By Sam Omatseye
The law is one thing, but justice is quite another. What makes the law just depends on the judge because between the law and justice is judgement. Once the judge errs in judgment, it implies a chink in the imagination. Therefore, justice is denied. For all its sweet ambiguity and protestations of grand ideals, justice depends on human beings.
Once the humans have a distorted sense of the law, the people cannot get justice. This prompted the first seer of civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau to say, “The law never made anyone a whit more just.”
When the Supreme Court gave its reasons for giving Nyesom Wike victory at the court, the Governor had already disabused the minds of fair-thinking Nigerians. In a church thanks-giving service, he uttered what psychologists call a Freudian slip. Perhaps too inebriated with joy, he told his holy audience the following: “Let me thank our former governor, Dr. Peter Odili. He will call me midnight to tell me what to do….he will say ‘go so so place.’ I took all his advice, and here we are today.”
Wike defiled two temples. The temple of God and the temple of temporal justice. He spoke of influence in a church where it is forbidden. He implied that forbidden act influenced the temple of justice.
The odd thing is that neither he nor his votaries denied this. They merely said his gubernatorial rival, Dakuku Peterside, was out to cause confusion for unveiling the facts.
A few days after, Wike appeared before the Body of Benchers. These two developments only suggest that justice on Rivers State was not about justice, it was about imagination run foul, about viewpoints of the judges, a febrile, tendentious sense of reality, a decision that upsets the equipoise of a civilised society.
First, why would Wike need advice from former Governor Odili when the matter lay only in the hands of the Supreme Court? Was Odili doing anything to make the result for which the thanksgiving happened? He said, “I took his advice, and here we are today.” It is obvious that between Odili and the Supreme Court verdict, an abracadabra of justice took place.
For the purpose of transparency, what were those pieces of advice? If Odili asked him where to go, he needs to let us know where he went, to whom, and how it led us to the decision of the Supreme Court. Odili also needs to be clear to Nigerians about his midnight counsel.
The point has been made that Odili’s wife sits on the Supreme Court. So, some people have asked, what has his wife got to do with his advice? Maybe nothing. But transparency is important. Nigerians need to know, or else we are left to believe that some vermin and worms of action, beneath the eyes of the normal Nigerians, took place in the catacombs of the Nigerian judiciary that dispensed justice to Wike.
With this background, we can see why the court where Mahmud Mohammed presides has raised legitimate questions about not only its competence but its rectitude. By hiding under the veil of technicality, it has canonised blood and death. It says the tribunal was not properly constituted. It says card readers do not count enough. It says the issues of violence and irregularities were not sufficiently proven. Therefore, Wike becomes governor. Next to the Treasonable Felony verdict against Awolowo in the 1960’s, this is the most perverse verdict from the top of the Nigerian bench. It is an intellectual corruption of justice.
Card readers did not amount to a rejection of voter’s register. It was meant to validate it. Society, including the judges, knew that technology saved the election from the militancy of the riggers, from bloodthirsty hoodlums who privatised the polls. They wrote the elections. They decided who voted and who did not. Those who fought against the card readers warmed with nostalgia for the old ceremony of violence.
The justices, in the name of technicality, manifested a wistful longing for the atavistic past of blood and death. Go ye into any election. Plunder if you can, kill if you will, write your results. Any criminal can win because the saner person cannot prove it. Mohammed and his men also hid under technicalities when they said the Tribunal was not properly constituted. What has that got to do with substantial justice? It reminds one of the famous case in the State of Alamaba when a thief of animal skin was let go because the prosecution did not say whether it was cowhide, or that of a goat, sheep, etc. The thief is a thief, and a skin is a skin.
Before the Rivers verdict, Chief Justice Mohammed had lamented that the lower courts dabbled in inconsistent verdicts. His observation was mistaken. I thought he was referring to irreconcilable judgments on the same matter that gave off the impression of a chaotic bench. What he meant, with hindsight, is that he wanted them to be consistent in puerile verdicts.
On Wike, was it not the same governor who wanted to pay Justice Mohammed a visit, and he declined to see the governor? Was that not sufficient ground for him to recuse himself from seating on the case since it was widely speculated that Wike wanted to see him over the impending judgement?
It is clear that the days of majestic judges are not here. As Professor Itse Sagay noted, we do not have the Eshos and Karibi-Whites. We have shadows of justice, dark, distorted, haunting. They have no reverence for lustitia, the Roman goddess of justice, who is called lady justice. She is presented in some courts blindfold and holding a sword in one hand and scales in the other. The blindfold meant the judge did not show bias where the scales tilted. Unlike blind love that does not see foibles, judicial blindness does not see favour. This Rivers State verdict does not favour the people. It has anointed bloodshed. The verdict also implies that Goodluck Jonathan could have won in court and probably won the opportunity for a rerun without card readers. It would be back to 2011 where he swept phony votes all over the country. That is the implication of the court of Mohammed. His court shows us the other side of blindness.
Philosopher and critic Paul de Man had written a ground breaking book, Insight and Blindness, and showed how in the analysis of texts we see a side and not see another, and yet come off with a triumphal conclusion. Before he died, he was hailed for the integrity of his vision. After he died, we learned he was a Nazi collaborator in Belgium. While he was showing us how to see, we were blind to his other side. In his novel, Blindness, Nobel laureate Jose Saramago shows that whether blind or seeing, we see what we want to see. The Supreme Court saw a society handcuffed to electoral violence. It is a grim and pharisaic court.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sam Omatseye/The Nation