In any country, when judges of the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, are bundled out of their homes with half-open eyes in the middle of the night, it is not pretty. The “invaders” were not robbers, hooligans or protesters that came from the streets. They were officers of the Department of State Security (DSS) whose mandate is to gather intelligence, forestall enemy actions and generally ensure the security of the country.
Something drastic and impactful happened to corruption in Nigeria, and it was thanks to the DSS.
The cries were loud and widespread and they came in opposing directions. Those who wanted President Buhari to call the DSS to order versus others who asked that the judges who were involved should account for their actions before the law, in equal measure as do any citizens. The many judges arrested included those of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal in various parts of the country.
Let us not tarry on the arguments from either side. They are copiously available in the news and social media. For here, let us dwell just a little on another point.
Under normal circumstances, no security officer, no law enforcement officer comes visiting anyone. Least of all at night time, and to haul people away to interrogation venues. Under normal circumstances, no government looks the most respected citizens in the eyes and calls them out to prove their innocence. Judges are not thieves, nor are they breakers of the law, in normal societies and circumstances. Judges are dignified and respected.
But is the situation in Nigeria normal?
If the revelations of official stealing and corruption that have been made in the past one year plus were seen in a Nollywood movie, the movie producer would have been prodded to notch things down a bit, maybe a lot. Movie critics would have said that the stories were exaggerated, way too much. The movie audience would have been saturated to numbness with too many scenes of thieving and stealing. It cannot happen, they would say.
But here it is. We have witnessed revelations after revelations, and just when one thinks there cannot be any more surprise, another un-imaginable amount of money is mentioned as stolen by someone who used to be, or still is, a “leader”.
The highest aggregate forum of elected “distinguished” persons at federal level, called the Senate, is a mockery of seriousness. The second highest house of legislature, called the House of Representatives, is similarly clothed in corruption accusations and trials - cap, kaftan and trousers. The state houses of assembly spend more time waiting for the governors to share money or “something” than to do any serious thinking on solving the many problems facing their citizens.
It is known by all that to aspire to occupy an elected political office is to attempt to invest in the most thriving money-making lottery of the country.
In the midst of this dysfunctional arrangement, a few good people exist. It must be said. But their uphill struggle against the status quo cannot solve the gigantic problems that face the nation. Therefore the country totters on the brink, with millions of suffering people, and in hopelessness.
If you listen to the noise on the arrest of the judges, you would hear the Nigeria Bar Association and similar heavyweights who argue about human rights, legal doctrine, warrants of arrest, distinct roles of DSS and National Judiciary Council on discipline of judges, and several such matters. Yes, you would hear tactical manoeuvering and technical high-sounding language about bringing DSS to order.
You would also hear, perhaps not so loudly, the rumbles of other people and ordinary Nigerians who want the judges to explain how they come about the wealth that they display or that was allegedly found in their homes, bank accounts and with families. You would hear people who say that maybe this Buhari government is finally getting the point.
It is well known that the corruption within the judiciary from the magistrate court to the Supreme Court is humongous, and done with audacity.
While it is important to uphold human rights, should the right of an elected or appointed government official entitle him/her to unbridled stealing? Does the right to fair hearing in court mean that justice be rendered impossible as cases are enrobed in legal brake dancing for years to no end? Where lies the rights of ordinary citizens, millions of Nigerians, who because of official corruption lack basic means of life, including salaries, employment, health, education, roads, water…electricity? Where does the aggrieved person take his/her case when the police have to be bribed, court officials have to be incentivized, and judges have to be bought?
Corruption permeates all facets of daily life, and is found at all levels, including by judges. The current government is fighting corruption but cannot get a case prosecuted in court in large part because of technical and tactical maneuverings between lawyers and judges. Citizens cannot seek justice unless they are armed with monies to buy their way at all levels of law enforcement and prosecution.
It should not be forgotten that when systems do not work, people will boycott them and seek alternatives. Let those of us who are comfortable, whether through honest or dishonest means, beware. Nigerians are tired of more of the same.
President Buhari’s government was elected as a possible remedy to some of the problems facing the country, especially to reduce corruption. If it succeeds, there may be a chance yet for people to have confidence in government. If it fails, either by its own commission or omission, or due to frustrating tactics of those who have the means to create obstacles in its way, then any alternatives may emerge. Already, kidnap for ransom is looking like a suitable “employment” for many, and a substitute for the “419” fraud and armed robbery.
If the DSS can tackle corruption by judges and other highly-placed officials, well and good. Corruption is a security risk and judges who have clean hands will sleep peacefully whilst those who are dishonest can say goodbye to sleeping in comfort.
Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).