Brother Jero is a self-acclaimed prophet who preaches on the Bar Beach in Lagos. He is also a manipulator and a religious hypocrite. In The Trials of Brother Jero, a play by Professor Wole Soyinka, Brother Jero is able to retain the subservience of his gullible followers by convincing them that they will soon fulfill their desires to acquire money, power and social status. Unfortunately, many Nigerians now see the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, and the arm of government he heads, through the manipulative prism of Brother Jero. This explains why people now manufacture negative stories against the CJN and some of his brother justices without qualms. Recently, the news went round that Justice Ariwoola had a telephone conversation with President Bola Tinubu and the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS) on the ongoing presidential election petition case. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has since denied this story.
The apex court also debunked the story that flew around last March that Ariwoola flew to London, disguised in a wheelchair, to see Tinubu on the pretext of going for medical treatment. The Director of Press and Information of the court, Akande Festus, noted in a recent statement that if the current trend of falsehood and mudslinging was sustained, “our nation may not make the desired progress.” He assured the public that justice would be done to all matters pending in the various courts across the country, irrespective of who was involved. Good. But, a lot of Nigerians are not impressed with this assurance. Last week, fake news merchants publicised the ‘resignation’ of a member of the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC), Justice Boloukuoromo Ugo. The false story indicated that some unnamed people were piling pressure on Justice Ugo to cripple the independence of the judiciary by ruling in favour of a particular candidate in the ongoing case. Tired of this pressure and unwilling to go against his conscience, Ugo purportedly resigned.
Like the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal also debunked this story. We are still waiting for the Supreme Court to deny the other negative news that the government of the United States of America slammed a visa ban on the CJN himself and six other members of the Supreme Court, including Musa Dattijo Mohammed, Centus Nweze, and Kudirat Kekere Ekun. The purported ban was over their alleged delivery of controversial and inciting judgements. For instance, the Supreme Court upturned the judgements of the High and Appeal Courts to declare the current Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and his predecessor, Ahmad Lawan, the senatorial candidates of their zones in the 2023 general election. The two candidates were presidential aspirants of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But when they lost to Bola Tinubu in the presidential primaries, they came back to snatch the senatorial positions in connivance with their party. Akpabio displaced Udom Ekpoudom who had won the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial primary election. Lawan displaced Bashir Machina, who won Yobe North senatorial district primary election.
This is in contravention of Section 115(d) of the Electoral Act which forbids anyone from signing a nomination paper or result form as a candidate in more than one constituency at the same election. Today, Lawan and Akpabio are back in the Senate courtesy of the Supreme Court. People still remember how the Supreme Court, in January 2020, catapulted Mr. Hope Uzodimma of the APC from fourth position to first in the Imo State governorship election petition of 2019. He displaced Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP from the governorship seat. Most times, our judges resort to technicalities whenever they want to rule in favour of their preferred candidate. This is despite warnings against this by the Supreme Court. The Chairman of the five-man Presidential Election Petition Court, Justice Haruna Tsammani, warned at inception of the panel, that they would not tolerate delay tactics or technicalities that might derail the cause of justice. The justices pledged to be fair to all parties and to look at the 2023 election petitions dispassionately. Many Nigerians hope the justices fulfill their promise.
They pray that the scenario, which former Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa enacted during the valedictory session of the ninth Senate, does not recur. Bulkachuwa said he had helped some of his colleagues in their cases when his wife, retired Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, was the President of the Court of Appeal. His revelation didn’t go down well with a lot of Nigerians. The rot in the judiciary had angered the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BoSAN). Sometime last year, BoSAN lamented that some of the justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court were not competent because they were made judges on quota system basis without much consideration for merit. This probably explains the concern of some Nigerians about the appointment of Ariwoola’s son, Olukayode Ariwoola jnr., as a Federal High Court judge. Many people see it as a wrong decision, being that Ariwoola is head of the National Judicial Council (NJC) that made the recommendation for the appointment. For me, if the son is qualified to be a judge, why not.
He should not be denied that privilege because he is the CJN’s son. It is only bad if he is not qualified, or if he was given undue advantage over others because of his privileged position as the CJN’s son. The point is, many Nigerians have a jaundiced view of our current judicial system. People want a change. They desire a system where the rule of law prevails. They wish for a true democracy where bad leaders can be voted out through the ballot. A corrupt judiciary is the bane of achieving this true democracy. It is not for nothing that that arm of government is seen as the last hope of the common man. But, in Nigeria, it appears to be the major hope of the oppressor. That is why the joke in town today is, “go to court”. This is mimicry of the statements of some of our political leaders who benefit from the injustice emanating from our courts today. We need to redeem the image of our judiciary. The first step is to grant it financial autonomy. A situation where the judicial arm goes cap in hand to ask for funds from the executive is abnormal.
It has to stop because it gives room for politicians to manipulate the judiciary for their selfish interests. Besides, the NJC should sanction judges found to have compromised their position one way or the other. It has done it before when it sanctioned Justice Stanley Nnaji (now late) and Wilson Egbo-Egbo for professional misconduct. Nevertheless, he who goes to equity must go with clean hands. The CJN and other top judicial officers must be clean so as to have the moral authority to sanction others. If judges refuse to be lured by the filthy lucre; if they dispense justice without fear or favour; if they put the survival of Nigeria first before any other thing, then people may begin to have confidence again in their judgements. A lot of Nigerians are traumatised by the conduct of the last general election. Their only hope now lies in the judiciary. Justice Ariwoola should sanitize that institution or, like Brother Jero, go down the road of infamy with opprobrium.
• Casmir Igbokwe is Publisher/Editor-in-Chief at NewsProbe.