By : Abdulrasheed Ibrahim
The spate of attacks on Supreme Court in recent time is becoming too embarrassing and greatly unfair. Some people have continued to transgress the limit under the false sense of exercising their freedom of speech as guaranteed by the constitution. Must people develop broken tongues under the false pretence of exercising their fundamental rights? If some journalists who recently went on the voyage of casting aspersions on the Supreme Court could be ignored as ignorant that lack the knowledge of law and not worthy being joined issues with, should lawyers embarking on similar voyage be equally ignored? The just concluded 2023 General Elections having being won and lost by politicians have generated a lot of mixed reactions from the supporters of the major contenders in the Presidential election. Since politicians in this country do not accept defeat easily, the courts have been shouldered with loads of election petitions filed by those who are aggrieved by the election results to ventilate their grievances.
There is this funny argument often put forward by some people that why must it be the judiciary that determines the winner of an election? Who else to determine that when those that lose cannot accept the verdict of the INEC? In any civilized nation, when a case is submitted to the court for adjudication, people keep mute to await its decision, but it is a different scenario in this part of the world. We have witnessed a situation where some supporters of the presidential candidates have resorted to an act of blackmailing the judiciary particularly the Supreme Court that will eventually has the final saying on who truly won the presidential election. Why must people resort to cheap blackmail if they are very sure of the genuineness of their cases? There is none among the three major contenders in the pending presidential legal battle that has not benefited favourably from the judiciary or Supreme Court decisions in the past. If their supporters are unaware of these facts , they need to be reminded.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmad Tinubu, the President-elect, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi had at one time or other gotten favourable judgments from the Nigerian Judiciary. During the reign of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the democratically elected President, Bola Ahmad Tinubu as the Governor of Lagos State created some Local Council Development Areas and as a result of this, Obasanjo withheld all the Federal Allocations meant for Lagos State Government upon which the State dragged the Federal Government to the Supreme Court which eventually ordered the release of the allocations to the Lagos State. President Obasanjo government refused to comply with the order of the Supreme Court until the Late Alhaji Umaru Yar’daua became the President and complied with the Supreme Court judgment. During the second term tenure of Chief Obasanjo, he had issues with his Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and did everything to get him removed as Vice President. Atiku went to court where he successfully challenged the action and won. The court then held that since OBJ and Atiku were elected on the same joint ticket, OBJ had no constitutional power to remove him as the Vice President. It was under the same Obasanjo regime that Mr. Peter Obi of APGA was rigged out and Dr. Chris Ngige then of PDP was declared the Governor of Anambra State. Obi challenged this in the court of law and Ngige was sacked as Governor after about three years in office and Peter Obi of APGA’s mandate was restored and declared by the court as the authentic governor the Anambra State. If the Nigerian Judiciary had in the past protected the individual interest of these prominent politicians, why are their supporters now afraid of the same judiciary? Is blackmailing the judiciary or the Supreme Court this time around the solution to their frustrations?
It is very unfortunate in this country that the politicians and their supporters only praise judiciary when a judgment is in their favour but whenever it is otherwise they resort to blackmail and demonize the judiciary .The recent attempt to smear the image of the Chief Justice of Nigeria sighted on a wheelchair and purportedly said to have disguised in the bid to have a secret meeting with a particular politician was very disheartening. It was very disgusting seeing some lawyers joining the bandwagon in the promotion of such stuff. I cannot agree less with Mr. Jubril Okutepa (SAN) when he said :
“The legal profession is sick and on oxygen in Nigeria. The ethics and etiquette of the profession are gone. No sanctions. Otherwise how do we explain the news making round even amongst lawyers that a whole Chief Justice of Nigeria disguises himself to meet a named politician…What a sacrilege? Why did the legal profession deteriorate to this level? Nobody is feeling bad that the CJN may not be well and had to be on wheelchair .No empathy .But we can speculate on unfounded and unverified story .No reasonable person should promote falsehood .I think those promoting this news are sick. We must not destroy our judiciary.”
It may be that until those people see the CJN being carried away on a stretcher or being driven away in an ambulance before that could induce empathy from them. An interesting question has been asked: Why did the legal profession deteriorate to this level? The legal profession is deteriorating because a lot of characters have crept into the profession. A lot of ugly things have been imported into the legal profession while at the same time; the decorum and respect that used to be in vogue have equally gone on flight in the profession. It is astonishing seeing lawyers who ought to know better joining the bandwagon of those spreading the fakes news in the social media. It has also become very painful and disheartening that senior lawyers are no longer living up to expectation and show the right way to the upcoming lawyers. One is no longer feels very comfortable with some of the remarks that emanate from our senior lawyers in recent time. I watched with dismay and amazement an interview recently granted by Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to the Channel Television expressing his view that he has lost confidence in the judiciary including the Supreme Court of Nigeria.The Learned Silk employed words such as : “most silly”; “most ridiculous”; “everything turned upside down”; “with brain” ; “unpredictable”; “who are this people” amongst others to describe the decisions of the Apex Court in the land. My immediate reaction to this was as follows:
“Can you see what we have been talking about ?If the like of Farooq Kperogi can attack the Supreme Court the way he did , then what will you say about Senior lawyers that ply the same route? Is the Supreme Court set up to decide the issue that was not placed before it? Why are some lawyers castigating the SC for the offence of the APC that was not placed before the court? I wonder why some lawyers right from inception decided to remain at the bar rather going to the bench to rise to the SC and see whether they will determine the issues before the court differently? Enough of attacking the Supreme Court unnecessarily!”
