The Way Out: Jungle Justice or Modern Judiciary

By Tosan Bob Okotie 

Should Nigerians continue to cohabit with the judiciary (modern civilization), or go jungle justice? We all know that the court is the last hope of the common man, but instances abound of bogus court orders and judgments that have rocked the legal, political, and more importantly economic systems of Nigeria. The role of the judiciary in any democratic society is unique. Because the judges are adroit in interpreting the Constitution, they indirectly shape laws. In some instances, you can say, Judges make laws at a point in time depending on the views of the sitting Supreme court Judges. The role of the judiciary is paramount in any democratic set-up. Therefore, the only way to avoid jungle justice is to dish out orders and judgments that must stand the test of time.

      A judge is a true connoisseur. Thus, the legal profession is the most important profession in the administration of humans. It's not a surprise to anyone that judges are bestowed with all the wisdoms: sensual wisdom, defined wisdom, and demonic wisdom. However, the chances that many of them posses the demonic wisdom is not ruled out. Even in the most democratic country of the world, United States of America, judges have made stupendous orders. Anyway, we would put the American issue aside until after year 2008, and just focus on the fact that wisdom is the instrument for creating all things. The extent to which those bizarre judgments scuffle legal, political, and economic processes is what really matters. Because of our level of development in Nigeria, some of those judgments are so ridiculous to the extent that, they have caused breakdown of law and order. What do you expect from person(s) that are hurting and the judges dash their hope for justice? Of course, the matter is settled with rancor. Some court orders are noxious and repugnant; therefore, the outcome is violence-jungle justice.

      Judges deserve all the accolades for their acuity. They are checks to flaccid leadership, especially where the acts of the military juntas were atrocious. They restore hope from their desk as well as forestall annihilation of the less privilege common man. Honestly, anytime you see the judges at work, you venerate them in their glittering black stylish gown. Another thing that catches your fantasy is the beach color wig with brownish patches to match. Of course, most communities encouraged their dozens of children to study law with a view to uphold honesty, integrity, truthfulness, openness and be worthy of emulation.

      Unfortunately, even those lawyers with the exposure and education from the Inns court law, London have continued to make silly pronouncements that have brought untold hardship to the common people of Nigeria. The youths are fretting because of their poverty level. Apparently, every thief presented to the judiciary has been freed or the judges dish out reasons for them not to appear, not even for a reconciliation panel such as the Oputa panel. If only the youths can realize that, the judicial bench is their main cause of hunger, then, they surely will know where to direct their arms. Why would a judge pronounce six months jail sentence on a person that stole billions of naira? What signal was the judiciary sending to people in the name of "plea bargain?" Does the judge not know that, that amount is more than the budget of a State harboring millions of poor people? On the other hand, that amount can build a refinery that can elevate the suffering of the Nigerian masses and create jobs for the youths. The judge, with all his wisdom says, it's "plea bargain," but same judge can afford to sentence a hungry man to years in prison for stealing a pot of soup. We cannot believe that, these judges in Nigeria do not know the deep meaning of plea bargain as to when, where and how it should be used. Certainly, they (judges) use legal jargons as a cover to style their white-collar crime. In the past, there was this notion that, judges were under pressure from the military juntas like the General Babangida administration that used letter bomb to kill and terrorize those who did not comply with their directives. Judges cannot say, they were coerced to make unilateral decisions. They have the free-will to repudiate it, hence they must be held to a stringent code of ethics. A proverb was interpreted to mean that, "you who went to tell a king of his smelling mouth, insulted the king, not the person who sent you." Decorum demands that judges be upright at all times, not when they choose to. Nevertheless, the question now is whether we're still in that era of brazen terrorism. If not, what have we witnessed now in the case of James Onanafe Ibori? The judicial bench convicted Ibori only a few years ago and today, the judicial bench has said they are unsatisfied that it was this same Ibori that was convicted. You begin to wonder that, what is corroboration and how is it applied in law? Indeed, the judges can swear that, they were there as witnesses when the dozens of purported criminals they sentenced to death pressed the trigger of the gun to kill their victims, and that is why they reached the death decisions they pronounced. Judges are to contribute to the success of political reforms and not to truncate it. The fact is that, at a point, one James Ibori was convicted and only few years down the road, this established fact became something that is now a qualm. Of course, documents have been shredded within the same judicial bench we all look up to orchestrate the survival of the common man. The reality is that some of these judges are thieves themselves, but they hide under the umbrella of taking orders from federal/State authorities. You should know that judges pocket bribe money and we know when they give cursory review and pronounce stupid judgments. If the judges say that, the protection of court documents is not their responsibility, which would be a subterfuge, because they're the heads of their departments.

      Leadership with integrity and good governance are the only hope for the common people. When monies that are suppose to be used to better the lives of the people in areas of infrastructure, and public amenities have been looted at various times, and all those brought to trial are set-free for one reason or the other, or never tried at all. The consequence is deep rooted poverty for the masses and especially the youths that are now wise to have started acquiring arms. We better believe that what Colin Powell wrote in his book "Animal Farm," may take place in Nigeria soonest.

      Every now and then, people berate and castigate the Nigerian Police whereas the judiciary does worst, if we sincerely compare the two professions in terms of their level of education, exposure, and actions. To some analyst, the judicial bench has taken the front seat to the Police in corrupt practices. With the slightest frivolous arguments from attorneys, judges succumb and order unnecessary adjournments to frustrate people, and yet we hear that, justice delayed is justice denied. People have witnessed adjournments due to an amendment of just one short sentence on a three page statement that was not underlined in red ink. The served statement was titled "Amended Statement," and the evidence is clear that same was served at least three days to the hearing date. Considering the total pages involved, what should be the rational for a judge to grant an adjournment. The judges forget that once the hope of the common man is dashed, violence will erupt. No one had the premonition years back, that youths with sophisticated weapons would emerge, but suddenly, they emerged and are here to stay. The judges will have themselves to blame soonest, if they don't stop their nonsense corruption and uphold the noble legal profession. From electoral petitions to stealing of bread, every judicial bench member must be upright in their decisions because bad judgment in the past contributed to Nigeria being in a precarious position right now.

      It's unlikely that Nigerians will wait until hunger decimates the population before they strike. The practice of decorating people who commit atrocities with motor tires and immediately set them on fire had begun years back in some communities, so it should not surprise anyone if this takes a new dimension. It will evolve and catch up with those who think they're untouchable, and therefore would continue with judicial maneuvering and smartness.  

May 31, 2006