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Nigeria: A Failing Justice System

by on October 18, 2014
 

 By Owoyemi Olorunfemi 

“Our laws have failed us because we have failed ourselves. The law does not run itself, we run it. Justice does not serve itself, someone with blood coursing down his veins serves it. We have set other things as priority other than justice. The law is imperfect but we are the asses! When we fix ourselves, we can be rest assured that the face of administration of justice will change.”

In these few years, we have read about disappointing performances by prosecution lawyers and because of the outcome of our celebrated cases, we conclude that they are slipshod. We celebrate the arrest of high-profile criminals only to see them roaming our streets, sticking their tongues out at us through thanksgiving services and mocking us as fools for being elated at their arrests. Year in-year out, the list of accused persons gets longer with no substantial justice meted out. In the least impressive ways, we repeat history; the justice system has dropped our jaws and has left us speechless. If it isn’t from the bar, it is the bench!

In criminal cases, the work of the prosecution is the harder. The counsel has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is indeed guilty of the crime. All pieces of evidence must point the finger at the accused to secure a conviction. That is the due process of prosecution. The facts are thoroughly examined and the pieces of evidence are weighed to determine proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The society trusts the justice system to duly and appropriately reprimand suspects found guilty of crimes after a proper thorough trial. Sadly, things don’t always work the way we set them out to. Sometimes, the process has a mind of its own. Many of the accused have figured out ways to walk out of the court room as free men.

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On the 28th of January, 2013 a director involved in the stealing of Police Pension Funds, Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf confessed before an Abuja High Court that he connived with other suspects and that he only stole N2 billion. In the judgment given by Honorable Justice Abubakar Talba, John Yakubu Yusufu was sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of N250, 000 fine. Mr. Yusufu was to forfeit his property worth N325 million to the government. How so that having being found guilty of stealing N23 billion, John Yakubu Yusufu could pay a sum not even up to half of a million naira and walk away free? With that sentence, justice was put in the spotlight to be mocked. It did not only cause a stir in the public arena, it killed whatever faith the people had left in the justice administration.

Less than 24 hours after John Yakubu Yusuf was freed, a man was up for trial for stealing a China Blackberry handset worth N17,000! Like John Yusufu pleaded, the man – Mr Jamiu – also pleaded guilty to the charge. He bagged a cooing sentence of three years imprisonment. If the doling of sentence was proportionate to the amount stolen and the same law was used to try both men, if Mr. Jamiu was jailed for three years, then Mr. Yusufu should have been sentenced to at least 110,000 years in prison.

Something must have happened to Justitia, you know her, don’t you? That statue in front of our courts painted white, blindfolded, carrying a pair of scales and brandishing a sword. Something must have tipped the pair of scales, or maybe she could see through the blindfold. One thing is for certain, when we think about both case scenarios, we’d have to ask ourselves: “how is the justice served?” Expressing the ridicule of the whole Yusufu case, this was tweeted:

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“If N23billion attracts N750,000 fine, then Faroul’s $620,000 will attract N3,000. He should appeal if his fine is more or pay with two MTN N1,500 recharge cards.”

That’s how far into the mud the justice system has been dragged.

In 2009, it was reported that the same Justice Abubakar Talba, sitting on a two-man panel, acting in appellate capacity in a case filed by the late President, Musa Yar’adua, held that President Musa Yar’adua lacked the power to maintain the legal action against the respondents who were The Leadership Newspaper. In that case, the respondent had run a defamatory story on the ill-health of the late president. Justice Talba’s legal reasoning was based on S.308 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution that gave immunity to the president. What a line of legal reasoning! That ruling upturned the earlier judgment of an Abuja Magistrate court that had ruled contrary. Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, the matter was laid to rest when the apex court held that there is no provision that prohibits a person holding offices stated in S.308 from instituting or continuing action instituted against another person during his tenure in office.

I begin to wonder if it is the ability to interpret the laws that is lacking in Justice Abubakar Talba or if there are other unknown things to his controversial rulings and sentences. Reported cases of bribery at the bench raise red flags. In the Nigerian Tribune 17th September 2012, the case of five highly placed judicial officers fingered in corrupt/sharp practices was reported. According to that report, these judicial officers ran foreign accounts. The report read thus: “it had been allegedly established that those called “agents” who arranged alleged gratification between litigants and judges always preferred to arrange meetings for the parties in the deal abroad.” The can of worms (in forms of bribery allegations) opened in the course of the embarrassing rift between Justice Ayo Salami and members of the Supreme Court is another kettle of fish. All these, together, make one weary of the efficacy of our justice administration system. Is the judge truly an impartial umpire or can he really see through the blindfold?

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The laws are imperfect and there is nothing we can do about that. No law in the world is perfect but that is no reason why our laws should be manipulated or be in a comatose. The answer is simple: our laws have failed us because we have failed ourselves. The law does not run itself, we run it. Justice does not serve itself, someone with blood coursing down his veins serves it. We have set other things as priority other than justice. The law is imperfect but we are the asses! When we fix ourselves, we can be rest assured that the face of administration of justice will change. Till we get there, we keep hoping against hope and working against the odds. Someday, we will.

 

Owoyemi Olorunfemi contributed this piece to BREAKING TIMES. He can be followed on Twitter at @santifemi. 

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