Now that some of the dust has settled, it is a good time to review dispassionately the free-for-all wrestling that took place last week in the Federal High Court no 8, Abuja.
Nigerian Courts are not NGOs, despite their branding as the ‘last hope of the common man’. Courts are State institutions. The same constitution that created the Presidency and the National Assembly, also created The Court.
Although the Judiciary is the ‘third-born’ of our constitution, there is nothing third-rate about her powers. Even dictators appreciate the word power of judges who, owning neither treasury nor armory, can scrap a budget, sack a president and stop an army in its tracks.
Coup plotters may take over State House and Parliament, they may assassinate prime ministers and jail lawmakers, but when they approach the Supreme Court it is usually respectfully, asking to be sworn into a presidency they have stolen at gunpoint. No dictator, however big his balls, takes over the judiciary directly.
They know how silly they will look in a wig and gown. And how difficult it is to memorize Latin phrases.
Dictators who lust after judicial powers must acquire them indirectly: by bribing spineless judges with undeserved promotions, and blackmailing corrupt ones into compliance – failing which, they are disgraced out of office. The honest judiciary is managed by intimidation: the timorous, afraid of midnight raids by security forces, will convert their judicial gavels into rubber stamps of executive lawlessness.
Ijeoma Ojukwu J. is no timid judge. On Friday, 6th December, 2019 two conflicting hashtags, #SoworeReleased and #SoworeRearrested began to trend, simultaneously, on Nigerian Twitter. The first was triggered by Justice Ojukwu who had given the State Security Services (which goes by the less-sinister but unlawful alias, ‘Department of State Services or DSS’) 24 hours to release Sowore from a four-month-long illegal detention.
The SSS complied and released Sowore. The SSS triggered the second hashtag after court sessions, on 6th December when a posse of officers attempted a rearrest. Armed and uniformed officers were unable to produce an arrest warrant when it was demanded, but they pursued Sowore into the Court premises and up to the entrance of Court No. 8. Plainclothes SSS agents then entered and brawled for the body of Sowore with feisty Nigerians on the red-upholstered seats of justice.
A warrant of arrest, where one exists, can of course be executed on any day and in any place in Nigeria, except for the lone exception established by s.43 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015: within the actual courtroom in which a Court is sitting.
The SSS and the presidency have denied that the court invasion actually interrupted court sessions and forced the judge to retire into chambers. They insist that no staff of theirs wrestled in the Federal High Court. They assert that the courtroom drama was just that: a ‘Nollywood’ production by Sowore who recruited actors to enact a court invasion for the express object of defaming the service.
Unfortunately, the SSS’ exculpation is – like the original explanation of the disappearance of Kashoggi by the secret service of Saudi’s Arabia – embarrassed by viral video evidence. It is also substantially contradicted by the weight of independent press reports. In the viral videos, a robed and wigged ‘barrister’, who was announced in the DSS legal team, can even be seen striking Sowore on the head.
The most generous that can be argued for the SSS account is that this is the hand of the monkey in the soup pot that mightily resembles that of an innocent child. “The Service holds the Judiciary in utmost respect,” declares the SSS in its press release. Its body language models the polar opposite: a service institutionally contemptuous of the Citizen, the National Assembly, and the Judiciary. These instances will do for now:
- Citizens routinely disappear in their hundreds into SSS custody: some families have searched for their loved ones for up to five years without a clue that they were abducted by the SSS.
- The National Assembly itself was invaded in August last year, by officers of the SSS in a politically-inspired siege that triggered an international scandal.
- As for the Judiciary, the SSS appears to consider itself a reviewing authority superior even to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, choosing what court orders to obey, and when, and continuing to detain people like Sambo Dasuki for more than 4 years, despite up to seven court orders issued for his release by exasperated judges. The SSS has also conducted a 3 am fishing raid, without a valid warrant, on the home of a judge who had the effrontery to grant bail to one of their detainees.
The subsidiary legislation of the SSS also mandates it to protect the president, governors, and other high-ranking members of government. Unfortunately, like other security services, the SSS has misinterpreted this statutory duty to protect the lives of public officers as a duty to protect their political careers and to revenge their hurt feelings and damaged reputations when citizens lambast them either for their incompetence or kleptocracy.
This tragic misapprehension has caused our security services to lose focus of their prime purpose of existence. The work of the SSS is critical to a safe society. Where the SSS is functioning properly, menaces like Boko Haram and herdsmen-linked terrorists would be contained and on the retreat. Sadly our security agencies are attempting to balance the elephant of Nigeria’s very real security challenges in a headpan while giving toe massages to the egos of the occupants of our public offices.
Politicians serve all Nigerians, including gutter dwellers. Anyone allergic to gutter language does not belong in politics. When the constitutional limits of free speech have been breached, it falls to the courts, not the detention cells of security services, to remedy the affronted.
Indefinite detentions by security services suggests that the SSS has such incompetent investigators and lawyers that they cannot risk the legal process and go straight to sentencing. This travesty is occurring in broad daylight: alarming numbers of Nigerian citizens are disappearing into anonymous dungeons. Citizen Dadiyata, for instance, has been missing since August, suspected of being abducted by the SSS.
This is a crisis.
Other security services are complicit in the oppression of the citizen. Journalist and citizen Agba Jalingo for instance published a story challenging the Cross River State governor to account for N500 million of public funds. He is 77 days in detention, and counting, on trial for his life on treason and terrorism charges.
Let us pause to assess the impact of the SSS’ institutional contempt for the Rule of Law. It is difficult: the normal words, contempt of court, are woefully inadequate. The conjoined words REVOLUTIONNOW, come close, but revolution implies some degree of principled resistance to government. Yet, how does one carry out a revolution against a government one is part of?
