Exactly two years ago, a vacancy was imminent in the leadership of Nigerian judiciary. The incumbent, Justice Katsina Alu was due for statutory retirement.
Speculation mounted in the media on a possible successor in view of the prospective short tenure of the two eligible judges. One would serve for only one year if appointed but if skipped, the other would serve for three years. If however, the senior judge earned his entitlement by serving for one year, the successor would still serve for two years.
The view expressed in this column was that the established rule must not be breached to create a dangerous precedent as late Chief Justice Irikefe served for only nine months, which was even less than the one year to be served by the most senior judge to succeed outgoing Chief Justice Katsina Alu.
That arguement prevailed and last year, Justice Aloma Mukhtar, on merit, was appointed as the new Chief Justice of the Federation to serve her remaining two years before retirement. That was in succession to Justice Musdapher who served for one year.
Till today, as it is always the case with those whose rights are upheld in this column, I have never met either of the two judges. Justice Aloma Mukhtar is being appreciated today, not, (as many may presume) for the disciplinary action she recently took against some erring judges..
In any society of rational minds, there should not be much to appreciate in Justice Mukhtar for performing the duties for which she is paid but our experiences of our judiciary have been such that any effort aimed at the standard in reputable societies must be acknowledged. In the case of Justice Aloma Mukhtar, she has shown that it is not how long but how well is the performance in any public position.
The removal of the judges is only the latest in her remarkable tenure. When she assumed office, Chief Justice Mukhtar pledged her mark on the judiciary during her tenure. Nigerians are used to such, except that so far, our chief justice is emerging the Iron Lady of Nigerian judiciciary. The number of disgraced judges (more are promised), the timing and firmness of her disciplinary action, henceforth, all go to put all members of the bench on alert.
Clearly, the disgraced judges could not see their imminent fall coming for they took the pledge to clear the bech of corrupt elements as the mere barking of a dog which could not bite. Chief Justice Mukhtar commenced her clearance of the bench unnoticed and unappreciated. One aspect of the bench usually not suspected as a source of corruption is the delay of trials arising from laziness or dereliction of duties by judges, resulting in delayed justice.
With so many judges and more being regularly appointed to fill vacancies, delayed justice involving prosecution of accused or trial of convicts’ appeal is indefensible. It was an area Justice Mukhtar promised to shake up. About August last year, a murder convict was discharged and acquitted by an appeal court but that was after spending twenty one years on trial and seventeen years on the death row.
The poor man’s appeal took some fifteen years to be tried. It was a point picked up in this column drawing Justice Aloma Mukhtar’s attention to the anomaly, which after the discharge and acquittal of the murder convict, carried the prospects of similar twenty years’ wait for the appeal of two other murder convicts to be tried.
A certain Pastor King had been on death row for over three years, with his appeal pending to be tried while Major Hamzat Al-Mustafa must be spending his fifteenth year in prison since his arrest, trial and conviction for murder.
His appeal was still to be tried.That prospect of the two men waiting for years for their appeal to be tried was intolerable enough to attract Justice Mukhtar’s instant action Pastor King’s appeal against his conviction for murder was accordingly tried early this year and the death sentence was upheld. If Chief Justice Mukhtar had not woken up the appeal court hierarchy with mere administrative alert, Pastor King’s appeal would not have been tried. Routinely, Pasor King appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice must ensure that not only this but other similar appeals against death sentence are tried in time The Iron Lady of the Bench (Justice Aloma Mukhtar) also ensured the instant listing of the appeal of Major El-Mustafa for trial which now comes up in April. That is how the wheel of justice must be rolling. Even if a trial will last for years, this must not be because accused and convicts are abandoned languishing on death row.
Meanwhile, those paid by taxpayers as judicial officers lay about all over the place. Trial judges either fail to show up on dates of adjournment on any slim excuse or feign some illness while those on trial are returned to prison custody. Nigerian judges are too casual in the performance of their duties thereby causing many years of delay in the trial of cases.
The choice is predictable for these judges to either perform their duties or attend less if at all important functions in Nigeria or abroad. The absence of judges from duties under such circumstances largely accounts for the unending trial of former governors and ministers since the end of their tenure six years ago as well as bank rogues since their arrest in 2008.
Those being prosecuted in Nigeria since those times are still to have their trials concluded while ex-Delta state governor James Ibori tried in London after his colleagues in Nigeria is now serving his punishment.
What type of judiciary is Nigeria’s? Quick and regular dispensation of justice is essential so that innocent ones can have their reputation restored while guilty ones can be subjected to severity of the law as provided. The absence of this due process is the very reason everybody continues to steal billions and trillions of naira of public funds. Judges must therefore be at their duty posts to perform their functions.
Chief Justice Mukhtar can improve the situation by directing the bench that only judges without pending cases in their courts should attend conferences in Nigeria or abroad Any judge whose attendance at such conferences will cause adjournment of cases for more than a fortnight should be directed to face his duties at the courts instead of attending book launches or other irrelevant ceremonies. For now, there should be not much to praise in the mere removal of corrupt judges as it seems they are being differently treated with undue leniency.
If these corrupt judges were non-judicial civil servants or some other in the private sector and were accused of corruption, the law is that they would be prosecuted in a court of law. If corrupt judges are merely retired to enjoy their loot, where is the fairness in prosecuting former governors, ministers, bankers, national assembly members and civil servants?
