Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ekiti warriors and desecration of the temple of justice

Compatriots, hearty congratulations on Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary and successful containment of the Ebola Virus Disease. Today, as the President reads his independence speech, so will the Independent National Electoral Commission be issuing the Notice of Election in fulfilment of the provision of section 30 (1) of Electoral Act 2010, as amended. With the umpire blowing whistle for the formal commencement of electioneering towards the 2015 polls my anxiety is heightened by the dishonourable antecedents of Nigeria’s political class. The unfolding scenario in Ekiti State, if it will be the barometer for 2015 elections, then all well-meaning citizens and well-wishers of Nigeria must be concerned.
Am I really surprised at last week’s attacks on courts and judges in Ekiti State? No, I am not. It’s a war foretold. The Ekiti warriors were just acting out a similar script has had been played in Delta, Edo and Rivers states. How do I mean? In January 22, 2014 article I wrote in this column titled, “Reversing anarchy in the temple of justice,” I had chronicled previous attacks on Nigerian courts and judicial officers. I said then that Nigerian judiciary is undergoing three types of violence: physical, psychological and structural.
In that piece I said:” It is fast becoming a norm for judicial officers or their family members to be assaulted in order to intimidate them from carrying out their lawful duty. Sometime ago, some judges in Delta State came under severe molestation by assailants. According to media reports, on August 7, 2012, a High Court judge, Marcel Okoh, was abducted and spent 10 days in his abductors’ den. Also, on Tuesday, December 3, 2012, another judge of the High Court, Marshal Mukoro, allegedly escaped death by a whisker after his sports utility vehicle was riddled with bullets by unknown assailants. There was another case of Justice Flora Azinge who purportedly escaped being kidnapped and had to run away from the court for months. Also, on Friday, May 10, 2013, unknown gunmen abducted the wife, daughter, and driver of a Supreme Court Justice, Bode Rhodes-Vivour. The victims were travelling to Edo State, ahead of the Justice’s daughter’s wedding ceremony.”
“Rivers State has added to the list of environment that is hostile to judiciary. Courts, which are temples of justice, are being routinely vandalised and bombed in the crises rocking the state. In 2013, a Magistrate’s Court in Okehi in the Etche Local Government Area of the state was vandalised while files and other vital documents were set ablaze by unidentified arsonists. On December 18, 2013, an explosion reportedly rocked the premises of the Ahoada High Court under Justice Charles Wali. The same court on January 6, 2014 was bombed by unknown attackers. The blast affected the secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association located within the court premises. Same day, another High Court in Okehi in the Etche Local Government Areas was also set ablaze. There were suspicions that the explosion and fire might not be unconnected with the involvement of the two courts in handling matters relating to the political crisis rocking the state.”
I then wrote about the psychological violence being inflicted on judges by lawyers and their clients who because they have lost cases in court will come out openly to disparage the judge and accuse them of having been compromised. On structural violence, I talked about the underfunding of the judiciary among the three arms of government. I wrote in that piece that: “Statistics have shown that, funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95bn in that year to N85bn in 2011, then N75bn in 2012 and dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67bn. I learnt the allocation for the judiciary in the 2014 budget is N68bn, a paltry N1bn more than last year’s.”
I must hasten to say that it is not only the members of the bench, I mean the judges, that suffer violence. Members of the bar also do. In April 2011, an Abuja based lawyer who then was vying for the senatorial seat in the Federal Capital Territory, Kayode Ajulo, was kidnapped and later released. In August 2013, human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, was kidnapped in Edo State and released 20 days after paying a ransom of N40 million according to Thisday of 10 June, 2014.
Back to the latest assault on judiciary in Ekiti State. News report has it that on Monday, 22 September Justice Olusegun Ogunyemi, who is handling a case filed by the Ekiti-11 on the eligibility of the Governor-elect, Ayo Fayose, to contest the last June governorship election narrowly escaped being lynched by an irate mob who attacked his court on that fateful day. Same week, precisely on Thursday, 25 September, a sitting   judge,   Justice John Adeyeye, was   beaten up   and his suit torn by political thugs. The record book of the Chief Judge, Justice Ayodeji Daramola, was also torn into pieces by the thugs who also disrupted proceedings at the state Election Petitions Tribunal. The tension in the court forced the state’s chief judge to order the immediate closure of all the state high courts. Aftermath of the ensuing tension, former Ekiti State Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Omolafe Aderiye, was murdered on the night of 25 September. Reprisal by his supporters led to arson in which several houses and vehicles were burnt. This made Governor Kayode Fayemi to impose a dusk to dawn curfew on the state.
I couldn’t agree more with the position of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project who in a petition dated 29 September 2014 sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul, had observed that, “Apart from violating the rights of the judges to personal dignity and security, the attacks also constitute a threat to the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and the entire justice system. The attacks amount to improper interferences and pressures on the judiciary, and can undermine the smooth function of justice, public’s confidence in the rule of law, effective enjoyment of human rights, and ultimately lead to people taking the law into their own hands.”
Beyond the aforementioned implication as enunciated by SERAP, the development in Ekiti has not only led to further delay in the course of justice in the state as a whole particularly for those seeking redress in other criminal and civil cases that have nothing to do with politics, it has also impacted negatively on the fragile peace reigning in the state since the June 21 governorship election with concomitant deleterious effects on the socio-economic life of the state. The Ekiti scenario is a bad omen for 2015 elections and is a wakeup call for government at all levels to beef up security around the courts and judicial officers. All those who are connected with the unfolding anarchy in Ekiti need to be arrested and successfully prosecuted. If reign of terror is allowed in the sacred temple of justice, we should be rest assured that Hobbesian state of nature where life is short, brutish and nasty will be the sole alternative. The choice is for government and the unruly political elite to make.
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