This level of thuggery betokens more of a mindless REVOLTNOW. A sitting judge is the epitome of state power. A wayward locomotive of state excess can be stopped, inches from the hapless citizen, by a judicious word uttered from the bench of judicature. The power of a court judgement flows from the constitutional fact that every fibre of every muscle of state power will be flexed to bring to pass the judgement of a Court of law.
But in the ‘DSS’ we have an extra-constitutional authority serving unconstitutional interests against the Nigerian Citizen, who is the prime purpose and raison d’etre of the Nigerian constitution.
If any brigand can rout a sitting judge from his bench without compunction, if any agency of government can decide if, when and to what extent a Court order will be obeyed without consequence, then a Court judgement has the weight of used tissue. It is as vain as the vituperation of a vexed whore, and we have neither Rule of Law nor civilised country.
We have an anarchy.
In 1983, when General Buhari first fulfilled the requirement of section 37 of the Criminal Code by leading an armed overthrow of the constitutional government of President Shehu Shagari, his war cry was, “a flawed democracy is worse than no democracy at all.’ Perhaps the SSS are believers in the Gospel According to Buhari. Perhaps they are weighing Nigeria’s current democracy for flaws. Perhaps, as Buhari students, they feel that ‘the justice that does not favour us is worse than no justice at all’. Perhaps they feel that they are as justified in staging REVOLTNOW, and storming the Federal High Court in 2019 as General Buhari was in staging his coup and storming Shehu Shagari’s statehouse in 1983.
For a century, Nigerian lawyers and judges have dressed in embarrassingly female frocks and wigs. We have also dressed common sense in Latin phrases. All these attempts to bring dignity and gravitas to the seat of justice are now in vain. The SSS Court invasion of 6th December, that stampeded Justice from her Court, strips us naked of any dignity left over after the recent decapitation of our Supreme Court.
Perhaps, to the clients who comes to chambers, we must now confess the truth: the Nigerian Court cannot protect itself, how much more you. REVOLTNOW, follow the anarchical example of the SSS, get yourself a posse of a dozen armed men and take what your power can win for you.
But we have superior dreams for Nigeria.
The night of anarchy is indeed upon us, triggered by a coup against the government of Muhammadu Buhari by the faithful men of Muhammadu Buhari. In Buhari’s first coup in 1983, the Courts were indeed his enemy, as the last vestiges of constitutionality that survived the sacking of Shagari’s presidency and the national assembly, the Courts, imperfect and corrupt though they may have been, were a hedge between the common man and the retrospective laws and rampant detentions that were the hallmark of Buhari’s first coming.
Today, General Buhari as our constitutional president is in the puzzling position of undermining the constitutionality of his own government. Is he still nursing a Sambo-sized grudge against the Courts held over from the 80s? Or is he still a warrior against flawed democracies and just as repulsed by the corruption of the 2019 Buhari government as he was by the 1983 Shagari government? Is this why the government of Mohammadu Buhari is currently sabotaging the government of Mohammadu Buhari?
Whatever may be the explanation, this is a wake-up call to the Office of the Citizen. The remnants of our democracy and Rule of Law is under attack by ruthless Private Servants in Public Office. The assets, powers and offices of our public service has been co-opted to the service of shadowy private interests. With the tools of the Rule of Law we must resist unconstitutionality with all our might and with all legitimate tools of protest.
The Rule of Law is a curious animal. On 27th August 1985, General Buhari went from head of state to jailbird, spending the next three years in arbitrary detention far from the help of the courts he had defanged. As Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki sharpened the tiger claws of the SSS. In 2015, he was bucked off the back of the tiger, and found himself inside the belly of the beast he had nourished. The Rule of Law is a curious animal.
The Rule of Law is not for saints, it is not for sinners. It is for EVERYONE. We must stand for everyone’s equality under the law, whether for preferment or for judgement. Even when we must hold our noses to avail the Rule of Law to our worst enemy, we must do so. We must see off the beast of impunity from our body politic, before darkness falls and all we can do is listen to scream after scream after scream, until the scream is ours.
We questioned the decapitation of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, not because the incumbent was innocent of corruption, but because, the Rule of Law. Process must be followed, be the defendant friend or foe. If corruption alone is validation for truncating the constitutional process for removing corrupt officers, then our federal and state cabinets, which sometimes takes on the look of an EFCC Old Boys Club will be on the line for unconstitutional change. But we still counsel process. And the ears of power must listen, humbly to the roar of protest, and heed the warning. Today there is a resounding silence from the Supreme Court of Nigeria. But it is up to the Citizen to amplify the voice of the gavel of freedom from those Courts that still stand in the gap for the Citizen against executive lawlessness.
Why bother, you might ask. After all, Aso Rock is staffed with distinguished fair weather activists who had protested and screamed their way into office and are now nursing their strained vocal cords in silence with the milk of autocracy. They will soon be evicted from power and will joint the hungry ranks with an exculpatory book, back in activist mode, screaming Rule of Law. What assurance is there, you might ask, that another personnel change will make a difference: we have been ruled by 32-year-olds and 76-year-olds, by Ph.Ds and semi illiterates. We have had the brilliant and the thick, the eloquent and the mumblers. None has interrupted the downward graph of our fortunes. What is the point of protest if the next president may even out-Buhari Buhari?
Vigilance is the eternal tax we must pay for our freedoms. We protest impunity because it is human to do so, because we are no cooped-up chickens waiting patiently to be harvested one after the other. You are right to be disillusioned about campaigns for change that only bring worse characters into power. But the Rule of Law is about enthroning systems, not mere personnel changes in the halls of power. Visit the Bribecode project and sign on for systemic change. And then join the resistance to impunity, in every way you can.
Because we live in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not the Dauran Kingdom of Buharia.