This intervention is not about Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi or their political parties. It was written on July 13, 2023. It is represented here because it appears more relevant now after the judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) on September 6, 2023. It is about the general criticisms of judges.
Although they are human, therefore fallible, but it is interesting that when politicians win cases they commend them but when they lose, they condemn them. It is like a student who will tell you that the lecturer gave him “D” but when he gets “B”, he will tell you that he scored “B”, although he was expecting “A”. A gaisheka namijin duniya!
The problems of election in Nigeria are largely created by the systems we operate which conferred enormous power on electoral commissions (National and State), and some laws especially the requirements of proving election irregularities and how they SUBSTANTIALLY affected the results. It is even a sign of system failure when judiciary determines presidential election in Nigeria. It is not the case in many advanced democracies.
Be that as it may, some people may have gone home smiling although they lost the case. It is said that, if you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. The reward can be the same.
Happy reading, if you are not one of those who excel in mixing law with emotions and morality.
I am neither a learned lawyer nor a student of law but because law, lawyers and judges are about society we should be interested in what they do even when we are “bloody civilians” of law. Oliver Wendell Holmes argued that:
“the law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. Its history is the history of the moral development of the race. The practice of it in spite of popular jest, tends to make good citizens and good men”
In view of the above, there appears to be wisdom in the statement of Mr George Alger that, “it would be a hardy and very foolish man who would assert that criticism of the court should not be indulged in by laymen”.
The question is: why should the executive and parliament be subjected to criticism in a presidential system of government but the third arm, judiciary, is not. The answer is obvious: the integrity of the judiciary and judges must be protected. But are the other arms (executive and parliament) less important that they can be subjected to “critical criticism”? Will the judiciary not die internally if it is not subjected to criticism and radical reforms?
The above questions are important because as Winston Churchill said, “criticism may not be agreeable but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things”.
I developed interest in the judiciary in the early 80’s. Any time I was on holiday as a university student I spent my time attending magistrate court sessions in my native Dutsin- ma, Katsina state. The magistrate earned our respect and admiration for his incorruptibility. We were witnesses to the inconveniences and challenges he faced with his old car. He is, Justice Ibrahim Musa Saulawa, JSC, a Supreme Court judge now. But reaching the apogee of his career is one of his rewards for the sacrifices.
Apart from the serious court sessions we also enjoyed some free laughter without buying Readers Digest. Let me share two interesting incidents with you. An old man appeared before the magistrate for bailing somebody who absconded. The judge ruled that the man was to be detained until he produced the culprit. When the interpreter told him in Hausa, he sharply replied: “Ka gaya
mashi ba ta yiwuwa. Gobe sallah kuma nine limamin… (name of the village withheld)”. Translated to English, he said, “Tell him that it is not possible. Tomorrow is sallah day and I am the Imam of… (name of the village withheld)”.
There was also a day when the judge directed an accused to produce his witnesses. Just after the directive, somebody walked into the courtroom and the accused pointed at him saying: “here is one of them”. The man accepted to testify, and after that the translator said to him in Hausa: “Alkali ya ce a gaya maka kana iya zuwa ka zauna” (the judge said you can go and sit down). Still looking surprised how he was “roped in”, he replied, “In zanna ko dai in tafi gida. Daga shigowa kun haddasa mani matsala cewa in bada sheda” (should I sit down or go home. Just as I was walking in, you created problem for me by
asking me to testify). And he quickly walked out.
My attendance of the court sessions made me to appreciate credible judges, therefore, feel bad about blanket rubbishing of judges without taking into consideration the incorruptible ones. However, the six series of Mike Ozokome (SAN) from March 19, 2023 to April 23, 2023 published on the back page of the New Telegraph raised my hope that the sacrifices of the incorruptible judges will not be in vain. I read all the series other than number 3 which I could not trace in the online edition of the paper.
Trust Ozokome for comprehensive presentation. The title of the series is: “Critiquing Judges, Judgements: The Dividing line”. He really educated me. In fact, all the quotations I used here are from his presentation. He summarized his position as follows:
“Let me state right from the onset and within the confines of this abstract, my humble position in this rather lengthy dissertation. I believe judicial opinions and judgements can be scrutinized, criticised, and critique after delivery thereof. This is scholarship which open up new jurisprudential vistas. Critiquing helps deepen and widen the democratic space because court decisions affect the entire society. I do not however subscribe to piercing the veil of the judgements themselves to attack the judges, who delivered the said judgements by questioning their motives, integrity, intellect, assumed political or other filial leanings, or backgrounds for such judicial decisions”.
Much as no responsible citizen will justify corruption but the fact is that corruption in the judiciary is a reflection of the general rot in Nigeria. If professionals are to be stoned for corruption, who will cast the first stone. Bankers? Journalists? Politicians? Soldiers? Industrialists? Religious leaders? Civil servants? Police? or, Market women who have excelled in bribing tax officials?
Enough of the hypocrisy. Corruption is corruption and Nigerians are beneficiaries of corruption in the judiciary. Most of them complain only when it goes against their way. But the basic question Nigerians should ask is: Who will guard the guard? A saint, of course.
I agree with Ozokome and do hope that the concerned institutions will act on his incisive and practical arguments. Without the many incorruptible judges in Nigeria the country will
be filled with people who whenever they pass, the devil will bow and say: “morning Sir”.