WITH their awesome powers that could be aided by charisma and circumspection, judges could compare only with tin gods, especially within the premises of their courts where they ineffably hold sway.

In moments of provocation, their ire could literally spell death knell for whosoever is doomed to be at its receiving end. Usually therefore, they are revered even more by lawyers who are their professional colleagues than even the “unlearned” other intruders into their space.

However, the courts where they hold sway are public places not private residences as a high court judge in Otta, Ogun State would have the rest of the world believe. The courts are public buildings that are maintained by the taxpayers, but a high court judge in the Otta judicial division of Ogun State, who recently detained seven journalists for three hours, did not think so.

In a moment of unguarded indignation, his Lordship ordered them to be detained for sourcing for news in his court. “I put you under arrest,” he bawled at the seven journalists. “You are under arrest. You will discover that this compound is fenced round. Is that not so? It is not on the major road that you can just come in… I am a judge; I have an unlimited jurisdiction in the state. I can even say somebody should be arrested without question.” His lordship railed without any pause at the journalists who had come to report on the proceedings in a case of an alleged murder.

His lordship’s grouse was that the journalists needed to obtain a written permission before they could embark on their legitimate duties in the courts. Wisely, the journalists complied with the judge’s orders and they were kept somewhere in the administrative section of the court, not knowing what rules of the court they had disobeyed as there were other members of the public in the court who were neither harassed nor detained.

The harried reporters should rightly be shocked since many of them, not being strangers to the courts, from where they had previously filed their reports on many other cases, had never for once been reprimanded for doing their duties. Not for once were they required to obtain a letter of permission from anybody in order to do their jobs, so the requirement which His lordship referred to was new to them but discretion, being the better part of valour, restrained them from throwing tantrums in any form of protest.

Strangely, however, a snake, mankind’s eternal foe and the lowliest of all creeping creatures, saved the day. Creeping out of the many crevices in the building, it attacked and bit one of the court’s employees and changed the people’s focus from the harassed journalists to the new serpentine victim who indubitably then needed attention. Diverted from them, the journalists saw an escape route in the melee that ensued.

But for that serpentine intervention, it may have been difficult to guess what the fate of the detained reporters would have been, having been held captive by the whim of an indiscrete and angry judge for an unknown offence and it is befuddling that a snake it was that liberated them after they had been summarily sentenced on the cusp of a totally inexplicable human rage.

The incident, however, reminds us of the exhilarating observation made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria at the swearing in ceremony of one new Appeal Court Judge that the parameters for appointing judges were beginning to reflect the need for merit and integrity in making such appointments as hitherto such appointments had been made on the basis of social and filial connections, thus giving undue privileges and consideration to those who ordinarily should be considered unfit for such appointments.

The judiciary in Nigeria desperately needs to return to the days when its judges were circumspect and sedate in order to bestow the necessary respect and dignity on them. The presence of excitable characters in the judiciary is cause for consternation, especially when the laws give them awesome powers to be regarded as tin gods such that they can openly boast about it without any fear of repercussion.

There is no knowing the limits of their recklessness and the implications and it will be absurd to depend on the scary intervention of creeping creatures for any form of rescue.

Dr. Ayodele Oni has released new books – “Understanding Petroleum (Oil & Gas) Transactions and the Nigerian Market” and “the Nigerian Electricity Market: Understanding the Transactional Legal and Policy Issues”. It is available in case (hard) cover and limp (soft) cover. For more information, or to book your copies, contact: +2348052362430 ( WhatsApp only); Oni@bloomfield-law.com

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