FOR months now, I have been in a fog. As a newspaper columnist I came to the rather inevitable conclusion that Nigeria is really not worth the waste of weekly saliva. There was not much else to say. One was repeating oneself, and there was this sense of ennui, or more accurately, I’ve felt like Sisyphus rolling the rock up and down the ledge.
Nothing will change in Nigeria. Nothing can change until this generation dies off, and a new consciousness dawns on the following generation. I resolved to stay away, keep my peace, and keep my sanity. But this is not to be, because every day, something new comes out Nigeria. The Buhari era is our dark ages.
We have witnessed corruption before. But nothing on the scale of the current moment. This regime has corrupted everything, including the most sacred institution that kept the madness at bay in Nigeria: the judiciary. Okay, the process was a slow burn. But the courts often provided the lone, independent voice that, when the occasion arose, put a stop to the excess of the state even in the most difficult years of military tyranny.
They say Sani Abacha was mad. But even in his so-called insanity, Abacha never tampered with the judicial branch. It took a mad Nero – in the form of the current president, Muhamadu Buhari, to slash and burn everything: the institutional framework that kept Nigeria on the balance, and made it possible to contain the fissiparous forces intent on dismantling it. Buhari and his party, the APC, are not playing for ducks. In fact, they are not playing at all. They have devised a brutal agenda to create a one-party state, framed within an extremist ideological move that will either leave Nigeria charred, or prostate.
The plot is unfolding right before our very eyes, and it is a plan that takes for granted that Nigerians have been reduced through strategic impoverishment to docility. And that is the dangerous point about Buhari’s faith and method: all power in his view belongs to God, and his God gives power to whom he pleases, namely, Buhari. This is of course very false.
It is the product of a feudal mindset, promoted by self-regarding potentates. But it is a mindset spawn of a religious and cultural agenda.
Under the ethos of republicanism, God has no business with power. God does not anoint rulers. God especially has no voting card in Nigeria, and is, therefore, not registered to vote, or influence the outcome of voting. Power belongs to the people. It is the axiom of enlightened politics: “power to the people!” Perhaps through the people, God exercises His mandate, because once they gather as one, the people become deity. It is why the Bible says, “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am.” The collective will of the people is the will of God. Not the other way round.
And that is why we came to inherit that other sagely truth, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” first uttered by the poet and teacher, Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus, also known as Alcuin of York.
And that will is what the Supreme Court of Nigeria, under the current chief justice upturned when they embezzled justice and handed the governorship of Imo State on Monday to Hope Uzodinma from the duly elected Governor, Emeka Ihedioha. It was a shocking and brazen judicial robbery! It was injustice emanating from the highest court of the land. It was a coup d’état staged from the high Bench! And it has left Nigeria reeling.
There are a number of dramatis personae in this high drama. It is actually badly written drama because the outcome as well as the characters are rather flat and obvious. First is the Reverend Ejike Mbaka, a Catholic priest, whose day job has become muddled with the work of “Seer.” A week to the judgment, Mbaka “prophesied” that Ihedioha will be removed and Uzodinma will replace him as governor. Well, his prophesy came to pass. But folks know that this man is a ventriloquist used by the ruling party to test and soften the ground.
There are of course many who are seduced by his falsehood, and woe to him who misleads the sheep and who come as lamb in the clothes of the wolf. But there is also Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, and the six justices, who in a “unanimous decision” disenfranchised the entire voters of Imo State. In doing that, they set a very dangerous precedent, and this is that justice at the Supreme Court of Nigeria is no longer to be trusted.
Fellow Nigerians think: this was the Supreme Court of the Adetokunbo Ademolas, Danley Alexanders, the Atanda Fatai Williams, the Sowemimos, the Bellos and the court of Uwais. It was a court where brilliant justices sat – J. I. Conrad Taylor, Akunne Oputa, Akinola Aguda, Kayode Esho, Daddy Onyeama, Louis Nwachukwu Mbanefo, Taslim Elias, Egbert Udo Udoma, Augustine Nnamani, Okay Achike – so many whose distinctions first as scholars and as philosophers of the court left a tradition of juridical sanctity that sustained the integrity of the highest bench in Nigeria.
Through those years, Nigerians trusted that whatever happens, once a matter came to the constitutional court of the republic, justice at least could still be seen to be done.
Thoughtful, honourable, and learned men sat on that bench. They embodied the sobriety of justice. Then it all changed. Buhari came.
First, he went after the most independent minded judges of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and tried to blackmail them with the EFCC.
He sent armed men in the dead of night to rouse Supreme Court justices, handcuff them, and threw them in jail on false charges of corruption. The public uproar stopped him for a moment. Then he went for the jugular of the man who stood between him and the independence of the judiciary for a moment: Justice Walter Nkanu Onoghen. The story is familiar to many.
He refused to appoint Justice Onoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and left him acting, while he was at it. But in his absence, during one of his near-death misses that took him to medical vacation in London, the vice-president, then acting as president, sent Onoghen’s name to the Senate, and he was promptly confirmed chief justice. Buhari would have none of it.
Using the attorney general, they used some faceless petitioners, and a blackleg, in the form of my old university pal, Okoi Ofem Okoi, who clearly had an old ax to grind with Onoghen, and charged him with corruption, and false declaration of assets. Fellow Nigerians, you are all witnesses that Buhari himself has not declared his own assets, real or false.
Yet, Onoghen who declared his asset was falsely accused, and forced to resign by Buhari, who engineered it all, and appointed Tanko Muhammad as Chief Justice. Now, there is something about Tanko Muhammad. He is not a real judge. He is a Sharia judge. That is his specialty. He did not go to a prestigious Law school.
He is not Muhammad Bello, for instance, who first studied Classics in Ibadan, before going shortly to London, where he was admitted to Gray’s Inn. Tanko Muhammad studied Law at Bayero University, Kano, in those years, when all it took to get admitted to Bayero if you were a Tanko, was a promisory note. Serious men did not go to Bayero. If you really wanted to study Law, you went to Nsukka, or Jos, maybe Ife, Lagos, Benin, Calabar, or even ABU. But here we are.
This president has violated the sanctity of the Nigerian judiciary by his attack on it.
He did so by imposing Justice Tanko Muhammad on it. And the result is what we now see: a court which overwhelmingly makes legal pronouncements on justice which a sophomore Law clinic in a decent university will find elementary. A temple of injustice.
How could the Supreme Court of Nigeria commit such a brazen electoral fraud? How could these judges in clear conscience hand the governorship of Imo State to Hope Uzodinma, who came fourth in the polls; whose party has not a single member elected to parliament, and whose only argument is that some fraudulent numbers were not added to his poll numbers, if it were not driven by a partisan impetus? The Supreme Court has become the judicial arm of the APC and the CJN, the poodle of the presidency.
It is a judgment that brazenly overturned the democratic rights of the citizens of Imo State.
It is a stolen mandate. More than anything ever done before, it has subverted the integrity of the judiciary. This is the most corrupt judgment ever made in that court. We are back to Western Nigeria of December 1965: a stolen election which led to the coup and counter coup of 1966. It is a crying shame that Buhari and his party learnt nothing from history, and seem intent on forcing reactions that will give this president the excuse to declare a state of emergency in the Eastern heartland. He might just have his wishes more than fulfilled.
The PDP must, however, act, organize, and force a review of this judicial fraud. It should not just talk and make empty declarations. It must walk the walk as a serious party whose mandate has been brazenly hijacked by a partisan court.
* Professor Obi Nwakanma is based in the United States of America. This opinion was first published by Vanguard newspaper on January 21, 2020.