The disturbing situation of retiring or even dismissing corrupt judicial officers has not served to deter remaining serving judges. Is there any immunity for criminals on the bench from being prosecuted for their offences? It seems double handicap for ordinary Nigerians. In one vein, corrupt judges are retired usually with full benefits. In which case, even the accomplices also escape being prosecuted. This is despite the law that in financial crimes, specifically corruption, both the giver and the taker must be tried. It is all the more worrying because in the cases of corrupt judges, lawyers appearing before them are always fingered as the middle men delivering the loot to the judges.
All must be prosecuted. Furthermore, if Chief Justice is putting the bench in order by ensuring non-delay of trials, Nigeria Bar Association should also be put on the spot for their grossly unprofessional conduct of frustrating trials with unnecessary plea for adjournment, tactics which are part of the causes of delayed justice.
This special tribute for Chief Justice Aloma Mukhtar. It is noteworthy that she attained her present position through merit. At a time her gender were not much attracted to the bench, she joined the few who distinguished themselves.
At a time others in public and political life were blackmailing the country to earn unmerited positions through gender quota, Justice Aloma Mukhtar rose through the ranks throughout her career on the bench. That is why she is not emerging as a Chief Justice of minimum effort nor allowed herself to be inhibited by whose ox is gored. Surely, within her short tenure of two years, she may not be able to completely wipe out the rot in the judiciary.
But if she can maintain the present tempo, by the time she retires, it will rightly be said of Justice Aloma Mukhtar that ‘’There goes the Chief Justice of our time.’’
Irrepressible Patience Jonathan
Patience Jonathan, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, seems to enjoy whatever type of publicity. In the process, the lady somehow, has emerged the first politician wife of a Nigerian Head of State. All her predecessors limited themselves to social contributions for the enhancement of the interests of fellow women or needy kids in society. But Patience revels in the role of a politician wife in her own right, as distinct from the wife of a politician.
Unfortunately, even her husband, by now, realises that politics, as a high wire game, is dirty. However, Patience assumes all is easy in this dirty game. What with court jesters and authority cringers courtseying to, before, around and behind her at least for now.
She will eventually learn the necessary lesson. Court jesters are only self-serving for seeming happy times. At the slightest sign of a setback, court jesters, as they say in their language, move on.
Were they not the same court jesters who courtsied around and before Turai Yar’Adua and late Stella Obasanjo? By her latest account, Patience Jonathan was lucky to have been sent back by God to this beautiful Nigeria after spending seven days with the Almighty up there. Patience is indeed lucky for her extremely short stay of only a week with God.
The record holder is the former Israeli prime minister, General Ariel Sharon, who for the past seven years, has neither seen God nor been sent back to war-tied Israel. Even Israelis, and of course, the world have forgotten that General Sharon is lying brain-dead, completely unaware of his eventual fate.
Incidentally, did Patience Jonathan, on her return from treatment abroad, not complain that while her illness lasted, the same court jesters prodding her today, had consigned her to the fraternity of the dead, in the miscalculation that she (patience) would not return alive? So much for the court jesters.
Somehow, consciously or unconsciously, Patience Jonathan has plunged into PDP politics, again, without learning from history..It is of course logical that after spending seven days with God up there, the Aso Rock landlady is now a prophetess in her own right. She was physically present with God to be ordained, unlike our pastors, men and ladies of God who were merely called while hallucinating. ProphetessPatience Jonathan therefore, from her pulpit in Aso Rock, has foreseen the course of the 2015 elections.
According to her, one hundred opposition political parties cannot defeat her husband’s PDP in 2015, specifically the presidential elections. Even if she foresaw gloom or indeed, doom, she would not reveal such to the public.
In any case, none of these people of God ever predicts failure for their clients or they will gradually lose patronage. If one thousand clients approach the pastors especially individually, all of them will be promised God’s favour for the same purpose. Prophetess Patience Jonathan, for this your prediction, I dey laugh o! Before Patience Jonathan, there was Audu Ogbe, who, as national Chairman, predicted that the PDP would rule for fifty years. In return, the same PDP destroyed and frustrated him out of the party. Vincent Ogbulafor, another national Chairman, even predicted that the PDP would rule for sixty years.
The same PDP not only destroyed him, but the man is today, still resisting the party’s attempt to jail him for an offence he was alleged to have committed twelve years ago. Ogbulafor’s real offence was that when Jonathan succeeded deceased Umar Yar’Adua in 2010, Ogbulafor, as the party’s chairman said he, Jonathan would contest for only one term.
Ogbulafor’s successor as national chairman of the party, Okwesilize Nwodo, did not even fare better. He first ran into storm when he, Nwodo, announced that zoning was dead in the party.
Whoever Nwodo was trying to please, he satisfied nobody in the party, as he was, in the run-up to the party’s convention in 2011, schemed out of that post publicly. Nwodo’s supposed national chairman’s speech which he delivered at the convention at Eagle Square, Abuja, was instantly disowned as his deputy was invited as acting national chairman to deliver the national chairman’s apeech. Patience Jonathan sticking out her neck for PDP? I dey laugh o!