Ordinarily, one would expect a level of consistency in verdicts rolled out by judges across board but we hardly get such. No matter how many times we tout the judiciary as the hope of the common man, the reality is that commoners hardly get justice.
It is often to our chagrin that we find out that verdicts at high courts sometimes conflict with what is gotten at appellate courts, and that too often, it is different from what is obtained in the Supreme Court. It is an agreed fact that two different people hardly give the same judgment on one matter. Judicial training through university and law school compels lawyers who get to sit on the bench as judges to be drilled in the principles of logic, fairness, and unbiasedness in judgment; yet we find court verdicts and conducts which are not only insulting to the intelligence of the upright citizen but also beggars belief.
We can, after all, excuse these myriad inconsistencies of jurisprudence in readiness to cut these judicial officials some slack in non-preconceived human error. But what do we when respected members of the bench publicly flout the rules and ethics which guide their profession?
Of the three arms of government in most democracies, the judiciary is the most tightly regulated and professional. However, a number of recent embarrassing events in the Nigerian judicial space threatens to disabuse our minds of this exalted standard to which judicial officers are held. It is quite shocking that the most recent attempt to desecrate and stain the garment of the judiciary happened within just a week, with two of the personalities holding exalted positions in that arm of government.
On Wednesday, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, the President of the Court of Appeal, almost ruined her credibility when the matter of recusing herself from the ongoing Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) came to a head. On a matter which is as routine as following the guideline for officers of the judiciary, as stipulated in their Code of Conduct and ethical guidelines, she and other panel members spent the larger part of up to 4 hours in the chambers determining if she should step down or not because of her familial relationship with the ruling party, APC. The most damning announcement then followed, around 6 PM in the evening when the judgment was read, and the panel of judges unanimously determined that there was no substance in the application that Bulkachuwa should recuse herself from the panel.
Before the public fully digested the implications of that preliminary determination at the PEPT, our taste buds for embarrassing actions by Nigerian leaders got assaulted again as media aides at the presidency revealed that the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Mohammed, and two other Supreme Court Justices were having dinner with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa. Despite the fact that dinner and eat-fest were self-styled as a breaking of the Ramadan fast with the President, it still did not sanctify the deplorable act. Even law students and some citizens who are versed in law know full well that as part of the code of conduct for judicial officers, it is not proper for these officers to be associated, seen or fraternizing with persons who could influence their objectivity in judicial matters. At such a crucial time when the matter of the last held elections will soon reach the Supreme Court, it is very bad that these topmost judges should allow themselves to be yoked with members of the executive on unofficial matters. Even if the president’s protocol team do not know better or get proper counsel, do these judicial officers not know what is prim and proper anymore?
Matters, especially at the presidency of late, have been that of anyhowness. It seems no one at the Villa cares about whatever the public feels anymore. The president and his employ can now decide to flout rules whichever way they feel now, it seems. And with the judiciary, what precedent is being set for law officers and those in training with all of these? It seems the men and women at the upper echelon of the judiciary are no more ready to set worthy examples for their forbears and have altogether thrown caution to the wind.
We should have known all these would happen when Tanko Mohammed sidelined the National Judicial Commission and the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN)- Walter Samuel Onnoghen, went straight to Aso Rock at the president’s summons and took the oath of office as the Acting CJN while a substantive CJN still existed. We were all witnesses to how the presidency explained away the craziness with legalese and the judicial panel set up to investigate Tanko’s actions freed him of wrongdoing even when we knew that flouting such rules attract some penalty.
So I might be moved to ask us this rhetorical question for the umpteenth time: even if some Nigerians have gone haywire and have lost all manner of shamelessness in public service and in conduct, have [top] judicial officers, lost all elements of self-respect and conscience too?
Featured image source: Nigerian Scholars