The good news today is that the President and his fellow travelers have learnt a lesson from that grave mistake. The current efforts at sorting out the leadership question in the Senate early enough is a wise move.
Still, the President needs the judiciary. This is another area where his government erred rather woefully. Whoever advised his government to send armed troops to invade the houses of serving judges in the middle of the night did his government a great disservice. The Judiciary may be corrupt as every segment of Nigerian society is. But you do not fight corruption with terrorism. The man who gave the government this advise that Judges should be terrorized is a quack and if he is still in government should be dismissed with ignominy and immediate effect.
In the 70’s we used to hear of Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and Jean BedelBokassa of the Central African Empire doing such things to their judges. We used to say then that such things cannot happen in Nigeria. For such a thing to happen in Nigeria in 2000+ was a big shame.
The person under whose presidency it happened has a not too pleasant historical relationship with the judiciary. When he came to power as a Military Head of State in 1984, General Buhari set up the Special Military Tribunals. The Nigerian Bar Association challenged the composition of the Tribunals and their mandate. They were headed by serving military men and their mandate was to treat all politicians and political office holders as criminals. The onus was on the people so accused to prove that they were innocent. The NBA did not only disagree with Buhari at that time, all members of the Bar were barred from appearing before the Tribunals.
As a reporter covering the Kaduna zone of the Special Military Tribunals 1984-5, I had first-hand experience in the way they functioned. I was there when AbubakarRimi exploded against his sentencing. He told the Tribunal that with such system of judicial administration, Nigeria had no reason to complain about Apartheid in South Africa. Commodore Elegbede the chairman of the Tribunal shouted on Rimi to shut up. Rimi said he was not going to shut up and continued with his tirade against the government and the Tribunal regardless. The two men almost went physical against each other before the Tribunal broke up abruptly.
Worse still, the judgments of the Tribunals were rather grotesque. Sabo BakinZuwo who was already over 50 years was handed a 200 year jail term. In response, he prayed for God to grant Elegbede the age of Metassula so that he would be alive to make sure he BakinZuwo served out his sentence. In any case, he said he did not blame Elegbede much because the Nigerian Judiciary was at that time “under judicial hara – hara- hara” then the final word came out “harakari”. Whatever BakinZuwo meant by the term‘judicial harakari’, it was not very complementary of the Judiciary under Buhari’s military government.
The point’s man of the judiciary under our 1999 Constitution is the Attorney General and Minster of Justice. The Constitution takes that office so seriously that it is the only cabinet office that is specifically mentioned in the supreme law of the land. The capacity of the man holding such an office to discharge his duties should not be open to question. Shagari had Richard Akinjide, a widely experienced SAN with a capacity for creative mischief. His twelve two thirds formula caught Shagari’s opponents unawares and eased his ascendancy to the presidency. Obasanjo had Chef Bola Ige, a man of unfathomable intellect and experience. Even Yaradua had Michael Aondokaa who did not have the experience or intellect of Akinjide and Bola Ige but had the knuckle head, energy and capacity to fight legal rascality with legal rascality, even on the streets.
The current holder of that office has a fine face. That is all he has going for him. The Judiciary at the moment is up in arms against the government of Buhari because of his wholesale incompetence in handling that office.Buhari cannot fight corruption alone no matter how clean he is. It is not a one man show. He needs the judiciary. A competent Attorney General and Minister of Justice should ensure he gets that support.
Even as the President awaits his inauguration on May 29th, there is a looming constitutional crisis over the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The quality of advice Buhari gets on how to handle the Judiciary thus remains suspect to me.