Judgment and Justice In Nigeria

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The proverb “the law is an ass” means the law as created by legislators or administered by the justice system cannot be relied upon to be sensible or fair. The philosopher Plato grudgingly wrote his book “The Laws” because he felt that an ideal state should be run on a perfect system of a philosopher king as contained in his book “The Republic”. Laws according to him, are unnecessary in an ideal republic. The existence of laws is a manifestation of failure of the republic. Of course he was writing about a Utopia where everything will be perfect.

Karl Marx, the 19th century German revolutionary philosopher even though a Jew did not believe in God but was influenced by Judeo-Christian belief about a heavenly paradise or utopia, built his philosophy on a material utopia. This was to be a utopia of a classless society on earth in which we would all work according to our ability and would take from the state according to our needs. In his utopia we would not need police, army, the judiciary and state bureaucracy which in the past was the instrument of control in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Religion which he described as the “opium of the people” would not be needed to deaden the nerves of the oppressed proletariat.

The point I am making is that right from the beginning of modern times, man has always suspected that there was something wrong with law and its administration. Modern states can only be run on the rule of law and the greatest body of laws in any state is the constitution which is the grundnorm on which modern states exist. Most constitutions are written with the exception of the British constitution which is unwritten but even there, there has accumulated over the years a body of constitutional traditions and acts of parliament which can now be referred broadly as British constitution.

Most constitutions are carefully negotiated by delegates chosen by the people and when the constitution has been agreed upon, they are sometimes subjected to national referenda. In our own case in Nigeria, the independence constitution of 1960 was carefully negotiated by our elected political leaders and was based on a compromise between those who wanted a unitary state and those who wanted a confederation like Canada. Eventually a midway of federation was agreed upon but it was not subjected to a referendum. There is no doubt, that if it were subjected to a referendum, the leaders would have ensured its passage.

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Of course since the coup d’état of 1966 January and the counter coup of July the same year, our constitution has been bastardized beyond recognition. Now we run a unitary dictatorship and the puny administrative states run by prefects masquerading as governors have to toe the line of the Pooh-Bah at the centre .Even the administration of justice has suffered because it is the executive that chooses its members and funds it through budget presented to the legislatures. The question then arises if the courts are free and if its personnel have the cerebral wherewithal to administer the laws before them and if the right people are sitting on the judicial benches?

Several judicial decisions in recent times have created doubts in the minds of the Nigerian citizenry. Some of the faults may be due to the immaturity of our political system. It is only in Nigeria that the kind of judicial decisions that came out of the Supreme Court in relations to the gubernatorial positions in Zamfara, Imo and Bayelsa states could have come out. In the case of Zamfara, the dominant political party that won the gubernatorial position, the three senate positions and the House of Representatives and state assembly seats were by judicial fiat removed and replaced at all levels by the opposition thus imposing a one party state on the distressed state of Zamfara. Governor Yari, the departed APC governor does not deserve being defended but certainly the people of Zamfara have rights guaranteed by our poorly put together constitution. If the Supreme Court felt there was no democracy at the party level, it should have sent the whole thing back to the electorate for a new election so that the people can have the right to make a choice. This kind of judicial diktat is not only undemocratic but injurious to the fledgling democracy we are trying to embrace.

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The situation in Imo is even laughable to say the least. The Supreme Court was reduced to counting the votes which INEC apparently missed out in deciding who won the Imo election. Opinions are divided over the propriety of the Supreme Court taking over the job of INEC. What the court should have done is to ask for a new election.

Finally, the Bayelsa case remains most amazing and beyond reason. Bearing in mind that the Supreme Court four years ago ruled in favour of Governor Yahaya Bello whose running mate Abiodun Faleke withdrew from the race and the man ran alone without a deputy. It is therefore beyond belief that the same court will not only nullify the election of a legally elected governor on the basis that his deputy was a liar. Could the court not have ruled removing the deputy while allowing the governor to find a new deputy or at worst could the court not have asked for a new election instead of foisting somebody who was rejected on the same electorate. The accusation of influence-peddling levelled against the lead judge in this case raises fundamental question of fairness in the whole scenario .The finality of judgements in the Supreme Court while  well recognized  in Nigeria as in other climes does not invalidate the argument of the accusation of what we are getting from our courts is judgement and not justice.

If this is happening at the Supreme Court, one can imagine the level of unfairness in lower courts at both federal courts of appeal, high courts and state high courts not to talk of magistrate courts, customary and Sharia courts. There have been instances of emotional outbursts and judgement based on open vendetta. There was the case of the disgraced University of Obafemi Awolowo University professor accused of improper conduct with a post-graduate student. The professor was accused of propositioning a lady and dangling marks before her if she would sleep with him. The student was mature enough to entrap the professor by recording their conversation on her phone. She lodged a complaint and the university council took up the case and dismissed the professor outright with no possibility of pension, gratuity or of ever getting any job again in the university system. That’s the law of the university. The professor was subjected to double jeopardy by being hurled before a bellicose female judge who in open court told the professor she would deal with him because she had a daughter in a university. She promptly sentenced him to five or so years without right of appeal for an offense the poor man had not yet committed!

Please my readers don’t get me wrong; my God does not want the death of a sinner but that he should repent. The professor deserves what he received but did he get justice? Did the emotion of the lady judge not override her sense of justice?

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Two or so weeks ago another part-time lecturer from the University of Lagos was sentenced this time for raping an 18-year old girl looking for admission in the University of Lagos. The 47-year old man was not in a position to grant the poor girl admission. So this was a case of deception. Secondly, the two people knew themselves very well because the so-called lecturer was a friend of the girl’s father. So it was also a betrayal of trust. The judge was right to find the stupid man guilty and to deal with him appropriately. I don’t know whether the punishment for rape is seven years or 21 as pronounced by the judge. Should punishment be excessive before it reforms? This is a question jurists should answer? Perhaps we should begin to think of trial by jury so that the fate of offenders is not left to the decision of a single person no matter how learned he or she may be.

By Jide Osuntokun

The Nation

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