THANK GOD FOR THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA.
“Bayelsa: S’Court refuses to sack Diri, awards N60m cost.”
PUNCH, February 27, 2020, p 1.
NOTE: This article was written to be sent to the Editor in the first week of March. A day after, I was battling for my life struck down by Cancer. I forgot about it. Six weeks after shedding some weight and millions of naira which I cannot afford, but hopeful about the future, I still want to register my views on that issue – even if it is the last one.
God bless everyone of the panel of Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, SCN, who on February 26, 2020 had the moral and professional courage to disgrace big money, great lawyers and their clients. It was a victory for decency, for patriotism and respect for the rule of law – especially given the stature of the appellants’ lawyers. No two bigger and more expensive legal counsels can money procure than Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, and Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN. Certainly, they were selected by Mr Lyon and the All Progressives Congress, APC, to intimidate justices by their mere presence in the court. That must have been central to the decision to engage them. The scenario reminded me of late Chief FRA Williams, SAN, in his heydays. His gargantuan bulk and his equally gigantic reputation made “Timi the Law” a legal terror to justices. People with weak cases but a lot of cash sought his services. The only lawyer Williams did not always want to face was Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, who, though much younger, was the “peoples’ lawyer”. Gani ‘s “Jankara” methods were the perfect antidote to Timi the Bully. While representing the relatively poor against Timi’s money-bags Gani gave his opponents a good run for their money. Scaring the living daylights out of justices unfortunately did not end with Williams.
“Money [and power too] makes everything legitimate – including bastards.”
Jewish proverb, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 163.
It is doubtful if a poor litigant, after scraping together enough funds to take a case all the way to the SCN, would have money or the courage to re-approach the court for a review after an unfavourable verdict. It requires the combination of great wealth and power for individuals and groups to contemplate such an adventure. In this case, extremely rich men and the ruling political party were involved. Rumours have it that the President and the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, were ready with statements for reporters in high expectation of a positive outcome. They reckoned without the hitherto unknown courage of the Justices of the SCN. Their high-profile lawyers were even more sure of themselves. They were going to break new legal ground – even if it entailed breaking the constitution of Nigeria. They might even break the bank from the monetary rewards that would have accrued from victory. Like all over-confident boxers who let down their guards, they fell after receiving a sucker punch – from a woman for that matter.
The biggest Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, give scant regard to justice. They are invariably court room oppressors. They want to win – irrespective of the justice involved in the case. And, since appetite grows with eating good food, the more they win the higher their fees climb. The approach to the SCN, to review a decision which the highest court made just two weeks earlier, calls for extra-ordinary hubris Such an exceptional adventure also requires uncommon people. I sincerely hope that the two great and well-respected legal luminaries did not accept the brief just for the money. I pray that when they finally address the nation on this misadventure they will be able to convince us that they felt there was a novel legal point to make. Otherwise, it was foolhardy and the stain on their well-deserved reputations might never be removed. Desperate adventures such as this should be left to co-professionals who have no reputation to protect. Afe Babalola and Olanipekun represent the legal establishment. They should not be taking risks with their reputations. Certainly, each of them leaving court on that historical day will be blaming himself for walking into a septic tank.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli, 1469-1527.
What the two great lawyers and their clients undertook in their desperate attempt to regain what they presumed to be their legitimate mandate to rule Bayesla state amounted to leading in the introduction of a new order of things. It is quite possible that each of them, if pressed hard could recite the Nigerian constitution without opening a book. It is even possible that they might have delivered lectures on the role of the Supreme Court in the order of things. Nobody needs to remind them as Justice Amina Augie, had to do that;
“Section 235 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, makes it very clear that no appeal can lie to any other body from any determination of the Supreme Court. This is the final court and the decisions of the court are final.”
Before that reminder to those who actually did not need to be reminded, she had also made the observation that “there must be an end to litigation.” Again those are not words that the lawyers would be hearing for the first time. And, just in case, other lawyers waiting in the wings to cash in on a good outing failed to get the message, she added for emphasis. “It is final in the real sense of the word, final, and no force can get this court to shift from its decision on the Bayelsa State election appeal number SC.1/2020…It will otherwise open the floodgate of of litigation on all appeals decided by this court.” There was more. But, let us pause for breath and comment on this monumental decision and the underlying reason why the SCN should not have been approached at all by the APC – and certainly not led by SANs highly regarded at home and abroad.
“Wisdom in people consists of the anticipation of consequences.”
