Published On: Tue, Oct 18th, 2016

When the address is longer than the letter -By Owei Lakemfa

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On October 17, 2016

nigeria-political-map-of-nigerianVILLAGERS early in the morning on their way to farm found the tortoise tied up in front of his father-in-law’s house. On enquiry, the in-law narrated how the tortoise stole the yams in his barn.

He pointed at a heap of yams the tortoise allegedly stole. The villagers berated the tortoise not just for the alleged theft, but more for stealing in his in-law’s house. It was like committing contempt in the face of the judge. They blamed the in-law for allowing a character like tortoise marry his daughter.

In the evening when the villagers were returning from the farm, they found the tortoise in the same position. They enquired why, and the in-law narrated the same story he told in the morning. This time, the villagers tongue lashed the in-law. “Do you want to kill him?” “How can you be so cruel and inhuman?” “If you can treat your son-in-law this way, what will you not do to an outsider?”

“It is not your fault; it is the fault of tortoise who married from a wicked home”

Sympathy and support had shifted from the father- in-law, to the tortoise. The issue was no longer whether the tortoise stole or the alleged evidence of the theft, but the manner he was treated.

The former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki was arrested for allegedly diverting billions of dollars meant for the purchase of arms to fight the Boko Haram insurgency. Given the huge loss of lives, many Nigerians, like the villagers in the Tortoise allegory, were incensed. But with the processes and procedures witnessed, rather than being the culprit,

Dasuki is beginning to look like the victim. This is so much that rather than refunding the money he allegedly diverted, the ECOWAS Court, apart from pronouncing him the victim, says Nigeria should pay Dasuki N15 million for damages.

The Regional court held that: “Having perused the case before us, we have come to the conclusion that the re-arrest and detention of the applicant after he had been granted bail by three courts since December last year made mockery of the rule of law. The Executive arm should not interfere with the judiciary.

“Even if the applicant has committed crimes of whatever nature, the principle of innocence must be respected, and the fact that he has been charged to court does not disentitle him to the freedom of liberty. Courts must rise to their responsibilities and prevent executive lawlessness.

“It is the applicant today; it could be anybody tomorrow. There is no legal basis for the re-arrest of the applicant other than to circumvent the bails granted by the courts.

“We have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the purported search warrant claimed to have been obtained by the Nigerian government was an afterthought aimed at perverting the course of justice because the so-called search warrant was not certified, and to worsen the case, the defendant claimed that it could not serve the same search warrant on the applicant.”

The lessons of the Tortoise and Dasuki cases, were not evident in the ‘sting operation’ in the homes of judges. The problem was not just in the mix up of addresses, but the manner it was carried out with gates and doors being pulled down and some inhabitants being injured . Some have argued that common criminals are handled in worse manner so the judges shouldn’t complain.

My response is, so called ‘common criminals’ deserve respect and the protection of their human rights because under our laws, they are presumed innocent. Even a person caught in the act of committing a crime, deserve his day in court. That is what God demonstrated in the Bible when despite the fact that he saw Adam committing the mortal sin, he still put him on trial and asked him to take a plea. Even after Adam had given evidence that it was Eve who induced him, and God knew that was the truth, he still gave Eve, the opportunity of defending herself.

The method adopted shifted public focus from the alleged corruption of the judges and the huge sums of money allegedly recovered during the raids, to the propriety of the conduct of the security personnel. Subsequently, the judges have the support of many people and organisations including the Nigeria Bar Association, African Bar Association, the National Judicial Council and the Senate. What should have been a straight forward case, has become quite controversial and contaminated; it will need a miracle to procure a conviction before brother judges who may feel their colleagues have been humiliated and unfairly treated. Those who seek to make a fine distinction between the Temple of Justice and its priests do not seem to get the point. You need first to remove the priests from the Temple before dealing with them.

From ancient times, the Temple of Justice has been desecrated. The Prophet Amos quoted God as saying “ There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground…I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. … But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 17-24)

So I support bringing corrupt judges to book, but it must be done in accordance with the constitution that upholds the fundamental rights of all Nigerians, and the presumption of innocence. From the reports of the raids, the judges and their household have undergone a nightmare. Even if any of them is later found innocent, he may be bitter that a country in whose name he administers justice could drag him through such a humiliating ordeal; his self-confidence may equally be badly shaken. Also, justice is partly, perception. This is the reason for the saying that justice should not only be done, but also be seen to be done; what will be the perception of litigants who come before these judges?

In colonial times, letter writing was an art, and even a profession. With little Western education and migration from the rural areas to the urban centres, letter writers were in great demand. Those who engaged the services of a letter writer had to pour all the information they wanted to pass because the services did not come cheap. This gave rise to a saying in Western Nigeria that when the address is longer than the letter, then there is a problem. The explanations and justification for the raid on the judges homes have become too lengthy. It is like the address is longer than the letter.

(SOURCE –VANGUARD)

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