In theory, Nigeria should not need the Supreme Court or any court at all. Even before Mahandas Gandhi extolled the ‘court of conscience’ over that of justice, the Holy Quran had endorsed the need to repel evil with good and urged its adherents to be quick to forgive. Christians are told to stay away from filing suits against other believers while traditional deities outpace formal systems for delivering retributions. We however manage to mentally separate our deeply religious sentiments from the Nigeria we live in. We do it well. No one questions the beliefs of our Bible-quoting ex-president who declared elections do-or-die and who may also be guilty of telling untruths.
So, the judiciary stays. Despite our cynicism of the legal process, we inherently assume that this often snail-paced deliverer of justice will protect the weak and helpless. We silently agree that the courts will serve our pound of flesh if power-crazy naval ratings throw us off the road. We hope that sometimes, the courts will redress electoral wrongs and keep the executive in check. We don’t say it but we faithfully accept that Lady Justice is indeed blindfolded and swayed only by the weight of her scales. These assumptions keep society civil. It is also explains why we hesitate to place a tyre around the neck of corrupt politicians because we expect the sluggish long arm of the law to catch up – sometime. Or perhaps, we are too tired to do otherwise.
In any case, there is an implicit reliance on the relative wholesomeness of the courts to do its job. It is the way we take it for granted that electricity from PHCN won’t always destroy our electronics. Unlike executives with comparatively short tenures, judges spend their careers on the bench. They are not going anywhere for a while. A judge’s untainted reputation is perhaps, His Lordship’s most important asset. This is why allegations of corruption against judges must not be trivialised.
Whether it amounts to a modern day trial of the Biblical Job or ‘judgment day’, the Nigerian judiciary has had its fair share of allegations of corruption. Earlier this year, Senator Iyiola Omisore of Osun State placed advertorials alleging ‘brazen judicial robbery’ and also dismissed an entire hierarchy of the judiciary. There is also the rather infamous and on-going inquiry into allegations of corruption thrown by two high-ranking members of the bench. A few days ago, newspapers reported that the judges of the Supreme Court took bribes, based on an alleged conversation between the ‘gregarious’ Mr. Speaker and the Ambassador Sanders.
I don’t think the courts should ‘descend to the arena’ to defend these allegations. There is something beneath that accepted nobility that makes it awkward to have their adjudicating Lordships explain their roles in the courts of public opinion. Yet, one cannot deny the taint on the courts’ reputation and the attendant effect on its powers.
Where do we draw a line between the duty of the press and the citizen to expose corruption in our institutions and a disdain for trivialising corruption allegations? I don’t know. I however think that headlines using excerpts from what sounds like gossip in an alleged Wikileaks cable borders on sensationalism.
The shame smeared on the bench is shared by everyone in a wig. The bar must protect the integrity of the bench. One place to start is an inquiry into Senator Omisore’s allegations. If indeed the court was compromised, Nigerians deserve to know. If the distinguished Senator was on a verbal plunder of sorts, then we must make an example of why careless accusations should not be made against the judiciary. Mr. Speaker has denied making the statements, which places the burden on the newspapers to help us better appreciate the authenticity of the document they based their reports on. It would be interesting to see how that goes.
United States’ Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Robert H. Jackson’s aphorism rings as clear as 1953. The Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is final. We must protect that infallibility. If we fail, we will succeed at mocking Hobbes by managing to live nasty, short and brutish lives under a central democratic government.
This piece was first published on YNaija.