Norman Cousins, VBQ, p 274.
Actions have consequences and wisdom dictates that individuals should attempt to consider all the possible outcomes of the steps they intend to undertake – from the very best to the most horrible. Once again, I am giving Chiefs Babalola and Olanipekun the benefit of doubt that they acted, not for further enrichment, but from good intentions. Immediately, wise readers can spot one of the problems. Good intentions are never enough. For ages, it has been drummed into thick human skulls that “the road to Hell is always paved with good intentions”. The actualisation of their good motives would have resulted in the “Hell” to which Justice Amina pointed. According to William Scott, Lord Stowell, 1745-1836, “A precedent embalms a principle.” If the SCN had committed the awful blunder of ruling in favour of APC, it would not only have opened the floodgate to unlimited litigation on decisions made recently, it would have given reason for lawyers to argue for new decisions on virtually every case the SCN ever decided. The understaffed and overworked SCN would have been overwhelmed by the avalanche of petitions for review such that it would virtually grind to a halt. Certainly, some of the cases which Babalola and Olanipekun have won at the same court will also be affected. One of the repercussions of this is clear to an economist, if it escapes ordinary Nigerians and politicians. It will open a goldmine for lawyers; it will also throw a landmine under the nation’s Judiciary. Despite the benefit of doubt given to the lawyers, it is the prospect of the bonanza which it would have given them that waters down belief in their good intentions. Otherwise, it would have revealed that they are not as “learned” as we supposed. The colossal monetary gain for lawyers, if the appeal had succeeded, would have been procured at the great expense of ruining the nation’s Judiciary, especially the SCN for good. Is it worth it?
One younger SAN was so appalled, he called for more disciplinary action against the two senior SANs. I would not support any further disgrace to be heaped on them. The SCN, with Justice Augie reading the decision in tears had already taken the extra-ordinary step of imposing fines on the counsels. That embarrassment was, to me, sufficient punishment for the grave error of judgment on their part. Olanipekun is younger than Augie. But Babalola is far older. The Ekiti SAN must have been called to the Bar when Augie was still filling forms to enter secondary school. She probably even worked under Chief before. To be tongue-lashed in open court by one’s “daughter” at the bar was not Babalola’s finest hour. The stain can never be erased. That is enough.
From newspaper reports, the President, who was taught a good lesson in excellent political gamesmanship by a much younger President Jonathan in 2015, had not been able to impart the lesson to the APC which he leads. Like his political followers, he had contested every election he lost all the way to the SCN; and, after losing, had criticised the judgment. The only just decision as far as Buhari is concerned, is the one that goes in his favour. With a leader like that what does one expect of the rest of the party?
Other reports mentioned that the APC Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had to be restrained by his aides from uttering the malarkey expected of him as a man who talks first and thinks later – if at all. He should have been allowed to talk – to leave another set of words carved in stone which demonstrate that the ruling party has chosen for its Chairman a person lacking in every quality of a good political leader in a modern democracy. He belongs in dictatorships where “might is right”. A “father” of a party who is locked in mortal combat with one of his “sons” for control of his own “family compound” (read Edo State) has lost all modicum of respect. What else can he possibly say that will surprise us? He announced shortly after the Supreme Courts earlier decision that “nobody should be sworn in” – as if Bayelsa is his own private estate to be allocated at will. Nothing he says will surprise us. His reputation in mixing ten per cent truth with forty per cent half truth and adding fifty per cent falsehood is intact. Just read the news reports on the bedlam in Edo State. He and his spokesmen (birds of the same feather) manufacture bombs at the airport which the Police disclaim and attempts on his life – despite the battalion of “Kill and Go” guarding him. His street is barricaded as if he is the only one living there etc etc Oh! Adams!!
But, we have one piece of advice for Oshiomhole – even if he did not ask for it – because today, I am filled with the “Milk of human kindness”. Elphinston said it to someone like Oshiomhole: “You’ve had your share of mirth, of meat and drink. It’s time to quit; it’s time to think.” And if he cannot, may be the APC should do the thinking for him. This guy is walking about with TNT wrapped around his waist. He will destroy APC and others things valuable as well.
Although she is under 70 and I am racing towards a century, if I ever get within distance of prostrating for Justice Amina Augie, I will do it. Same goes for Justice Odili. God bless all of them. They saved our courts from desperadoes. All the lawyers expecting to cash in on petitions to the SCN can now go to blazes. The court is firmly closed to their frivolities.