Desecrating our judicial temple, By Chooks Oko
By Chooks Oko
I remember the high life legend , Oliver Akanite popularly known as OLIVER DE COQUE. Those who listen to his music and the lyrics will remember his story of NNUKWU MMANWU. A story from him it was but it represents a truism of the Igbo culture. He says there is a big masquerade and there are heralders, cheerleaders if you like. He talks about other masquerades who melt away on the stepping out of the big masquerade. And once it shows, pandemonium, bedlam, trepidation and abject fear grips the land while the cheerleaders are cheering all the while. And he surmises that such aura and reverence is the respect such a masquerade commands because of its status. In the judicial system of any nation, such a scenario is not far fetched. Every court of law evokes some sort of soberness, some fear of what a careless indulgence could do to you. I do not forget a scene I once witnessed in a Lagos high court years back. As a young reporter, I followed a case to the court room. As soon as the first case was called, the judge called for appearances. After the introduction by the prosecuting lawyer, one young man stood up for the defence. I can not remember exactly what the lawyer said that irked his lordship. The judge removed his glasses. Calmly asked the lawyer his name again. He asked him which school he graduated from, who were his lecturers, and ordered him to remove the gown and wig he was wearing. He ordered him detained to which all the lawyers in court started pleading. The man who came to defend another suddenly needed defending, more than his client. Little wonder everybody choruses AS THE COURT PLEASES once a pronouncement comes from the bench. There is a hue of sanctimony and sombreness that gives the judiciary the image of hope for the common man. The benchers are unsmiling, almost taciturn and seated on the highest level of the court. The lawyers bear supplications and look up to the benchers to consider their arguments better than their opponents. That is the way of the legal profession with their latin laced speech mannerisms that makes them believe they know more than you.
Before now, it has always been a given that what goes on in any courtroom will be seen as a product of the arguments proffered by the two contending teams. It is the realisation that one side must win, I guess, that elicits the acceptance that comes with “as the court pleases “. Yet, rooms are provided for litigants and parties to litigation to pursue their matters to the highest court of the land, the supreme court, the proverbial big masquerade in Oliver de Coque’s song, in this circumstance.
The supreme court is the conscience of any nation, the very soul of their existence. From interpretation of knotty constitutional logjams, adjudication of thorny issues to arbitration in high level disputes, every citizen knows the finality of echoes that emanate from the supreme court. That is not to say that the supreme court justices are infallible. Far from it. But the way the legal profession is structured emphasises this finality. Two parties are arguing, each basing it on points of law and president. It stands to reason that it is the decision of the person they have taken their case to that will be final. And you are allowed to keep “protesting ” till the highest court where your fate is sealed, for better or for worse. That is our legal system, it has always been and will continue to be. Really? Events of the past few weeks have shaken that sacrosanctity for which our supreme court is known. People who should help to protect it are hell bent on pulling it down, demystifying the judges and desecrating our values.
The issue here is not about who got what judgement at the apex court, but what the campaign of calumny, blackmail and outright intimidation are intended to achieve. Street protests by supposed leaders left many wondering the kind of leadership they intend to foist on the nation. For good measure, I am not against protesting against any form of perceived or proven injustice but I guess every road to freedom and good conscience has procedures. What does a supposed leader hope to achieve by asking foreign countries to come and prevail on their supreme court, in a sovereign nation to give them the kind of justice they believe they deserve?. What a pity. How would it look like if our supreme court is cowed into doing the bidding of foreign countries? Shall we even be right to call them supreme again? It was Morocco Maduka, the Igbo folklore singer that posited that when a people desecrate the thing that makes them a people, then their existence is finished! As if that is not enough, miscreants now visit judges’ residence to protest judgements against them. Very sad indeed. Not to talk of asking religious bodies to intervene in a judicial process. Even a former number one law officer of our country now submits his written submissions to the social media before the courts even have time to look at it. The scenario is very clear. It is the lawyers who are encouraging politicians to help them desecrate our judicial temple. This process of asking for a review which everybody is now jumping at, was it introduced yesterday? If they knew that such a window existed, why heat up the polity before exploring the option? The judicial high temple is on trial. How we move from here will be determined by the justices. If their judgments were in error, they should find a way to redress it, if it was fairly given, they should stand by it. To succumb to blackmail and change judgements because of pressure will decimate the system finally.