Very few politically motivated criminal acts have attracted as much public opprobrium and wide spread condemnation as the organised siege to the house of Justice Mary Odili, Justice of the Supreme Court a fortnight ago. Described as “an audacious act of primitivism,” placard-carrying thugs had invaded the privacy of the justice, following the decision of the Supreme Court panel she chaired to oust David Lyon as the elected governor of Bayelsa State, a decision that shocked many citizens of the state, especially members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Supreme Court had on February 13, 2020, in a unanimous decision of its five-man panel, nullified the victory of Mr. Lyon and ordered that his opponent, Mr. Douye Diri, be sworn-in as governor. Violent reactions to the verdict led to the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Bayelsa State. A manifestly sponsored protest was staged blockading the home of Justice Odili in Abuja, condemning her role in the delivery of the judgment.
But reactions to the attack on Justice Odili’s home have been swift and negative. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) described the action as a debasement of the rule of law and an attempt to intimidate the Nigerian judiciary. The NBA noted that Justice Odili is only the first among equals in the Supreme Court panel and was incapable of influencing others one way or the other in arriving at its decision. It regretted the fact that the Federal Government has not issued an official statement “on the egregious invasion of the Abuja residence of Justice Odili on Friday 14 and Tuesday 18 February 2020 by an unruly and obviously hired mob carrying placards ostensibly protesting the judgment of the Supreme Court…”
The Rivers State Government condemned the attack on the home of a former governor of the Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, the husband of Justice Mary Odili. It warned that should “this harassment and intimidation continue, it would have no alternative than to retaliate. Rivers State Government will defend the lives and property of Rivers people at all times.”
Mike Ozekhome (SAN) condemned the attack as “highly condemnable, provocative” and urged the Federal Government through the Directorate of State Services, the Inspector General of Police to immediately rise to the occasion and “fish out the ignoble perpetrators that committed the heinous crime and the desecration of the citadel of justice.”
The Rivers State delegation to the National Assembly lamented the protests and recalled that in 2015 Rivers State was the victim of unfavourable judicial decisions where in literally one fell swoop 15 out of 16 members of the National Assembly were sacked. Painful as the decisions were, there was no recourse to self-help or threat of violence against any of the justices who sat on the appeals. “We would like to point out that Justice Mary Odili who has been inexplicably and unfairly targeted since the Bayelsa governorship decision, was a member of other panels of the Supreme Court which gave judgment in favour of at least three APC governors who are in office today.”
Nigerians cannot equivocate on this blatant act that violates not only the rule of law but disrespects the judiciary, which remains the last bastion of hope for ordinary Nigerians. A physical attack on a principal officer of the apex court is nothing short of a desecration of the temple of justice. It happened in 2016 when the DSS simultaneously invaded the houses of two justices of the Supreme Court and four justices of the Federal High Court. A judge must be able to deliver judgment without fear or favour. He should not be afraid that a mob might attack his or her house. If he has to labour under threats of violence, it is not only that justice would not be done, it denotes the failure of our democracy.
We consider this as a new and a rather dangerous chapter in the breach of the rule of law. It is shocking that a personal attack on the home of a superior court judge could even be contemplated after 20 years of democracy. But what happens after is even more important and we urge the Executive Branch of the Nigerian government to set up machinery for the apprehension of the culprits.
This is one crime that must not be swept under the carpet because it would signal the complicity and or acquiescence of government officials in these condemnable attacks. Apprehending the hoodlums is the only way to demonstrate that similar attacks would not be tolerated. We must learn the rules of democracy and above all strive to implement its imperatives. A violent attack on officers of the judiciary undermines the rule of law and, in effect, our democracy.