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Nigerian judiciary: Beware of the wind of change!

Nigerian judiciary: Beware of the wind of change!

The judiciary in any democracy represents one of the three realms of the government. 

As a matter of fact, the judiciary is the stabilizer in any democracy basically because if there is any misunderstanding between the executive and legislature, it is always the judiciary that resolves it. 

It is in this sense that the judiciary plays its role as an impartial arbiter in the affairs of the State. 

The judiciary’s impartial adjudication in such matters has led to the pedestrian cliché that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. 

Thus, when this impassioned disposition of the judiciary appears threatened; well-meaning people in society like me raise alarm to warn the people of impending danger. 

Presently, the Nigerian judiciary is under some sort of siege from within and without. 

The recent compulsive meeting of top members of the Nigerian judiciary with the Muhammadu Buhari administration in Abuja is not only suggestive and disturbing but also laden with ominous foreboding of the incarnation of democratic dictatorship in Nigeria. 

The earlier we realize the danger this compulsory meeting by the government with the judiciary portends for the rule of law and respect for human rights in Nigeria the better for us.

I consider myself eminently qualified to issue this warning for obvious reasons. 

I have been a victim of judicial somersaults occasioned by executive-judiciary collusion to throw justice to the winds. 

At another level, I have also being a beneficiary of judicial integrity in Nigeria, at a time the judiciary resolved to maintain its independence and respect the sanctity of its hallowed chambers. 

From experience, I have come to know that anytime an unpopular government in power begins to summon judges and magistrates to meetings in Nigeria; then you can be certain that the fate of certain individuals is hanging on the balance. 

In my public career as a journalist, writer and publisher, I have seen people who were sent to jail in Nigeria just because the government in power instructed some members of the judiciary to send such individuals to jail- the merit of the case notwithstanding. 

If you think I am making this up, it all means you have not been following issues in Nigeria. 

The late Afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was sent to jail under such circumstance and the judge confessed afterwards that his hands were “tied”. 

It was also under similar circumstances that Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, journalists with the Guardian Newspapers, were sent to prison on July 4, 1984 by a military tribunal under Decree No 4 of 1984, promulgated by the military regime of Muhammadu Buhari. 

There is no gainsaying the fact that Buhari’s military junta promulgated so many repressive decrees in Nigeria. 

One of such repressive enactments was Decree No 4 of 1984 (Protection against False Accusation) under which Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were tried and convicted. 

The decree was made by the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari administration, which at the time did not hide its disdain for the press. 

At the inception of his administration, Buhari made no pretentions of his hatred for the press and he backed up the threat with the promulgation of that obnoxious decree.  

This was also the scenario in 1982 when I was unjustly imprisoned on ridiculous charges of sedition. In August 1982, I published a book, “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State”. 

I was thereafter arraigned before a court on charges of seditious publication. 

It was alleged that my publication intended to bring hatred and contempt or excite disaffection against the governor of old Anambra state. 

The trial judge agreed with the prosecutor and sentenced me to 12 months imprisonment with an additional fine of N50, 000.00. 

Ignoring the facts of the case, the trial judge had to carry out an order of government to ensure that I was sent to jail. 

The judge also made this startling statement: 

“The conviction and punishment of the accused, I hope, will help to stem the tempo of vulgar abuse and irresponsibility of both the politicians and media practitioners”.  

For me, it was the very depiction of standing justice on its head just to satisfy entrenched political interests. 

I appealed that decision. 

The Appellate Court judges refused to compromise the integrity of the judiciary and on July 27, 1983, I was discharged and acquitted by the Federal Court of Appeal. 

According to the Appeal Court, ‘Sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code were anachronistic in the light of constitutional changes and the national sovereignty’. 

The judgment of the Appeal Court, which effectively led to expunging of sedition law from Nigeria’s statute books, showed that the sedition law was inconsistent with constitutional guarantees in Nigeria. 

That landmark case has gone down in Nigeria’s legal history as “locus classicus”.

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