We should ponder the paradox. Magu is fighting thieves. He takes them to court but loses. Lawyers smile home with their fees and judges get their pay. The people do not get their due though. Why? Because when whistle-blowers scream, stolen money erupts from hidden places.
A shop from a high-end store spews out about N500 million. From a market where iya amala retails folksy delicacies, a kiosk spits out N250 million. From an airport up north, five bags burst with crisp currency on the border of N50 million.
An unknown receptacle of other people’s money stashes N4 billion in an unnamed bank. Then a flat hoists $43 million. A sitting governor salivates for it and accuses his predecessor of ferreting it away from a project. The National Intelligence Agency says it is their own, as though the Nigerian money should not reside in the bank. So, on its own, the huge sum rented a flat in a tony loft on Victoria Island.
The people are miffed, and when the man who stalks the larcenous monsters goes to court, some lawyers of great knowledge know better. They hang onto technical matters of the law and hang the prosecution. Magu weeps. The thieves sigh. The people wonder.
The eruption of loot in private places juxtaposes with the SANs and justices who give victory to the defence. This shows us, as I indicated last week, that law has failed us in Nigeria. The courts say the thieves can go free, we can go to hell. What then is the purpose of the law?
They claim the cases were not properly presented. It’s an excuse to canonise criminals. If the society as a whole owes itself the task to battle sleaze, the onus lies on the court, lawyers and judges to bring it to fruition. There lies the value of the lawyers.
Yet, it is the same lawyers who fail to make the case, and the judges who fail to give the right verdict. So, is it the law that we should blame? Well, a little bit. Our laws pretend to be rooted in our culture. But it is an import from Europe and the United States. Nothing wrong with that. But we have failed to adapt them to our peculiar social context. The laws are domiciled here but not domesticated. It’s like a broadcaster employed from Coventry whose accent skews a local name on NTA.
But those judges who claim to be loyalists of technical details know little about what the law means. In western societies, the technicalities work because the values are settled. For instance, a society that forces a judge to recuse himself because he is suggested to have a link with a lawyer is acting out of a sense of justice. In such a society, the law knows its technicality does not bow to mere letter of the law, but the spirit. It is the same spirit that forces the judge to resign that informs the jugular of verdicts.
In Europe and the U.S., the same constitution that compelled the society to burn blacks at the stake was used to enfranchise them in the flush of the civil rights movement. The society must allow its values to determine the law. The society rose against racial injustice, and the eyes of judges were opened to the law that espouses equality. It was always there in the US law, that “all men are created equal.”
They saw it when the society evolved. Before then, no matter the cleverness of the prosecution, the judges looked the other way as dark-skinned folks flared to ashes. Hence Gani Fawehinmi noted that if he had a case between the rich man and the poor man, he would find the law for the poor man. The law may be an ass, but we must not let it ride us.An instance was
An instance was recently, when Justice D.D. Longi let two armed robbery suspects free because of “lack of diligent prosecution.” The justice was lazy. Did he not have the capacity of the law to scream to the state authorities and the media and compel them to make the case? If he wrote them formally and asked the attorney general to wade in, the media would holler with headlines. Social media would echo it. Longi made technicalities work against justice. The fellows may be innocent or guilty. He owed us the duty to exhaust all institutional resources first. It’s matters like this that made D.H. Thoreau say that “the law never made anyone a whit more just.”
The founding father of Botswana, Seretse Khama, was denied under a technical law from being king because he married a white woman. They manipulated local chiefs, including his regent uncle. But he marshalled the law to expose the British, including shifty Winston Churchill, who were less interested in justice than the diamond in the bowel of Bechuanaland.
Behind every big case of fraud is a SAN, and behind any judgment that liberates a thief is a judge with a callow mind. Shakespeare’s Henry the VI character, Dick the Butcher, said, “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” He meant it in jest, but the quote has endured through the ages because of the intellectual duplicity of wigs. Our SANs are a great bane of the age. Hence Jesus poured woe on lawyers because they have “taken away the key of knowledge. You have not entered yourselves, and you have hindered those who are entering.”
The verdicts on Patience Jonathan, Ozhekome, Ademola point to this general decadence. To save the law, we have to first save the lawyers. The society has a role to play. The lawyers have fallen short, so have our judges. The judges failed in the three EFCC cases because they did not apply the principle of hermeneutics for justice. The reader interprets a text in context.
No text is bland until the reader makes it. If the lawyer is making an imperfect case, a good judge will do the right and save the case. That’s when the rule of law makes sense. But our justices are lost because they love themselves and their money more, and the society less. “The more one judges, the less one loves,” wrote French writer Honore de Balzac. We want lawyers and judges that love our society more.