The legal system takes for granted the impartiality and honour of magistrates, judges and justices that man the courts in the land. The belief that political power or sovereignty belongs to the people and that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man is hinged on this presupposition. It is this presumption that the individual will get justice in court and that those on the wrong side of the law will meet their waterloo in court that clothes the legal system with integrity. The awe or respect for the court is a function of the set mind that the particular individual has for the court. Without this belief in the sanctity of the courts, the legal system will lose its value and the entire polity will be jeopardized. The people need to believe in the courts and rely on them for the protection of their freedoms. The courts are empowered to facilitate constitutionalism, legality and the rule of law. The people are therefore justified in believing that they would be or serve as an impregnable barrier against legislative wantonness or executive lawlessness.
A corollary to this is the requirement of independence for the men of justice. The judicial personnel are supposed to uphold the legal and moral values of the state. They are supposed to be their own masters in their duty of dispensing justice. The only allegiance they are authorized to have is the allegiance to their oath of office. They are not supposed to be subservient to either the legislative or executive arm of government, or any other body or institution other than the constitution, which personifies the intendment of the people to live together in one political entity called a state or a geographical demarcation called a country.
The summary of what we have been saying is that if the boundary between the state and the individual or people is to be determined and well policed; if the executive is to be saved from itself; if the executive is to be accountable and responsible to the people; if actions of the executive are to conform with constitutional standards, then, there must be an independent, respected and honourable judiciary. The judiciary must be the able shepherd of justice before the people can start thinking of enjoying the dividends of democracy.
The most singular barrier to the independence and impartiality of judges (including magistrates and justices) is corruption. A corrupt judge is defined as the judge who willfully violates his oath of office for whatever reason including bribery, political allegiance and personal bias. A corrupt Judge is worse than an armed robber or terrorist. He turns the instruments of justice against the people and surrenders the power of the people to the bad guys in the society. They disarm the people and arm the criminals.
The role of a member of the judiciary in the coup against Rashidi Ladoja dramatizes what evil that can befall a people when their judges betray them. When Adedibu the Godfather of Rashidi Ladoja wanted to sack Ladoja and put in his place a lackey that will surrender the coffers of the state to him, he got a judge who teamed up with traitors in the legislative house to stage manage an impeachment. The judge disregarded the clear provisions concerning the impeachment of a judge and went ahead to execute one of the worst travesties in the history of the legal systems in this country.
Perhaps the Adedibu coup has made the people of Oyo State to realize that their legal system has been corrupted by men with political allegiance. Perhaps the people of Oyo State are now realizing that the integrity of the law has been eroded by political expedience and that not all of their judges could be trusted with the sacred role of dispensing justice. Perhaps they now know that some of their judges are now political jobbers.
My worry is however not about the fact that some judges have shed their independence for the temptations and materialism associated with being on the good side of politicians and Godfathers. I am not particularly bothered that corrupt judges encourage disrespect and debasement of the rule of law. What I am bothered about is the fact that the people of Oyo State and indeed Nigeria may not sit back and ponder about how the judiciary is fast losing its men to the criminals in the society. If you went back to our analysis on the Godfather, you will recall that we stated that the Godfathers come from the back alleys of the society with utmost spite for all that the society stands for. They return to the society with a revenge mission and like good warriors, they first tack and takeover all the pillars of the society. They know that their hold on the law enforcement agencies and socio-political structures in the society would be weak and puerile if they do not have the judiciary on their side. They know that the misplaced priorities of the society is personified by the neglect of the men of justice. They know that the judges are poorly paid and that they cannot even measure up to the average legal practitioners.
To make matters easier for the Godfathers and worse for the society, those who should care are inattentive to plight or goings on in the judiciary. How the men of justices are recruited and who recruits them, do not seem to matter to the generality of the citizenry. The people fool themselves into believing that once he becomes a judge yesterday’s thief has become an angel. To them the judge is not from the society and therefore insulated from the trends and habits of the society. What a lie! Most of the people recruited as judges see the bench as the answer to their economic puzzle. They would want to enjoy the best that society can offer. They would want to have and enjoy what the Governors, Ministers are enjoying. By the books they are supposed to share the same social class with the President.
But the reality is hurtfully embarrassing. Their emoluments do not provide them with the means to attend to anything beyond the alimentary needs. They also know that if the politicians were to live by their emoluments alone, they would be equally tied to the class of the commoners. But the men of justice see how their counterparts in politics flaunt stolen wealth. They know that politicians are hallowed and respected in the society not for their good deeds but for their riches. They suffer indignity and disrespect from the people whose freedoms they are supposed to uphold and protect. The impact of all of these to weak minded judges is profound.
Unlike the people, the Godfather knows that the judges suffer neglect and that some of them are from weak moral backgrounds. They offer or provide them with what the people deny them. Whereas Satan could not win over Jesus Christ with the temptation of riches, the Godfather always has his way with the disgruntled judge. The story about the plight or sorrows of the judges can on and on but the sum ‘total is that the Nigerian judge is buyable and the Godfather knows that. Whereas he is meant to be the sentry of the people’s freedoms and happiness he is in actual fact the conspirator or the traitor from within. He is therefore on the side of the bad guy and as such a mere foot soldier of the Godfather.
We now know that we have three realities to choose from and anchor the path of democracy. The Godfather is not a myth but a critical element of our democratic process. The political Desperado is another evil that we are yet to avoid in the polity. In between these evils are the soldiers of fortunes who come in many guises. In the case of Oyo State, they were the rebel legislators, and a judge. Whereas we can have a way with the political desperado, the Godfather and the soldiers of fortune are outside our reach. It is for this reason that I think that legally minded persons would prefer the people align with a Desperado that came through a Godfather to steal their power than for the people to surrender to the Godfather and his handmaids of injustice. It is for this reason that I believe that the preferred evil in Oyo State is for Ladoja to be in government and for the people to pretend that he got to power through their vote.
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