By Tochu Okorie
The exposés made by my Lord Justice Muhammed Dattijo JSC, now retired, in his valedictory speech may not have come as a surprise to Nigerians. What may have come to Nigerians as a shock is the impertinence of the Chief Justice of Nigeria who omitted to respond to the damning issues raised by the retiring eminent jurist. Rather my Lord the CJN went on a red herring spending considerable amount of energy eulogising and extolling the virtues of the outgoing Jurist.
There was actually little Justice Dattijo said that Nigerians did not already know. His remarks only came as a much-needed confirmation of the never-seen-before level of corruption or, to put it more clearly, bribe-for-judgement at the Supreme Court and from which judges in lower courts have naturally taken cue.
The revered jurist came short of accusing the Chief Justice to his face of selling political cases to the highest bidder. Reference to Ahmed Lawan and Hope Uzodimma cases was no doubt a metaphoric long finger pointing at his direct boss, Justice Olukayode Ariwola.
His description of decisions of the Supreme court as having become “unpredictable” is a clear reference to the allegations made in some quarters to the effect that the court recently has developed a penchant for impudently and barefacedly denying its own precedents in cases for which either the CJN himself or the empanelled justices have allegedly received bribes.
As a litigant who has gone through the hierarchy of the courts up to the Supreme Court, I can easily relate with the views expressed by my Lord Justice Dattijo. Justice Amina Augie, JSC (Rtd.), for instance, presided over cases in which I was involved twice and in both, the decisions were befuddling even to the dullest of minds as one could readily pick holes.
The Learned Justices on the 5-man panel brazenly made decisions that are a sorry departure from the precedent they supposedly set earlier and you could not help but wonder where exactly is the place of conscience. By a singular pronouncement, my Lord Justice Emmanuel Agim foreclosed further argument even in the face of credible evidence in the case of Ebonyi PDP gubernatorial primaries forcing people to speculate on conflict of interest. This was understandably due to the fact that the trial judge in Abakaliki Justice F. O. Riman was said to be Agim’s kith and kin.
However rife the speculations, no one publicly said anything for fear of being accused of dishonouring the honourable justices and their most hallowed courts. Dattijos revelations, coming as an insider perspective, lends the much-needed voice to the voiceless majority who keep grumbling about contradictory decisions emanating from our courts.
Nigerians everywhere are already calling for the head of Justice Ariwola since after the Dattijo valedictory bombshell. And you may not be able to fault their call for his immediate resignation. I bet if you were Justice Ariwola, you would probably look for a place to hide as Dattijo released bomb after bomb, if you had any shame, that is. The event had turned to an earthquake on my Lord the CJN’s most protected territory.
As I read through the 32-page Dattijo speech, one thing kept creeping into my mind. That notorious ‘fake news’ that some ‘enemies of democracy’ purveyed during the runup to the 2023 general elections accusing our revered Chief Justice of holding a secret meeting with then APC presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu while he (the CJN), according to the fake news, pretended to be on a medical trip to London, confined to a wheelchair. My heart nearly collapsed into my mouth. Could it be true? Could the Chief Justice of my own country have stooped so low? I still refuse to imagine it. But here was his deputy in office as Chairman of National Judicial Commission struggling to tell Nigerians something.
How long the rot in the judiciary is going to continue is best left to the imagination. One can only feel sorry at the frustrations of Nigerians who certainly are not expecting those who themselves got to positions of power taking advantage of the corruption ridden courts to turn around and sanction the very same persons who ‘helped’ them to power. There lies the hopelessness.
It is a long night. That is what people are now saying. A long nightmarish night, as Nigerians keep witnessing the total collapse of every institution, worst of all, our very last line of defence, the judiciary.
If there was any shred of hope for salvaging what was left of our dear country, after the wanton damage done by the immediate past administration, Dattijo has just put a knife to it and now it is all torn in shreds. Like the Titanic, Nigeria is fast getting submerged with no one to offer a clue as to how it might be saved.
With the judiciary, the very institution which ought to whip everyone else into line, now on a free fall, captured by rogue politicians as they have done every other institution, any optimism for good and prosperous Nigeria is, I dare say, a forlorn hope.
Tochu Okorie, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org