BusinessDay

Mary Odili: When silence is not golden

About a month ago, precisely Friday, 29th October 2021, persons suspected to be security agents invaded the Abuja home of the jurist, Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the next in rank of seniority to the current Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Despite the global attention and condemnation of this untoward incident, the true identities and motives of those who participated in the dastardly action are yet to be made public. So far, what we have witnessed are denials, accusations, and counter-accusations by virtually all arms of the security forces.

We do not support the idea of treating this matter like those before it. Hence, we call on the relevant authorities including the Bar and the Bench to rise up to the occasion and ensure that this madness is not allowed to go the way of others. Keeping silent in the face of an obvious case of abuse of the rule of law and fundamental human rights will not and has not solved any problem in this country.

In the wake of the outcry and public condemnation of the illegal act, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami told the nation that he had instituted an investigation into the matter.

A statement from his office reads: “The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has since reached out to the relevant authorities for an intensified wider investigation on the matter for necessary actions leading to the prosecution of anyone involved in the matter in view of the fact that the only names on record from the process filed in court are a purported police officer who claimed to be “O/C Assets Recovery Team” and one Aliyu Umar a deponent in the affidavit,” the statement added. But One month after, Nigerians are still waiting for the report of the investigation.

However, irrespective of how the matter is eventually concluded, what is not in doubt is that the invasion was carried out on the strength of an enrolled order of an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court. It is also not in doubt that those who obtained the infamous court order are human beings-not spirits.

For too long, the judiciary in Nigeria has been at the receiving end of executive rascality, brutality, and molestation

For too long, the judiciary in Nigeria has been at the receiving end of executive rascality, brutality, and molestation. From refusal by the Executive to grant it financial and administrative autonomy to intimidation and constant harassment of judicial officers, the third arm of government has become the lame duck, kicked around at the whims and caprices of those in executive authority.

Not too long ago, Judiciary workers downed tools for weeks to press home their legitimate demands for financial autonomy- a right guaranteed under the constitution but which the executive refused to obey. It took the intervention of the highest authority in the land for the matter to be resolved. It is regrettable that some members of the executive at both federal and state levels have refused to obey the constitution which they swore to uphold.

Although we do not advocate that judicial officers should abandon the cherished etiquette and decorum of the legal profession. It appears that the judiciary, as the third arm of government, has not adequately asserted itself in the protection of that etiquette and decorum which are the defining parameters of its being, through the use of the very instrument of law.

Read also: Justice Odili’s ordeal shows how blasé we are

Despite its expertise in the interpretation of the law and conflict resolution, it has struggled to wriggle itself out of the recurring and serial conflicting situations of wanton desecration of its values. This is obviously so because it has not been able to rise to the occasion in recent times, with the very instrument of law, against the many darts being wantonly thrown at it. If it is not one head of the Executive in the existing tiers of Government promising independence, it will be another apparatus of the sister arm of Government resisting, refusing or thinking nothing of the orders and judgments handed down by the courts.

As typified in the recent invasion of an assault on the home of Justice Mary Odili, the fate of the judiciary as an institution hangs in the balance.

Last month’s invasion is not the first in the home of the Odilis. It initially took place in February 2020. Like the recent act, the perpetrators of last year’s own went scot-free. Common sense dictates that those that came this time around were emboldened by the success of the previous invasion.

Indeed, the invasion brought back to mind the DSS operatives’ invasion of the homes of various judges, including those of two Justices of the apex court, in 2015. The two Supreme Court justices were Sylvester Ngwuta (now deceased), and John Okoro. The home of a now-retired judge of the Federal High Court, Adeniyi Ademola, was also invaded. Both Messrs Ngwuta and Ademola were prosecuted by the AGF office, but the cases were struck out by the trial courts in the end.

Regrettably, for many years, the Supreme Court as the numero uno of the nation’s judiciary has looked the other way from the clear abuse of the powers of the Magistrates to effect arrests or grant search orders. More worrisome is the attitude of the Apex Court in cases that have come before it; where the powers of the Magistrates to issue search warrants have been abused. Often, they give orders on matters outside their jurisdiction.

For instance, in 2019, former Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen was unceremoniously removed from office through a curious ex parte order of an inferior tribunal. For inexplicable reasons, the Supreme Court chose not to pursue the matter to a logical end and that has indeed left a bad judicial precedent.

Like the president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Olumide Akpata said, the invasion is an “affront on the judiciary, designed to intimidate and ridicule the judiciary” and “grossly undermines the democracy that we all profess to practice”.

We urge the Executive and Judiciary arms of government to ensure that all those responsible for the unfortunate incident are adequately punished. As a country, we must do all that is required to safeguard the independence of our judiciary and protect our hard-won democracy.

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