I come from a culture where it is advised that you do not touch the tail of the lion, irrespective of whether it is alive or dead. It’s always a risky business.
Judges are like that proverbial lion. So, I will not kick a lawyer, even if he is down and out.
If you go running your mouth that judges are corrupt, just because President Muhammadu Buhari and the DSS said so, well, just be sure that you’ll end up in the court of another judge, when you’re eventually sued for libel. And as my MD, Eric Osagie, would always remind me, they hold the power of life and death.
For instance, even if you’re dragged before a judge for farting in public, you could suddenly be facing a charge of attempted murder, through ‘mass gas poisoning’. And what that means? You could be staring 21 years imprisonment in the face.
Take another instance: If the police storm your favourite bukka (as they often do to beer parlours and pepper soup joints, to raise quick money from hapless revelers), and you could not come up with a few thousand naira notes to buy your bail, you could get arrested and charged for anything under the sun – including robbery. And if you’re unlucky enough to still have the cutlery with which you were eating, then your case could be upgraded to armed robbery. The knife, fork or bottle of cold beer in your hand soon become exhibits of weapon. That means you’re armed!
Now, imagine yourself being dragged before the same judge about whom you had ‘run your mouth’ – or his judge-colleague and friend (because, once you’ve offended one judge, you’ve offended all judges. It’s almost like a cult)!
You would need divine intervention to escape the death penalty. Not even the DSS can save you. Even if the DSS appeals, and takes your case to the Supreme Court, you’ll still meet another judge there – who is probably an old classmate of the one, who sealed your fate in the lower court. The prisons and death-row are swarming with people like you. It’s “God’s case, No Appeal”.
A few months ago, there was the story of a magistrate, who was not only torchlighting the website of a married woman, but decided at one point to take over completely. And when the cuckold tried to flex the muscle that he did not have, his wife’s judge-lover also threw him in on some flimsy technical ground. In fact, if you’ve never seen God before (like the rest of us mortals), just go take a look at any judge, and you’d have an idea. And that’s no blasphemy.
That is why I will never join anybody in saying that judges are corrupt – not even when last weekend’s controversial sting operation of the DSS on the residences of some judges revealed mind-boggling loads of cash. I will not say anything. Especially when one of the judges could become our country’s next Chief Justice. Or when some of them come from a lineage that is as entrenched as it is awe-inspiring. My hand no dey o!
And, by the way, what if it is eventually proven that the said money found in the judges’ homes are actually legit? That, as judges, they’re constitutionally allowed to run their own mini-banks at home? Or are they not the same people who would interpret the Constitution? What if it is proven that it was indeed the DSS men, who planted the money they turned round to discover in the judges’ homes?
I still remember spending more than half an entire working day inside a Barclays Bank (Union Bank) branch, in 1979, watching the cashiers count about N17,000 cash brought in by my uncle. I think, the highest denomination then was Mortal (N20 note). What if it is proven that it is practically impossible to count N54 million cash within the short time that the sting operation lasted? Or did the DSS men go with counting machines? And, if they took the money away to go and count, would the cash evidence still stand in a court of law?
The coward in me still insists I should give the judges benefit of the doubt, especially when I know this country has produced some of the best jurists the world has ever known.
But that does not mean I’m unaware of the rot in our legal system today. Nor that I’m comfortable with the present arrangement whereby lawyers and judges are the judge in their own case – through the NJC. No!
In fact, not too long ago, I did a piece on the rot in the judi-sharing, where I suggested that litigants should consider bribing the judges, instead of wasting money on hiring lawyers. I recalled the dilemma of several legal practitioners, who said some eight or 10 judges had monetised justice and were giving the entire Nigerian judiciary a bad name. They told me about the two or so dozens of very senior lawyers who serve as go-between for these judges, and that their major areas of interest were election matters, maritime and oil and gas. Since it was all beer parlour talk (things you hear at the Friendship Centres of every NBA conference), I decided to keep my mouth shut. I won’t be the one to tell the headmaster that his trousers are torn at the buttocks.
Suffice it to say that, in that piece too, I naively alluded to the fact that the judges, and their go-between lawyers, were being settled in Dollars, Pounds and Euros. I did not even know that they also received Rupees, Dirham and Dalasi.
But the mention of Dalasi (the Gambian currency) is now giving me the jitters. Several years ago, when I was on my chairman’s entourage to his businesses on the West Coast, I also visited the Gambia (including the sin city of Serekunda; don’t ask me what I did there). I still have the leftover of the Dalasi I spent there. So, what happens if the DSS storms my house this night and sees those Dalasi? Would it mean that the PDP paid me, in Dalasi, to help fight Buhari and the APC government? Wahala dey o! Even if you’re a coin collector, you now have to justify that your collection of coins is not bribe money. Hmmm!
But, I always knew the judges had it coming. The moment the current government began to say that the courts were frustrating its anti-graft war, I knew trouble was coming. The moment EFCC began to talk down on judges, I knew something would soon give.
But my own position then was that government’s anger was not necessarily informed by the fact that the judiciary was compromised, but that the judges were not overlooking a few details of Due Process to throw accused persons (especially these irritant opposition figures) behind bars as soon as the government would want. Especially, at a time government needed a few trophies for the much hyped anti-graft war.
Painfully, just as politicians and corrupt business people compromise judges, so do government and its agents also compromise and blackmail judges. That is why certain EFCC cases are handed to certain judges. That is why even the prosecution sometimes ‘advises’ the defence on what lawyers they should engage, if they want to get favoubable verdict. But everything has remained in the realm of conjecture.
So, now that both the ‘briber’ and the ‘bribee’ want to mutually break their own coconuts, we can only wait and watch. I suspect, we have only just started.
After the judges, we will go to the lawyers. After the lawyers, we would go for the ministers and other officials of the Presidency. Then, we would return to the National Assembly. I’m even told that some journalists have also figured in this money sharing and go-between racketeering. Hmm!
My only concern is that by the time they have finished sharing and selling Nigeria, they should just be kind enough to leave some loose change for us hapless citizens – to continue to chop gari and okra soup. Even without meat!
Like the proverbial madman in Igbo folklore would say, I have nothing to say to the person going behind me with a machete, until when I discover that my head is no longer sitting on my neck.