Many Ups, Few Downs for the Nigerian Judiciary

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

“A court of law cannot close its eyes to the infringement of the constitution. It is the primary custodian of the constitution and if any arm of the government including the court itself acts unconstitutionally, the court has inherent power under section 6(6) of the 1999 constitution to intervene.” With these words, the five honorable men of the law, judicial officer of no mean reputation, distinguished citizens of the Federal Republic and rightful custodians of the rule of law and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, declared anarchy and all out war on the rule of mob fast overtaking our nation. In entering their judgment against the illegal government of Alao Akala, the members of the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan have again proven that the Nigerian judiciary especially those on the upper level i.e. the Appeal and Supreme Courts, are worthy of their office and the responsibilities and trust reposed in them.

In the past, I have had cause to praise the Nigerian judiciary for due diligence and hard work. Right from the early days of this administration when it routinely entered judgment in favor of true federalism as in the resource control suit, striking down the law requiring permit to hold public protests, striking down INEC draconian ambition to limit formation of political parties, Lagos state government local government allocation suit amongst many others, the Justices of the Supreme and Appeal courts have shown their ability to stand up for what is right and indeed the rule of law and practice of true federalism in our budding republic. In the process, we now know the legal way to impeach governors; we know what constitutes a legal legislative body and the correct process of effecting impeachment of chief executives across the land. Basically, the rule of law has been upheld and the lily livered state high courts can no longer claim they cannot do their work as they have previously done.

Of course the issue of how executives are removed has been vexed across the lands; as usual the powers that be have bastardized the constitution for their own ends. Some even said two legislators can sit- unanimously pass a vote suspending their 100 colleagues and go ahead to impeach a Governor! They even said it cannot be challenged in the court. Haba! At least, now we know better. The court says that is simply taking the ass of a law on a far ride! The letters of the constitution: the envisaged two-thirds requirement, the proper venue of legislative proceedings, the proper leadership, and the proper course of natural justice that serves the Governor with notice of action and every other corollary of law must be adhered to for it to withstand the judicial litmus test. To hell with the anarchist, the constitution is back in fashion. The nationwide farce called impeachment gale should better stop in its tracks.

Indeed, the current upper echelons of the national judiciary will go down in history as one of the best for a long time to come if it preserves the quality of judgment that it has been known for in the past seven years. Without doubt, for the most part, ordinary Nigerians have felt vindicated when the honorable Justices bring down their gavels in judgment. Numerous election cases, including those in Anambra, no matter how long it took, eventually came down on the side of the wronged and oppressed and ensured the family style feudalism which is the favorite of the ruling PDP has been vastly eroded in favor of what is right and legal.

If the current crop of judicial officers were in United States they can definitely be compared with the history making Warren courts, or even the court of Chief Justice Marshall who more than any other Supreme Court provided the basis of federal jurisprudence in United States of America as well as the Capitalist and Entrepreneurial culture that have developed as a result of relentless commitment to protecting property rights and a culture of risk. In the same manner, the Nigerian Supreme Court under the immediate past Chief Justice Uwais have sought to protect the federal ideals that spurned the federation of Nigeria more often than none, warding off the Federal Government’s centrist tendencies under a military minded President and bastardized operators on the federal and state level whose long existence under a unitary military rule have made then saboteurs of the federal underpinnings of the 1999 constitution no matter how flawed. The next challenge of course is putting the President in his place when it comes to his desire to unconstitutionally sack his Vice President. I have no doubt in my mind on whose side my Worships will stand on- it will be on the side of the rule of law and I can’t wait to read the classic opinion.

It is my hope that someday the introduction of Sharia law will be challenged in the court; that someday the farce protected and allowed by the government in power- which allows poaching and cross carpeting of legislators against the spirit of the constitution will also be challenged. These and many other vexatious issues including the constitutionality of withholding so called “excess crude oil funds”, extra-budgetary spending etc. by the central government have been one of the willful ways the entire political machine of the majority party have negated the constitution in a conspiracy of silence and willful cooption. I am aware of the practical reasons behind allowing these aberrations to persist in a country like Nigeria, but we must understand that when we collectively look the other way while the rule of law is thrown to the winds, it is the poor and the oppressed that will eventually suffer. One day, willful perpetrators of illegality will subvert the state and unleash its force on those of us that have ridden along with the conspiracy.

Under normal circumstances, I am the last person you want to look up to for words of praises for any branch of government. It is not as if the Nigerian judiciary is clean. Indeed, on its lower wrung especially at the state level, the ranks of judges are filled with politicians in robes- men who willfully subvert the document they have sworn to uphold on the sight of vague threats, shiny official cars, promise of salary increases and indeed dirty money in their bank accounts. These crop of corrupt jurists need to be weeded out fast, or else we might face an endemic of corrupt men of the bench in few years ahead when they rise up to the appellate courts. A corrupt and compromised judge is more dangerous than an armed robber. The judiciary needs to be willing parties in prosecuting the war against graft- courts have allowed rogues to use them to delay the wheels of justice to capture criminals by issuing injunctions and adjournments that are one on a dime in various High Courts.

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