By Kenechukwu Obiezu
A STORM stirred at the Nigeria’s Supreme Court by an unprecedented letter written by 14 Justices of the Court to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has climaxed with the resignation of the CJN. The prediction is that the snakes washed out of their holes are venomous and are not going away soon.
Out of silence, a shrill cry: The nature of a judge’s work compulsorily makes it that he is necessarily to be seen not heard. On a job where partiality is an anathema and perception almost everything, those who sit on the bench are expected to live strictly within their code of conduct so that they are seen as impartial.
Justice is rooted in confidence, and the fact that there is no love lost between Nigerians and the Nigerian judiciary bears eloquent testimony to how much confidence Nigerians have lost in the judiciary. So, when the Justices of the Supreme Court, Nigeria’s highest court, chose to express their frustrations in a letter, the alarm bells were necessarily tolled.
A litany of lamentation: In the letter which was signed by about 14 of the Justices, led by Kayode Ariwoola, the next in line after the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who has since been sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari as CJN following the resignation of Tanko Muhammad, yesterday, sundry issues were raised which have had the effect of startling everyday Nigerians.
In the letter, the Justices pointed out that they had privately raised the issues with the CJN since March 24, 2022 but nothing was done about them. According to the letter, some Justices sworn in to the Court since two years ago were yet to receive their due residential accommodations from the Court. Vehicles supplied the Justices were also said to be refurbished or substandard.
The letter was also littered with complaints about inadequate legal research assistants for the Justices, deteriorating healthcare as epitomised by the Supreme Court staff clinic which has become a ‘mere consulting clinic’ where ‘drugs are not available to treat minor ailments’. The letter also complained about withheld assent to the rules of court, erratic power supply at the court.
Some of the most damning complaints came, however, when the Justices accused the CJN of preventing them from going for overseas training with their assistants while the CJN frequently went on foreign trips with his spouse, children and personal staff. If indeed these issues became weighty enough to wriggle into the public space in a court where discretion is everything, then, the implications are frightening.
A cryptic response: But Mr. Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, had in his reply softly upbraided his brother Justices for actions he compared to dancing naked in the market square. In the reply which generally addressed the issue, citing them within the larger context of the prevailing economic situation in the country at the moment, the outgone CJN was at pains to stress there was no bad blood between the Justices as the issues were being addressed.
Dirty linens: For many Nigerians who for long have suspected that all was not well at the Supreme Court, the letter and the reply were little more than an attempt to launder dirty linens in the public. If the Nigerian judiciary has been recently described sarcastically as the ‘lost hope of the common man’, it is by those who no longer feel any confidence in the actions of the judiciary and judicial officers in the country.
The task of the judiciary in a country where the rot is a systemic one is not exactly an enviable one as there are many who have no doubt that members of the judiciary are in bed with those who have been taking Nigeria down the road of self-destruction.
Chickens coming home to roost: For many other Nigerians, the travails of the Justices who have been treated to generous shades of Karma, is simply a case of the chickens coming home to roost. In 2019, it appeared that amid what was a poorly disguised attempt to force out the then CJN, Mr. Walter Onnoghen, from office, many of the Justices of the Supreme Court chose the convenience of silence that was interpreted as complicity at the time by those who were determined to subvert due process.
Indeed, when the now resigned CJN hurriedly made himself available to be sworn in, the script was thought to have been fully acted out. So, the question many asked and continue to ask is whether the Justices were expecting better from a leadership that was the product of a process rigged with complicity and impunity from the onset.
If Nigeria is all over the place today, it is largely because many of those who occupy public offices choose dereliction over diligence in the discharge of their public duties. They are the ones who have largely complicated the Nigerian problem leading to a gradual but deleterious disintegration of the national life as Nigerians knew it.