#PENtagon: Judiciary’s Bulkachuwa-chuwa – By Jaafar Jaafar @jafsmohd
A witty tale in the Arabian folktale collection of One Thousand and One Nights involving a famous character Shehu Jaha (originally known as Nasreddin Hodja) contains a lot of lessons. Once upon a time, Shehu Jaha visited a town on errands, and he stopped by a group of boys who were engaged in a peer group slapping contest. Turn-by-turn, the lads amused themselves with the martial game. Regaled by the game, Shehu Jaha moved closer to watch the bout as the contest progressed. The next boy who was standing in front of Shehu Jaha was a bit frightened. When the boy’s opponent was about to slam his palm on the nervous opponent’s cheek, he docked to avoid the seemingly fierce onslaught. As the boy dodged, the slap landed on Shehu Jaha’s face. All entreaties to appease Shehu Jaha fell on deaf ears as he insisted on getting damages. Even retaliation in kind, that is tit for tat, Shehu Jaha refused. Knowing full well that the judge is the father of the accused boy, the boys decided the matter be taken to court. In the town, the penalty for slapping a person without consent attracts a payment of damages in form of a gold coin.
During the trial, Shehu Jaha noticed the judge was winking to his son while saying he should go home and bring the money. The judge then asked Shehu Jaha to wait for the money. After waiting patiently for hours, Shehu Jaha went to the judge and complained about the boy’s delay. “Wait for a while, he will be back soon,” the judge apologized for the umpteenth time. Worried by the judge’s double-speak and the boy’s disappearance, Shehu Jaha, who was on errand, then lost patience. He then went directly to the judge and slapped him. “If your son brings the gold coin, retain it,” Shehu Jaha furiously said and left.
We may learn some lessons from the foregoing anecdote in relation to what is happening in the Nigerian judiciary in the recent days. Not just in the recent days, the trend has since been the same decades ago.
Only a week or so ago, President Goodluck Jonathan took the Court of Appeal drama to a sudden dénouement when he appointed Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa to replace the reinstated president of the Court of Appeal. Bulkachuwa delivered the controversial judgment in David Mark vs Young Alhaji case, giving victory to the senate president.
How, if not in the legal profession, would there be two acting presidents of the Court of Appeal? As famous columnist and wit-cracker Al Bashir observed on his Facebook timeline, something, somewhere was really amiss. “Yesterday NJC told an Abuja court that it has re instated Justice Salami. But it has also approved an acting president for the court of appeal for the 3rd time! In legal matters I am a novice. Flat. So I can’t understand,” said Al Bashir about a week ago.
I stretched my little knowledge farther afield but I am still not “learned” enough to figure out the way out of this legal maze. Anyway, the legal cosmology is as wide as the universe itself.
Justice Bulkachuwa’s appointment has also brought an end to the 15-month stint of Justice Dalhatu Adamu as acting president of the Court of Appeal, and terminated Justice Ayo Salami’s dream of returning to the coveted seat (though there are multiple pending cases in the court).
The highest judicial watchdog in the country, the National Judicial Council, keeps eating its words and pushing Nigerians into the woods. Even the removal of Salami in the initial stage of the drama was unconstitutional as two-third majority of the Senate is required to seal his fate. Not only unlearned persons like me picked holes in the saga as even the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had squeaked out a catcall, kicking against the decision.
Nigerians still didn’t forget how judges misuse their offices to please the military regimes.
The name of late Justice Bassey Ikpeme who gave an order (in the wee hours of the night) that led to the cancellation of June 12, 1993 election may not be written in gold. So is the name of Justice Wilson Egbo-Egbo, the controversial judge of the Federal High Court, who granted an exparte order against former governor of Anambra State Dr Chris Ngige, directing him to vacate his office. It was the same Ego-Egbo who compelled INEC to declare Adolphus Wabara, the then president of the senate, winner of the Abia South senatorial district, which was widely believed to be won by ANPP’s Elder Dan Imo. Similar legal spectacle also happened in Ibadan when Justice Iyabo Yerima of the Ibadan High Court gave an order against Supreme Court’s decision ordering the reinstatement of the impeached governor of Oyo State, Rashidi Ladoja.
In Nigeria, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. Nigeria’s Supreme Court once crowned Rotimi Amaechi governor of Rivers State without contesting election, but refused to crown Danladi Baido and late Usman Albishir governors of Taraba and Yobe States respectively despite having the same case as Amaechi. What has changed in the Nigerian constitution after the Amaechi case? Dear lawyer, don’t tell me that a clandestine constitutional amendment took place after the Amaechi case. Taking Shehu Jaha’s logic into perspective, one would think identical cases would equally get identical judgments. Whenever logic is upturned, it is apparent the end result will be controversial.
Experte order, which otherwise is given with caution, is bastardized and distributed the way National Honours are distributed to people with questionable character. The judiciary, which is expected to be transparent, is opaque in its dealings – proving more corrupt than other arms of the government.
I think the best way to stop this judicial chronic chuwa-chuwa is for Nigerians to adopt Shehu Jaha’s logic.
And one day, certain Nigerian will make a judge see lightning in the courtroom!
– By Jaafar Jaafar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Follow on twitter: @jafsmohd