Monday, 28 January 2008

IN Defence of the Judiciary in Nigeria: Over the Presidential Election Tribunal Election Pronouncement

By Lanre Ogundipe

…shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall will not receive evil?

Job 2:10b (Bible)

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

.Doom Helder Camara

Nigeria is a state of many unthinkable “wonders” from most important to the least mundane issues where by every inch we sit in judgment as judge-advocate over issues we are not familiar with or has little or no knowledge about and, or better still not well grounded in. This has often inhibits my contributions on issues of national importance because of the fear of being projected in bad light or get trapped in the cross fire of opposing views. More importantly it was observed more than often that those reacting to issues were doing so on the spur of the moment without looking at the facts and details of the issue at stake.

Before I go further let me also underscore a point here to lay premise for my submission in this write-up later. Many of us, who have the privilege of voicing out opinions/views either on pages of newspapers or other medium such as online blogs and broadcast channels, take excessive liberty and “dangerous” courage on such occasion. We take issues out of context or rather presume to know better than those who are experts on such subject matter and with reckless impunity run comments that are variance with the reality of issues/matters under discourse. Instead of providing mechanism for remedies in anticipation of the fall out, we plunged into perplexity and relegate such important discourse to mere tirade and in the process turned ourselves into over-night social justices in the views and comments we expressed.

The “Super Tuesday” pronouncement of the Presidential Election Tribunal in Abuja headed by Justice Fabiyi comes in handy in this respect. I have read quite a lot of views/opinions on the tribunal final decision and the judgment had been subjected to several interpretations which are neither here nor there. Some of the opinion reads: +Travesty of Justice; Rape on Democracy; Judiciary is a failure; Nigeria we failed thee etc. With all these, the question that arose in my sub-consciousness was why Nigeria and indeed Nigerians has failed thee…?

My simple answer to that was we failed where we seem not to be rational or sensitive enough to distinguish between issues, sentiments and emotions. Some if not all our submissions are based on media reports or what we hear people say. It pains me that many writers have often jettisoned the cardinal traits of the art of writing; to inform, educate and entertain but we cherish to dish out half truth or rumor to the unsuspecting readers. What we say or write about could not be substantiated when it comes to backing it up with documentary evidence and we have allowed the operators of the media to lead us by the nose and thus leave the future in to the hands of manipulators who could take the pain to research into issues but delighted in feeding the public with nothing but unbiased report that are tainted. I beg to differ in this approach to say writing without empirical facts does NOT (emphasis stressed) translate into an imminent justice. In other words public opinion is not a foundation on which judiciary pronouncement are made. The basis of equity is founded and rooted in justice and where that is found not to be adhered to, definitely it would amount to travesty of justice and it is a miscarriage of justice going by my understanding of elementary law.

In this case, having read in various media reports views and opinions of both International, local and civil societies groups who monitored the last year April 2007 general elections in Nigeria declaring that it was massively rigged by the ruining (sorry…ruling) party Peoples Deceptive Party… called the biggest party in African continent (they are yet to tell the public where the party rating was derived. Is it from Guinness Book of Records?) Or the Bode George of this world cooked up this acronym with the usual abracadabra theory to give such a tag on the party to intimidate others. Though election in reference was indeed a “seaslide” victory for PDP capturing every states in Nigeria even where it was glaring they have little or no support, the party’s candidates became helmsmen. No thanks to the ingenuity of Aremu of Ota. (Apology to the Unknown Soldier now known General Theo Danjuma)

Some of these frauds called victories were now been challenged at various levels and the judiciary had indeed and in truth served as the bastion of hope to our fragile democracy, plus or minus. The fact from the record of judgments so far delivered by tribunals across the country were based on astounding facts made available to the tribunals by the parties in dispute to enable the learned men/women on the bench to determine the veracity of the facts before taking any decision. Most of these decisions were being applauded on daily basis by commentators while in few cases where decency were thrown into the wind by the sleek gray head benchers, Supreme Court has been alive to its responsibility in this respect and has decisively adjudicated on the lower court rulings whenever the latter erred in law and thereby tilt justice to its right course.

It has often come into fore where it turns out that the judgment or court pronouncement does not tally with “ours” which we assumed should be the public opinion… we are apt to jump into conclusion saying, “the judiciary has been bought over, the judiciary needs total overhauling” etc. All these expressions are signs of defeatist/selfish tendencies in us as individuals, as people or nation, and until we purge ourselves of this “ailment” that has eaten deep into our fabrics, we would not be able to put issues into right perspectives and neither shall we be able to proffer solution to issues confronting us nationally because we see ourselves as repository of wisdom.

I have been opportune to read the lead judgment. And as a layman with years of experience in court reporting for some national newspapers as a reporter in Nigeria, the judgment has demonstrated that law is different from fictions; it is factual and practical. More importantly the judgment is in accordance with the jurisprudence law. This, I know as a matter of law that there are two critical sides in any case. First is substantial compliance while the second one is doctrine of consequence.

By my own observation, the judgment kept silence on the doctrine of consequence and dealt more on substantial compliance and this falls within precinct of the principles of the court or tribunal practice over the years (though I stand to be corrected) since I am not in the legal profession, I hope my argument/submission based on journalistic experience subsists.

We should exercise some restraints and be fair in our comments on how the judiciary had handled these petitions. It is not fair to condemn in its entirety that the entire judiciary is ridden with “bad-eggs“… judgment is based on fact not on rumor mongering.

Let me add at this juncture that the likes of Aremu of Ota; Maurice Iwu and Ahmadu Ali should not rejoice yet. Let me take time to read the entire judgment and see whether what they venerate worth celebrating. It’s only a man who has lost his sense of dignity and pride that would take to the streets the way the three musketeers have shamelessly done, saying they are vindicated… Hmmm…vindicated indeed…Let someone close to these three… please inform them “it is not over until it’s over “, the battle has just started to unfold. OBJ and his ilk would soon realize their follies.

‘Lanre Ogundipe – former National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)

@February 28, 2008

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