My position above was not without reactions from some of our learned colleagues upon which I promised them that I would do a full rebuttal and will expect them to join issue with me on this which was one of the reasons that prompted this write up. According to a particular learned colleague:
“You call the attack unnecessary .You think that those who react to a Supreme Court which is trying to destroy the fabric of the society by their funny technical decisions are acting unnecessarily .Are you not ashamed that such a fraudulent ever came out from the Supreme Court .Please review the facts and law on one of the cases raised by the Senior Lawyer e.g. the Ahmed Lawan case, and let see. Show to us that you know better than Learned Silk, Agbakoba”
Dr. Agbakoba seems to have taken over the attack on the Supreme Court from where Professor Kperogi stopped the other day when he was reacting to a rebuttal by a spokesperson of the Supreme Court that the Court was not a “Father Christmas”. Kperogi rather than tried to be attentive or remorseful went on the voyage of arrogance to prove that he understands English language better than the English men. Dr Agbakoba further asserted that who are these: “7 men that just come out and sit on the chairs and say that governor is sacked”. The question now is : Do the “7 men” derive their power to sack for the sky? As if I did not hear the Learned Silk of over 45 years at the Bar very well, I quickly went to check the Section 233(1), (2) (e) (iv) of the 1999 of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which provides as follows:
“The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, to hear and determine appeals from the Court of Appeal ….whether any person has been validly elected to the office of Governor or Deputy Governor under the Constitution.”
If those referred to as “7 men” by the Learned Silk decide to sack a Governor in accordance with that Constitutional provision, in what way will they be accused of working against the letter and the spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? If the finality of the Supreme Court is being debated in certain judicial circle as claimed, then we need to ask which court are they proposing to subject the decisions of the Supreme Court to? When will they initiate the process of subjecting the decisions of the Supreme Court to the parliamentary review? When some lawyers continue to blow the Supreme Court decision on the Imo State governorship election out of proportion and keep mute on that of the Bayelsa State where an elected Governor that was rehearsing for the swearing in ceremony for the following day was sacked by the same Supreme Court on the ground of deficiency in the qualifications of his Deputy Governor or that of the Zamfara State where the entire political structure of a particular political party that already won all the elections was dismantled like a placard on the ground of failure to comply with the law and another political party was asked to take over ,then one begins to question the sincerity and honesty of those mainly flying like kite the spurious argument on the Supreme Court’s decision on the Imo State Governorship election where everything was said to have been turned upside down.
Now, is it not ironical seeing the Body of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) condemning the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, SAN for the unnecessary recognition he gave to the Attorney General of the Federation & Minister for Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, while the same body is yet to see anything wrong in the recent attack on the Supreme Court by one of its own, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN? If you like you can say that the facts of the two incidents are distinguishable. What is good for the goose is good for the gender. If the prominent bodies in the legal profession continue to look the other way when the judiciary or the Supreme Court is being indecently attacked by lawyers and non lawyers without issuing out any notice of caution , very soon the title of the Senior of Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) conferred on them by the same Supreme Court of Nigeria which most of them go about with pride will soon be called to question.
I do not think any SAN that has lost confidence in the Supreme Court should still retain proudly the rank. Such SAN should rather renounce the title as a mark of protest against that institution that conferred that rank on him. If you like you can argue to have gotten your own title even before the advent of the contemporary Supreme Court, it makes no difference. If those bodies mainly made up of Senior Lawyers do not consider it very important to protect the dignity and integrity of the judiciary including the Supreme Court as an institution, the rest of us must take it upon ourselves to stand up for what is right to protect the reputation of institution since the judicial officers cannot be heard defending themselves. This is a duty that the Bar must be very concerned about and taken very serious. This plea was made to the Bar by Hon. Justice Olufumilola Adekeye, JSC (Rtd) when retiring from the Supreme Court:
“The judiciary deserves our honour. The body of legal practitioners must rise in sympathy with the judiciary and not openly criticize, condemn or destabilize her. Whenever the reputation of the judiciary is challenged or her honour impugned, it is the duty of the Bar to defend, protect and exalt her. I am not saying that legal practitioners must give a pat on the back to undesirable elements on the Bench; any complaints against them can be forwarded to the Chief Justice of Nigeria or the National Judicial Council depending on the gravity of the complaint.”
Some lawyers in a legal circle have expressed the view that Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN)’s attack on the Supreme Court was reactionary in the sense that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has refused to appoint the Learned Silk as a Justice of the Supreme Court directly from the bar as was done to the likes of Dr. Taslim Elias, Dr. Augustine Nnamani and Justice Dan Ibekwe all of blessed memories. Some have pushed the argument further that if the Queen Counsel (QC) or King Counsel (KC) in the United Kingdom are applying to be judges of the High Court in England , why must SANs in this country insist that the best place for them to start and contribute their quota to the law and jurisprudence is at the Supreme Court? In all honesty, service to one’s fatherland in any capacity must be rooted in patriotism and not in egotism. At least we have had many instances where great legal luminaries in the history of this country had to leave their lucrative practice to accept appointment to the lower bench during the era when the remuneration was even very poor all for the love of the country. The history of legal profession has recorded the likes of Hon. Justice J.I.C Taylor, Hon. Justice Mamman Nasir who had to leave the Higher Bench to the Lower Bench for the love of services to their fatherland. Whatever may be our desires, the service to humanity and the love of our fatherland must be paramount.
I must conclude here that it was this kind of path taken by Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) against the Supreme Court that will continue to embolden the likes of Farooq Kperogi to have the audacity to irrationally attack the Supreme Court in the name of criticism. Very soon they will begin to argue that if the senior lawyers in the profession can aggressively attack the judiciary, why are they exempted from doing that? If this act is not strongly condemned, I am afraid it will become a very bad precedent not only within the legal profession but outside it. It is high time the Professors in the appropriate field begin to teach us the real meaning and the difference between objective or constructive criticism and destructive criticism or indecent attack on personality. God bless the Legal Profession in Nigeria!
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
2nd April 2023