(By Godson Ugochukwu)
Let me most respectfully submit that I find all arguments (and their kindred expressions) on whether or not the CJN is above the law or immune from criminal indictments and prosecution totally non sequitur. Since the latest installment of this cancerous administration’s rampaging assault on the judiciary and all that’s sacred, I have read a bit of the effulgent commentaries on the issue. They are, to be sure and justifiably so, very high on emotions. They have also been quite high on law, if not necessarily in equal parts. But I must say that of the myriad of commentaries against, I have not yet happened upon even one suggesting (by a mile and a half) that the CJN is (is or to be treated as) above the law or prosecution. Not one. And I’m not saying that if one were to make it one’s singular obsession and devote all of one’s time and energy, sans any other interests and abdicating all other callings, one might not find at least one such opinion. I’m just saying I haven’t. I have also not met anybody who has. And I can wager why. It’s because it’s never going to be in issue. That the CJN has no prosecutorial immunity is a no brainer. It therefore beggars belief the intellectual energy exerted by some to advance lengthy arguments in emphasis of a point so mute.
The uproar against the proposed criminal prosecution of the CJN is, as I understand it, against the brazen abdication of statutory due process. The constitution has set out the process to be followed in prosecuting a judicial officer who has acted in breach of their oath of office. And if there be any confusion, Ngajiwa v. FRN put the process to be followed beyond equivocation. And that in a matter brought by the same Federal Govt! I’ll not bore you with the remarkable statements of the law therein. I believe that the case is notorious enough, what with all the republications thereof since the last 24hrs. I’d also refer anybody who cares to the statement of the President of the Bar on our collective behalf on the latest development on the matter. It totally captures what’s in issue.
But why due process? Some have wondered whether we shouldn’t all be concentrating on whether or not the charges are true. They imply thereby that if true, then, may be, we should all hold our horses and let the CJN bear his cross alone. After all, the Bar must be at the forefront of the anti-corruption fight, right? But this argument negates – deliberately or not – the question of due process, which is the soul of the rule of law…which is that which the Bar, more than any other body, needs lead the charge in favour of. If, for argument’s purposes, a man were to shoot another dead right in front of a judge and in the full glare of television cameras, the judge and the rest of the world saw it. That he shot the man is true. Of that, there can be no equivocation. Should we then abort the due process of trial in the face of that unimpeachable truth? Or might we conduct a sham of a trial whose result is predetermined and inexorable, a veritable kangaroo court, all because it’s true he shot the man? See? The lawyer in you is beginning to revolt. Your law school traditions are already feeling violated. Something in you is beginning to rebel. You know why? Due process.
Lawyers in the end have (or ought to have) the strict observance of the due process of law embossed upon their legal DNA. That’s what stands us out, what recommends us as the custodians of social morality. Let a man appear as guilty as sin. Indeed, let him most compellingly appear so, but the lawyer, in fidelity to his calling, must insist on according the man justice according to the due process of law. He must ask for no more, no matter his emotional affinity with the felon. But he must ask for no less, no matter his revulsion at the crimes indicted.
Due process, on the totem pole of the administration of justice, ranks higher than the merits of the case. This is because due process is the sole safeguard of the integrity of the judicial process. Due process forbids the interrogation of the purpose for which justice is dispensed. Let the judge hate you or love you, it matters not if the justice dispensed passes the due process test.
The umbrage against the criminal allegations and proposed arraignment of the CJN is against the shameless violation of due process. And if we do not rise now as one and stare down this gorgon of odoriferous abuse of power by Buhari and his misguided wayfarers, daring it in the process to render us stone figures, we risk being left with Martin Niemöller’s lament in expiation. As he wrote:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I pray that this may not be our lot. But the prayer may be answered by speaking out now against this evil. And speaking with one voice!