The 5th of November 2019 is a day that will not be forgotten in a hurry by Nigerians – inclusive of those who have lost faith in the salvaging which the judiciary is capable of in our fledgling democracy and those ones who fervently are forever optimistic that the beautiful ones still abide among us.
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In a landmark judgment on Thursday, the former governor of Abia state and sitting member of the Senate representing Abia North constituency under the All Progressives Congress (APC), Orji Uzor Kalu, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fraud charges totalling up to N7.65 billion perpetrated while in office. Ironically, the suit which was filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has been in motion since 2007 when his 2nd term in office was about to come to an end. The judge, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Lagos High Court, must have allowed that flicker of humour when he handed down an equivalent 12-year jail term for the embattled former big man of Abia state politics.
There were hints that before the pronouncement by Justice Idris, there was a lot of pressure by the ruling party to subvert the full course of the verdict but the judge sidestepped all of it.
And before the excitement of the Uzor Kalu sentence dissipated, another major pronouncement was being made against the Department of State Services (DSS) which has been holding the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore and his associate, Olawale Bakare, in illegal custody despite a standing court order granting them bail. A visibly irritated Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja, demanded to know from the DSS why the two people who had been granted bail have not been released. She then proceeded to order the duo of Sowore and Bakare be released within 24 hours while also awarding compensation of N100,000 against the DSS for refusing to release him on time.
At about 7 pm, same day of Justice Ijeoma’s order, Sowore and Bakare were freed by DSS.
One thing, however, stands out in these two verdicts at a time when Nigerians are beginning to grow sceptical of the administration of justice in the law-courts. While many still believe that the court of law is the last mile for seeking redress and lasting justice, folks are continually distancing themselves from being involved in long-drawn suits which may not even produce what is seen to be fair and just at the end of the day.
At a time when state security outfits are being used to intimidate judges into kowtowing to the desires of politicians, finding some of them still taking a major stand against government excesses, abuse and undue pressure is a huge relief for many who have a belief in the sanctity of the law and the incorruptibility of some judges.
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Though the DSS, after a show of shame earlier on November 6, succeeded in kidnapping Sowore again, without being charged for any new offence; the signal that the court order to release Sowore in the first instance is obeyed is a good sign.
This recent event may spell good fortune for the bench, going forward – it may altogether reinforce the confidence of the judges whose backs have been broken by a series of allegations seeking to blackmail them into submission. This new trend will not only move to entrench the people’s faith in the judicial system, but it will also very likely bolster the courage of the Body of Benchers to be firm in the discharge of justice no matter whose ox is gored.
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