Victor C. Ariole
Time to reconstitute the entire NJC for failing in its duties by allowing the executive to meddle in its affairs out of negligence of duty.
Montesquieu, a great French philosopher, knew that the expression: “l’état c’est moi”- “I am the state; I decide who stays alive or who must be executed”. As seen in the powerful King of France, was greatly abhorrent to humanity. Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Diderot, et al, embarked on an enlightenment documentation of a new France with lots of paper works and pamphlets to acquaint the French people of what it means to be really free; viz: knowledge, education empowerment.
Documentation on checks and balances of power and separation of power became one of the magnum opus of their performance. Unlike what is happening to Nigeria, their Chief Justice (Président de Cour Suprème) very much in agreement with their Attorney General (and the keeper of the Seal, Ministre de la Justice et Garde Des Sceaux) do not allow their profession to be compromised or ridiculed; they must agree before the nation’s seal is applied on any deal or bill.
The Chief Justice is the current day seer or judge of the then Jewish tradition of Samuel’s time before, out of foolishness, they demanded for a king. When people say Igbos don’t have king, they just failed to know that it is a revolved tradition and that Montesquieu thought of replacing in one powerful person what some members of free press see as the square and the sword. Equilateral, square or triangle, of power, joined by the press that must not falter if the wrath of the sword should be avoided. In effect the expected sword of the new dispensation is the press but they seem to be faltering also. “The pen is mightier than the sword” obliges. So, it calls for a stronger press as the fourth realm of the State; assurance coverage for press people by the State, even if it is one press person for every media house, is necessary; that means, the elected watchdog of watchdogs certified by the nation. That is how it works in France to the extent that the fear of a journalist is the beginning of a political wisdom.
They proved that to their ever greatest president yet to be surpassed; General Charles de Gaulle. Like said earlier, the Chief Justice is always supported by the Minister of Justice to an extent that a Muslim lady as Minister of Justice – Rachida – during Sarkozy presidency, stood by the constitution not minding what people of her faith said about her or what the presidency expected her to do when individual’s or faith’s interest clashes with he constitution.
That was, also, how General Charles de Gaulle was meant to resign to pave way for their current 5th Republic as they saw his humiliation as the total failure of what their 4th Republic’s constitution represented. In effect, it was not De Gaulle per se but the constitution. He still remained vindicated till today as he was begged to take on the Presidency of their reconstituted 5th Republic.
The resignation of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Ononghen is a “Jamais Vu”as per “Déjà Vu” of Heads of State in France or elsewhere. In effect, the entire NJC is to be disbanded. Three of France’s presidents could not enter second term as judicial concerns were already raised before their attempt at it – Giseard d’Estaing, Nicholas Sarkozy, François Hollande. François Hollande’s own was even made worse as journalists scooped with precision his sexual escapades even when it was not meant to be judicial issue because in France the private live of the President is entirely his affair as long as it does not conflict with his official duty.
In Nigeria, the legislature and the judiciary seem not to stand firm on their own grounds of protecting the minimum governance square. So, if the executive is the only side of the square that must stand firm, then the total square is unbalanced, chequered and inconsistent with what Montesquieu intended. Adjusted to Africa’s circumstance, some elements of elderly statesmen pronouncement should be part also.
In effect, for Nigerian’s constitution to stand the test of time, the press council must be presided by a person covered by immunity; the legislature must be presided by a security cleared leader, the press, and the judiciary; the judiciary, also, must have a leader cleared by the press, the bar and the bench.
As politics is not easily defined by ethics, the executive, in effect, becomes what other sides of the square are to monitor to avoid the derailment of the State like France did by not giving chances to Sarkozy, Giscard and Hollande for a second term. Note that a discreet François Mitterrand stayed on for 14 years – two terms, then, as against 10 years after him – notwithstanding his shielded bigamous private life. Nigerian Press, Nigerian Legislature, Nigerian Judiciary must be seen as the pillars that hold the upper side of the square that must be seen as stable so as to buttress Montesquieu stance and to avoid what French people see, today, as Voltaire’s wrong stance of laicity or secularity, when their side of the press started faltering; that is, the press must be responsible and responsive as well as proactive to avoid weak prosecution or whistle blowing that make mockery of the State and its leaders.
When the press scoops, let it be provable beyond reasonable doubt and endorsed by State assured press person. Assurance cover is crucial here to avoid Dele Giwa’s thankless devotion.
Resignation of the CJN, like that of the France’s President in their 4th Republic, necessitates a constitutional review as well as the total resignation of all the members of Nigerian Judicial Council.
ARIOLE is a Professor of French and Francophone Studies University of Lagos.