Justice. If only we knew what it was – Socrates
There is no doubt that the legal profession is a noble one. Starting with England, to the world, for over 200 years, the profession has produced the best of minds that have promoted the advancement of humanity in all spheres. Back here in Nigeria, deep–thinking legal luminaries have contributed to nation-building, deepened democracy and promoted Socratic virtues.
But some of the Nigerian Bar Association’s actions regarding critical anti-corruption matters send immoral signals that stain the profession. The bad precedence it is setting should not be seen by future generations. Never. The NBA should be part of the solution – promoting the rule of law and not the defender of immorality.
The news is that some men went to the private residence of a serving judge to execute a valid search warrant. Being a senior member of the Bar and a senior Judge of the Supreme Court, the NBA took over the battle to fight for one of their own. The dominant narration, among several feeble excuses, is why should a serving judge house be searched. They came out howling and blazing. NBA representatives were all over TV stating how an independent panel would investigate the intimidation.
Playing the victim and threats were flying all over the place. A serving governor, a lawyer too, was making daily statements about the matter. He went all the way to visit the Inspector General of Police to demand that ‘justice’ be served. Newspapers and social media was overrun on the ’embarrassment’ caused. The PDP and other minnows joined the fray to turn it into a political matter.
Before you knew it, government agencies, tail between their legs, were rushing to deny involvement. They took turns to issue statements about not knowing anything. Within a week, suspects were paraded, and the comic goes on. The Inspector- general of Police and the Office of the Attorney-General have made statements about preliminary investigations – stating that the perpetrators were fraudsters. The NBA wanted none of it. How dare anyone think of searching the house of a particular judge.
But let us pose some arguments. Is there any law in Nigeria that bars the search of the premises of not even a private residence, but even the court premises? Is any location excluded? From the Constitution down to subsidiary laws and regulations, nothing stops law enforcement agencies or institutions empowered to investigate from doing so. No member of the NBA can provide that legislation. OK, there is a process that entails obtaining a valid court order or warrant to conduct a search. Now, was the warrant obtained legally or was there a forgery? From information so far, a court of competent jurisdiction issued the warrant. So, the legal and administrative processes were duly followed.
Now, the new narrative is that the persons that obtained the warrant were illegal–so it is either they faked all their credentials to confuse the magistrate or the magistrate was complicit. If the first is true, then it means the system is so weak that such can occur. That is more damaging. If the second is true, imagine the number of ordinary citizens who don’t have access to media fire-power, who go through searches. If either is true, then it beggars more questions about the criminal justice system.
Anyway, whatever the story is, no one has denied that the warrant was valid and administrative process was duly followed. Therefore, there is no gap in the legal and administrative spheres. So what is the issue? The location they chose to execute the warrant.
The NBAs’ motto is “promoting the rule of law”. So what does it infer, in a democracy, when the NBA, as a body and major private TV houses, are bullying the government to shield a matter where no single law was broken nor administrative process breached? The media is supposed to be the Fourth Estate of the Realm. They failed on this matter. Or are we implying that courts or residence of judges are no go areas? An argument can be made for more civility and respect because of the person involved, but then, what does ‘the rule of law’ actually mean? So what would have been the action to take, for example, a designated terrorist, based on credible intelligence, is within a court premise? What happens when a judge houses a person of interest? Go to National Judicial Council? Are there places that cannot be crime scenes?
The rule of law should be supreme – and no one can ensure that it is applied to the maximum other than the NBA. One would notice the silence of major media houses. The NBA has bullied everyone in protecting one of their own- over a search. They argue that some judges have been embarrassed before with no tangible outcome. So what do we do? Amend our anti-corruption laws to exclude judicial officers?
The NBA should note that it’s the only Bar in the world that has taken the government to court, and won – arguing that it will not comply with anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regulations. Other countries that oppose the same have effective mechanisms to ensure that their members are not engaged in corruption, money laundering, or giving perpetual injections. And when they err, they are punished. The NBA has not demonstrated enough political will to fight corruption in the country. It goes beyond setting up an anti-corruption committee within its structure. They should be partners. No public sector corruption , grand corruption, political corruption, money laundering or illicit financial flows can occur without a legal practitioner. Thus, the NBA is the most formidable association that can drastically reduce corruption to its barest minimum. It’s time for house cleaning.