Tit Bits from Prof Akin Oyebode: ‘Be You Ever so High, Yet the Law is Above You’

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Tit Bits from Prof Akin Oyebode: 'Be You Ever so High, Yet the Law is Above You'
Prof Oyebode

On the allegations of corruption against some judges in Nigeria, Prof has this to say:

I have spoken on the sting operation previously in my commentaries. You invoked the memories of people like Justices JIC Taylor, Oyemade; judges that are beyond reproach. I would say that some of the allegations against these judges are despicable, highly reprehensible and unacceptable. Only last week my former student who was a chief judge forfeited about 50million naira. He was a fantastic guy. The point one is making is that one of the tenets of law is that “Be you ever so high, yet the law is above you”. That was Lord Denning in the case of Gouriet and Union of Post Office workers & Ors. Nobody is higher than the law including the judges themselves. The law applies both to the judges and to the rest of us. But because they are placed on a higher pedestal, even when you look at the architecture of the court room, the judge’s position is higher than that of rest of us. That was deliberate and that is why they “hand down” judgment. They do not descend into the dispute. They are revered. But when they desecrate that high and lofty position, then of course men and women of good will should cry havoc.

The point one is making is that one of the tenets of law is that “Be you ever so high, yet the law is above you”. That was Lord Denning in the case of Gouriet and Union of Post Office workers & Ors.

I gave a paper to NBA in 1992 before they started throwing chairs in Port Harcourt. The title of the paper was “Is the Judiciary still the last hope of the common man?” and when you read the piece, you would see my position. Our judges no longer function as the last hope of the common man and that is why many people resort to self-help. I think we are at a cross road in terms of dispensation of justice by the judiciary because once we lose confidence in the judiciary and we now know that some judges write two judgments depending on the envelop that is bigger then, it is a problem. There is desecration of values in the country generally. People are no longer shocked by misconduct and as I said earlier, we have to recover our lost values and if judges are cut with their hands in the till, then we must strip them of that venial of immunity. The constitution is clear, they do not have immunity. The category of those who have immunity is clearly stated in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So if judges are found wanting or conduct themselves in an untoward manner then they must face the music.

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If we continue the way we are going and they now descend into the case and you start hearing “have you seen him” it means our judges are compromiseable and when judges are compromisable it makes even the job of lawyers more difficult. Tt means you would lack the ability to attempt to predict what the court would do as in “ Realist Jurisprudence” when you can look at the facts of the case and be able to predict. Of course a case can be decided differently depending on the ideological predilection and attitudinal chemistry of the judge but there is a presumption that judges are going to be fair minded but once you manipulate the judge to do your bidding, then the whole society would crumble. Look at justice Ademola, his grandpa was a Chief Justice of Nigeria, his father was President of the Court of Appeal, it doesn’t get any better in terms of antecedent but look at what has happened, so much money that cannot be accounted for? I have also read some of the SANs arguing that gift is allowed because we are Africans. Come on!

You are the lawyers of the next generation, you must make sure you sustain the system so that the roof does not collapse on all of us because once nothing is held sacred anymore, everything can now be organized and manipulated and you can “see the judge”, no fidelity to due process of the law then it is a disaster. I would insist on fidelity to the rule of law and the rule of law doesn’t suffer those exceptions. The judges swore a judicial oath to do justice to all manner of men without any fear or ill will so at the end of the day, when he hands down his judgment we would all be relieved that justice has been done.

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Justice is in the eye of the beholder but to ensure that justice is done there should be independence of the judiciary and the judiciary should uphold the expectations of the society. In court, you do not want to see the judge as a human being; he is representing the epitomy of justice. That is why he finds after consulting the oracle of common law. He doesn’t own up to making the law. There are all sorts of presumptions but the most important is the venire of impartiality, objectivity and public policy. The impropriety of our judges brought this to the fore so, I do not sympathize with any judge who has gotten his just dessert. I am not sorry for them because as you make your bed so shall you lie on it. It is a sad development but we still have capable judges who are sworn to their judicial oath and who would fulfill the Roman injunction “Fiat justitia ruat caelum”  “Let justice be done even if the heavens fall” and Justice Oputa reminded us that “if justice is done, the heavens will not fall, the heaven would indeed rejoice”. You the younger lawyers must ensure that you are courageous to stand for what is right and what is fit and proper.

Full interview here

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