The week before the midnight invasion of the premises of very senior judges and justices, I had written an article titled “Fighting corruption in the judiciary”. The article was written firstly to commend the NJC for indicting three senior judges, two of them to be compulsorily retired and one to be dismissed and prosecuted. One who was an appeal court judge that chaired an appeal panel on a post-2015 legislative election dispute demanded a bribe of N200 million from a litigant on three occasions. The other judge who was the head of the Ilorin Division of the Appeal Court was involved in a “419” deal in which he collected N200 million from a contractor. The third, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, ordered the arrest of a man whose case had been closed, perhaps because the man donated only N10 million to the Chief Judge during his book launch.
The second reason I wrote the article was to draw attention to the fact that the popular perception of many of our judges as being highly corrupt was an anti-investment factor that was hurting Nigeria in its desperate efforts to court foreign investment.
Thirdly, the article was written to challenge the government, the NJC, the Nigerian Bar Association and the citizenry to take more drastic actions to fight corruption in the judiciary. I had reasoned that the current scheme whereby alleged corrupt judges are only investigated when disappointed or dissatisfied litigants petition the NJC is like using the medicine for eczema to treat leprosy. The writers of the constitution who gave this job and procedure to NJC must have had in mind countries with very low corruption like Norway or Singapore, not our country which has been classified as “fantastically corrupt” by world leaders and which since 1998 has remained in the league of the countries with the highest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International.
So when, a week after this article was published, we woke up in the morning to see pictures of DSS operatives in the premises of very senior judges, including justices of the Supreme Court in the middle of the night, I went into an emotional turmoil. At first, I must confess that I was happy that it looked like the Federal Government had acted on my advice and taken drastic action to weigh in on this well-known fact of high level of judicial corruption. But as the details of the operations emerged, I became angry. Why will the FGN go about doing a very good thing in a very bad way which has now turned the good thing to look bad? Because it is not acceptable to try and do a good thing in a bad way! Could these judges’ homes not be searched in the daytime? Could the EFCC not have done the search and arrest instead of DSS? Could we not have invited these judges to the EFCC offices instead of invading their homes in the middle of the night as if they were armed robbers, drug barons or kidnappers?
The incontrovertible truth is that any nation that wants to fight corruption must not do so with impunity, because impunity itself is the mother of corruption. So we cannot fight corruption with corruption. I fully support the fight against corruption. I fully recommend that we extend the searchlight everywhere – executive, legislature and judiciary; public and private sector; governmental and non-governmental sectors; in the police and in the military; in PDP and in APC. Impunity and use of unlawful methods or even inhuman methods will undermine the fight.
Writing about wrong ways to do the right things brings me to the current apparent face-off between PMB and his wife of 27 years, Madam Aisha. The advice she gave to her husband is a good one. He must shake up his government and improve its performance otherwise she would not support a second term for him. What a forthright advice which actually resonates with many Nigerians who have seen their quality of lives depreciate since PMB came to power. In her advice, she seemed to blame much of the lacklustre performance of the government on the kind of people he had appointed to various offices, people who were unknown to the president, people without good track record or people who did not share the president’s vision. Very serious issues, because the ability of any group to deliver or perform at high standards is always influenced by the quality of the people.
But my worry is why Madam Aisha would choose to give this critical advice to her husband in the marketplace through the mass media. Such advice should not be given by a wife to a husband in the public except communication has completely broken down. I am a man and would not be happy for my wife to give me that kind of advice in the public. Even if I had been reluctant to accept her advice, I would expect that she would talk to my close relatives or associates to put pressure on me if she felt very strongly on an issue. Here again, therefore, is a case of doing the right thing in a wrong way, thus blighting the relevance of that advice and allowing several interpretations to be given to what was an otherwise a well-considered advice. For example, a niece of mine suggested that why Madam Aisha did what she did was that our president may have been contemplating marrying another young girl! What an interpretation?
It is often said that two wrongs do not make a right. If Madam Aisha did the right thing in a wrong way, what PMB did in response was even more damaging. I could feel his anger and his blood boiling that his wife had the effrontery to say what she said in public. I could see his effort to try and control what to say but he failed as he blurted, “I do not know which party my wife belongs to. But I know that she belongs to my kitchen, my living room and the other room.” That was a most inelegant answer which has now got the world sniggering at our president. I have read several reports, opinions and comments on this ‘gaffe’. One commentator even tried to compare PMB with Donald Trump. Again, the president in an effort to caution his wife to restrict her role to being a housewife who cooks his meal, who makes children for him and who generally takes care of the home, and not to dabble into politics or to the working of the government, did the right thing in a wrong way, in the wrong place and in the wrong circumstance. Did he have to respond to the question? Could he not have waited to return home and then disciplined the wife in the traditional ways – refuse her food, refuse to sleep with her or even spank her if he is so inclined. To have responded at the spur of the moment, and apparently denigrating the role of women in politics while standing next to Angela Merkel, a poster girl for female ascendancy in global politics and leadership, left so much sour taste in the mouths of many – friends and foes alike.
Certainly there is so much for all to learn from these stories. First is that no matter the temptation, we must use lawful means to achieve lawful ends. Anything not lawful must not be contemplated or attempted. I have been unceasing in my plea that we must make Nigeria a country that is ordered and governed by the rule of law. Though it is painful, our judges now have better understanding of what it is for ordinary citizens to be denied their rights!
Two, we need to know that whatsoever a man sows that he will reap. Those in government now, including those who defend every action of government, lawful or unlawful, decent or indecent, must remember that what goes round comes around. Let us not become victims tomorrow!
Thirdly, our leaders need to develop a high level of emotional intelligence – to know how to react to provocations and to measure their speech when under pressure. That is an essential ingredient of leadership.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa