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Two recent developments in our country give some of us who care so much about Nigeria serious cause for concern about our democracy and the country itself. The first one is the report sometime last week that a certain Judge Daisy Okocha, in a manner more befitting of an adept coup plotter than a supposed priest in the sacred temple of justice, stormed the premises of the state high court with the help of police men to announce herself the State’s Chief Judge and subsequently took over control of the Rivers State judiciary in what now looks like an abortive coup attempt. Is that the new way chief judges of states are now appointed? With a nod from the NJC in Abuja and an entourage of battle-ready police orderlies anyone will announce himself or herself into the exulted office of CJ? Just like that?
Apparently, Judge Okocha, who feels she ought to have been named Chief Judge of Rivers State long ago, felt she had waited for too long for the matter to be sorted out between Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the National Judicial Council (NJC) in Abuja and her patience was fast running out. She and her backers therefore thought that the best option in the circumstance is for her to recourse to some self-help by literally heeding the counsel contained in the Bible in Matthew 11: 12 which says that, ‘’since the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force’’.
In these interesting political times when nearly everybody and every institution in the land has become partisan, it is difficult to know who, between Governor Amaechi and the NJC, is right about the Judge Okocha matter. But wherever the truth and good reasoning lie in this matter, some of us who care about decency expect that the differences between the Governor and the NJC ought to have been amicably resolved instead of Judge Okocha resorting to what looks very much like gangsterism, an approach totally unbefitting of a judicial officer, not to talk of one who seeks to be at the apex of the judiciary of a state. Even as a layman, I can see clearly that the manner of her ascension to the throne of CJ does not look honourable at all.
Judge Okocha’s glory looks very much like that of Emperor Jean Beddel Bokassa who some years ago crowned himself emperor of the Central African Republic. Not even the chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers emerges that way. No one, no matter how desperate the circumstances might be, is right who attains glory in such a questionable manner.
The second incident is of course the case in Ekiti State where thugs invaded the premises of the State Election Tribunal, disrupted the session and proceeded to assault the judge, forcing the court to come to an abrupt end. The police at the court premises were said to have looked the other way when the injudicious actions were been taken by the obviously hired thugs.
What I find most disturbing is that since these ugly incidents, a bi-partisan consensus among our politicians has not formed to condemn most vehemently these ‘’damn foolish things’’ that have happened. Rather, the voices you hear are those of a few patriots or of partisans either condemning the events or maintaining mute silence. The import of what happened in Rivers and Ekiti is ominous. For the one in Rivers, it means that anyone with the backing of Abuja can stage a judicial coup in a state whose governor Abuja does not particularly like. Is that what the Constitution of the land says the relationship between the Federal and State governments should be in a federal arrangement such as we have?
By the way, all along why has no one thought of going to court or anywhere else to get this matter decisively sorted out? The law says that a state chief judge should be appointed by a governor based on the advice of the National Judicial Commission. What exactly is the ‘’qualitative content’’ of the NJC’s advice in the matter? Is the NJC’s advice ‘’a mere advice’’ which a governor is at liberty to accept or discountenance? Or better put, if there is an irreconcilable disagreement between a governor and the NJC on the issue of a choice of a state’s CJ, whose view should prevail? If there is a lacuna in the law with regards to this, why is nothing being done by way of an amendment to sort the matter out and spare the nation the kind of sharp disagreement we have been having over the appointment of state CJ in recent times?
I do not agree with the common saying that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. The judiciary is much more than that. It is the last hope of a nation; the last hope of civilization itself. For, if judges rubbish themselves or the institution of the law is rubbished by desperate people in the society, modern man will inevitably return to the Hobbesian state of nature ‘’where life was nasty, brutish and short’’. If everyone contemplates recourse to self-help as Okocha did in Rivers and the thugs in Ekiti, then the nation is finished. That is why some of us are very worried.
In any nation, an enlightened governing elite develop a consensus on the minimum acceptable standard of behavior expected of everyone in the polity below which if anyone acts, he or she will be punished no matter his station in life. This is what holds society together. But in our country, anyone, especially if he is high up there and has the right backing, can do whatever he or she likes, no matter how outrageous his action may be, even if what is done will help to bring the whole society down.
Speaking strictly as a lay man, my take on the issue of the contention between a governor and the NJC in the appointment of a CJ is that in a bid to protect judicial tradition, the NJC is overreaching itself and is beginning to look partisan. I doubt whether there is wisdom in the NJC’s insistence that seniority must be maintained in the appointment of a state CJ even in the face of compelling social, political and other considerations advising against that. From the little political and administrative knowledge I have, so many considerations, one of them political, go into deciding who merits an appointment into a certain position. And in these times when CJs now play pivotal role in the impeachments of state governors, no sane governor should be indifferent as to who he appoints as CJ. Judges and what they can do or fail to do are too crucial for us to insist on the policy of turn-by-turn guided by seniority. What is happening at the Federal level
whereby some chief justices of the federation stay in office for sometimes as short as three months is not healthy at all.
The appointment of judges anywhere in the world, even in the most advanced of democracies, is influenced by political consideration. And no one here in Nigeria should pretend that such appointment is apolitical.
Some of us may not fully understand the subtleties or the political undercurrents behind some of these bizarre happenings. But the question we ask no one in particular is: will our country dissolve into chaos or will we continue to fumble and stumble along until God in his mercy brings us leaders that are leaders and not so-called leaders who are consumed by perennial partisan politics that brings the nation unnecessary shame and pains.
Article written by Indang Alibi
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