophers, justice is a virtue for establishing rational order.
In view of the importance of the judicature therefore, actors are expected to be above board and are expected to be men and women whose integrity quotient is very high. A courtroom is not called a temple of justice for the fun of it. It is a place where justice is not only served but seen to have been served. Justice should be given irrespective of whose ox is gored and the rich as well as the poor should be equal in the eye of the law. One of the Latinate expressions in Law that speaks pointedly to justice dispensation as the core essence of the judiciary is fiat justitua ruat caelum which means let justice be done though heavens will fall.
However, Nigeria, like some other countries, is still grappling with justice dispensation. Our judiciary gives off a terrible stench as a result of which efforts have been and are being channeled towards addressing this critical challenge with a view to removing the kink in the hose of justice. The outcome of any law suit instituted in a law court is to get the correct outcome, which is to dispense reward and punishment as the case may be.
A few weeks back, the subject here was the call for further judicial reforms at the 2015 conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). A former president of the NBA, Chief Joseph Dauda made a profound suggestion on how to deal with the scourge of corruption which has unfortunately crept into the judiciary. According to him, we will be waiting for Godot if we are looking to see a modicum of evidence of exchange of money between parties in a suit and a judge. The smoking gun in his estimation is the judgment that is given on any matter. If it is evident that a judge has, having been bribed, turned the law on its head, we should show such judge who delivers such verdict the exit route immediately.
On February 3, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed, empaneled 242 judges said to be carefully chosen from the various courts in the country. They are to adjudicate election petitions filed by candidates in the elections. The CJN’s charge to the judges went thus: “Let me use this opportunity to sound a note of warning to all judicial officers. Do not allow any political party or politician to compromise your integrity or your future. We must never again be used as tools to truncate our nation’s democracy.” By yesterday, October 12, the 180 days stipulated for the determination of election litigations regarding National Assembly elections lapsed and all judgments should have been delivered by now.
Despite the warning not to dismiss applications or petitions on technicalities, some judges did and their decisions were consequently upturned by the superior courts. Allegations of bribery have also been flying about against some of the judges. But in the desert of cash and carry justice system we have found an oasis in one judge who stands out from among the 242. He is the chairman of the tribunal in Ogun State, Justice Tobi Ebiowei. While delivering 12 judgments in the petitions filed by various candidates in the election, he invoked the wrath of God on whoever collected bribe to buy justice. “Anybody who has collected money to influence the judgments may the judgment of God come upon him. The judgment of God be upon anybody including me who has collected money to influence the judgments, I invoke the judgment of God come upon me. Nobody has given me any money. Our conscience is clear. So if you have collected money on behalf of the tribunal, you better return it. God is (the) overall judge, hell for bribe givers and bribe takers.”
Granted, Ebiowei does not need to rain curses upon himself to prove that his beard of integrity has not been shorn. But what he has done speaks volumes of a judge who is confident of having dispensed justice as it ought to be served, especially in our polluted ecology where there is a world of difference between the court of justice and the court of law. In the former, there is justice dispensation even if the heavens will come down crashing. In the latter, the letters and the spirit of the law are interpreted and twisted to suit personal and political purposes even if it calls for turning logic on its head. Ebiowei, like Mahatma Ghandi, believes that there is a higher court that the courts of justice, which is the court of conscience. Justice Ebiowei truly deserves the title of ‘Justice,’ which unfortunately has blanket application to all judges, whether they have a deficit in their integrity accounts or not.
The same testimony as we have for Ebiowei cannot be recorded for some of his colleagues in other tribunals. If the CJN and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa would take kindly to Dauda’s suggestion at the NBA conference, then it should be the case that the judges in any tribunal whose any verdicts are upturned by the Appellate Court should be made to face sanction. The pronouncements of judges have far reaching consequences of lives. Once a guilty verdict is breathed on an innocent person it cannot be remedied. This is why the appropriate authorities should constantly sanction any judge that does not live up to expectation.