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To judge a Judge

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During the Jonathan era, a near fuss – sometimes amounting to farce – was made about building an institution in place of the strong man. Perhaps because of the personality contrast between Buhari and GEJ, we seem to have collapsed in favour of the person instead of the institution. Jonathan, a backstage man, soft, sly, leading from behind. Buhari, ascetic, gangling, front-room bull, crashing the china.

But nothing reflects this conflict as the recent theatrics over the judges. In a bid to give respectability to its operation, the DSS called its act a “sting operation.” To call it a “raid” would take away from its subtlety or moral grandeur. So, they used a rhetorical sleight of hand. Sting operation means it is choreographed, decent and ineluctably lawful. But a raid? That will hark back to the Buhari-era military, with all its echoes of strong arms and hushed voices.

But the facts are the facts. What happened was not a sting operation. The DSS should know we are no illiterates here. A sting operation amounts to a stage-managed affair, and the culprit is caught in the act. So, if a judge is caught in a sting operation, it means he is taking the bribe while the giver is handing it over. A recent example was the case of the English football coach, who had to step down in the face of overwhelming video evidence.

The DSS probably anticipated a moral backlash, so it dressed up its acts with a meretricious phrase. So, they raided the alleged thieves like the thief in the night. They said they picked up evidence, huge stash of Naira and dollar. In a sting operation, those will be “hot” evidence. In this case, it is “passive” evidence. The judges were not caught in the act, but with the act. Allegedly.

But does that make the DSS operation wrong? No. They acted within the law. Could they have gotten the same evidence in a dawn or afternoon activity? Of course. The night gave it a sort of bestial colour. But truth does not often result from smooth dealing. The night affair may not have been a holy act, but an unholy act was unveiled. Allegedly. If in the end, they turn out to be justified, then it is one of those instances where Machiavelli’s morality holds sway. All is well, says the bard, that ends well.

The raid plays on a popular sentiment. Many believe our judges are corrupt, and when the DSS found huge haul of money, what better way to stir support and confirm the lordships’ iniquities? Many top role models, including within the judiciary, have bewailed the deviousness of the judges. They have gone to justice without pure hands. They have acquitted the murderers, killed the innocent, played sly with electoral mathematics, made sinners governors. They are the murderers in the cathedral, apologies to T.S. Eliot. They piss in the pond of justice and get paid for it.

Some judges are reported to be so fertile that they sometimes write two verdicts and wait for the higher bidder. When we sell justice, we sell our souls. The society becomes lost. When the drunken man in The Mayor of Casterbridge sells his wife, he sells his soul and never gets anything back. The judiciary is important, but history has shown that it is on rare occasion that it helps save a society. Judges are, for most parts, weak men and women, who flourish in conformity.

They hardly challenge the ruling order even though they have the instrument in their hands. The judicial truth was silent during the treasonable felony in the “my hands are tied” verdict of Justice Sowemimo. It was silent in the June 12 verdicts under IBB’s duress. It was silent during the slavery era until the British and Americans found slavery no longer profitable and Judge Mansfield gave a verdict in 1776 as though he were a man of courage. Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park, is a subtle jibe at a society of self-sufficient affluence gorging on the largesse of slave plantations.

The justices were silent when Abraham Lincoln dumped the rule of law and habeas corpus and only ruled it illegal after the civil war. Nazi Germany, Stalin era, etc in a combustible Europe of the last century saw judges whose lips were clipped. In the 1960’s, the so-called preventive detention laws came pell-mell on dissent.

The judges need to be judged. But who will? The NJC’s response has been hasty and defensive. It ought to have shown balance. It should not have run to the defence of its peers, but would have shown an interrogatory temperament. It would have asked questions more than given answers.

Of course, there are questions, the DSS must answer. Even if we know the judges are corrupt, on whose evidence are we to rely? If they found a million in a judge’s home, we need evidence that that is, in fact, the case. It is paradoxical that the DSS is angry that judges have more than they earn, and that is a great point once they prove it in court.

But in this same government, a certain military officer had a home that his lifetime earnings could not muster and we have seen no sting operation, or raid, whether at night, daylight or dawn.

Eventually though, the DSS has said it will have to take the matter to the courts. The same justices who have waded in, in defence of their colleagues will still have to adjudicate. Is it going to be a case of a man being a judge in his own cause? Will the DSS be willing to capitulate to a Supreme Court whose main players are NJC gladiators and have shown a certain “partial flavour” in the matter?

Rather than be a case of strong men clashing, it will be a case of institutional hubris: The DSS in its martial wisdom, the Lordships in their judicial lights. A breach on either side will be ominous.

If it becomes a matter of who will prevail, then we have failed again. What we want is not for the DSS to win or the NJC to lose but for the right values to prevail. That means knowing the truth in a transparent manner and justice dispensed. We want justice, not judgment. That will mean the DSS providing proofs and the judges being even-handed. It promises to be a sombre show, so long as it is not a show of shame.

Osinbajo’s knockout punch

After all the hoopla, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came with the jab. It was a simple sentence: “I was nominated.” He sentenced the controversy to a permanent rest. The so-called authorised biographer of PMB was exposed as a phoney scholar. Even if you write an authorised biography, it is no excuse to lie. He lacked rigour or the curiosity of enquiry. He should have consulted Osinbajo himself. He didn’t. No one should do research under such a professor.

With that sentence, Osinbajo demystified a scholar, punctured a cabal of malevolent naysayers and spoke to history.

He spoke with the conviction of an evangelist, the clarity of a lawyer and the comeback of an avenging angel. He mentioned no names and abused no one. He merely said he was nominated. He was not a politician. He belonged to a group and someone has to put you forward to such a high office. And who else could have done it!

So, folks, those sneaky revisionists who want to distort history, can I hear any more words? I don’t think so. Osinbajo has delivered the blow, like Ali to Frazier when he had nothing more to offer.  A knockout was inevitable.

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