Issues arising from the arrest and detention of some Supreme and High Court judges are beginning to endure. They did not fizzle out so fast in the way most things Nigerian do. It is evident from the furore they are generating that they will continue to command the attention of the public for some time to come.
We had imagined initially that the incident was a storm in a tea cup, which would blow over in no time. But the sub plots that followed the main narrative have since proved otherwise. Some fellows also thought at that point that the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, was the issue in the midnight raid of the residences of some judicial officers. The governor, we were told, frustrated the attempt by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) to arrest a certain Judge of the Federal High Court. The initial attention paid to Wike’s action almost distracted the watching world from the rape and brigandage carried out by the DSS.
But the bad boy tag, which Wike’s detractors wanted to hang on his neck petered out so fast. His political arch rival, Chibuike Amaechi, stole the show, but in an unedifying manner. While the Presidency was trying to extricate itself from the bad job carried out by DSS, Amaechi’s name tore through the thickets of the ugly drama. Justice Inyang John Okoro, one of the justices of the Supreme Court arrested by the DSS, was the first to blow the lid. He accused Amaechi of bribing him in order to secure favourable judgement from the Akwa Ibom governorship appeal panel. He said Amaechi, while trying to influence him, said he was the emissary of President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress.
We were yet to absorb the damning accusation when another bombshell was released by another Supreme Court justice arrested by the DSS, Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta. Again, Amaechi was the issue. Ngwuta said Amaechi approached him to set aside the election of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State in order to pave way for the emergence of Kayode Fayemi as governor. In the accusations under reference, the justices gave graphic details of what transpired between them and Amaechi. They demonstrated that they were not playing the spoilsport.
The cacophonous reactions that have trailed Amaechi’s alleged involvement in the ongoing judicial drama have since made Wike a saint in the entire saga. A mere midnight intervention to prevent the unlawful arrest of a judge is really not an issue when placed side by side with the weighty allegations hanging on the neck of Amaechi like the sword of Damocles.
For a state like Rivers whose governor has been fighting a war of attrition with the opposition, it was easy to cash in on Wike’s action and make a mountain out of the molehill. However, commentators on the issue were almost unanimous in their position that Wike saved a situation.
But the setting has gone even messier by the allegations of bribery, which Amaechi and some other loyalists of the president are facing. Amaechi is now in the eye of the storm. He has a responsibility to tell Nigerians what he knows or does not know about the open air allegations from the Supreme Court justices. The way the issue will be resolved will go a long way in telling us whether our judiciary is innately corrupt or whether it is the political class that is corrupting the judiciary. It will also help us to establish whether the problem with the Nigerian judiciary is a combination of both factors. Those whose responsibility it is to bring the truth to the open have a job to do here. They must not sweep the issue under the carpet.
However, after the storm, the real issue at stake remains the cankerworm called corruption. We are all familiar with the damage corruption has inflicted on the country’s political and economic fabric. Corruption has become so ingrained in the people’s lifestyle to the extent that Nigeria has become almost synonymous with corruption. The people have lived with it for years on end. Efforts have been made, one way or another, to stem the tidal wave of corruption. But all that have, so far, come to nought . Somehow, Nigerians have come to accept corruption and corrupt practices as a way of life; almost as something normal.
A recourse to Nigeria’s political leadership will readily point to the fact that successive Nigerian leaders have failed to stamp out corruption from our body politic. But Buhari is seeking to make a difference. On assumption of office last year, Buhari talked tough. He said he would give corruption a bloody nose. However, many have faulted him in this matter. He has been accused of being selective in the corruption battle. Nigerians have copiously pointed out that some of the people who surround him are notoriously corrupt. They wonder how the president will be going after some other Nigerians, who are perceived to be corrupt while turning a blind eye to the ones around him. The allegations hanging on the neck of Amaechi is a case in point. Will the president be interested in the matter or will he look the other way? This perception of selectivity has since cast a dangerous slur on Buhari’s anti-corruption battle.
Whatever the president does or does not do, Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the recent assault on our judicial officers. Until it took place, Nigerians did not quite know that such a scenario was possible. This is because even the worst of military times did not witness such brazenness.
Nigerians have been ill at ease with this development. But in the desperate bid to justify its action, the Presidency has embarked on a wild goose chase. It said that it had carried out a legal review of the DSS raid. Its verdict was that the DSS was in order. It acted within its powers and within the law.
But you do not need any dexterity to see through the absurdity, wafting out from the Presidency. A clear case of impunity and human rights violation has been converted to an academic exercise by government. It is embarking on research in the bid to justify its action. This is strange. I had thought that governance is about practicality until the Presidency introduced theory into it. It has decided to jump from pillar to post, combing from the United States, through Russia and Kenya to find parallels. This research could be a rich resource material for a doctoral thesis in the judicial world of impunity. Regardless of its fanciful allusions, no one is deceived by the antic from government. The sophistry is not working. Those who know are convinced that government, out of desperation, is trying to latch on to something.
Indeed, the action of the DSS has put a bold question mark on the government’s anti-corruption war. While Nigerians agree that corruption should be stamped out of the country’s body politic, they are averse to the lionisation and legitimisation of impunity, which the DSS is passing off as anti-corruption war.