Nigeria is a country bled of justice. In correctional centers spread like weeds across the country, inmates spend years awaiting trial. In the North East, families and communities turned upside down by Boko Haram and ISWAP nurse their wounds banished from the benevolent gaze of justice.
In Nigeria’s mounting rape crises, defiled women and girls sentenced to lives of perpetual shame are deprived of the incomparable comforts of justice. Many become victims of the highhandedness of state actors and there is none to intervene. The courts fall and remain silent because at night state actors move around enforcing a strict code of silence.
Confronted by the social and economic injustices wrought by corruption, many live every day tethered to the edge of the precipice, one step away from a fatal plunge. People have issues with their employers, and when they are eased out in breach of the law, there is none to intervene.
Nigerians who summon the courage to brave the unique hurdles of justice delivery are soon worn out by the slow grind of its ponderous wheels. As per data, 5.1 billion people all over the world lack access to justice.To this pool of the unjustly treated, Nigeria, Africa’s stumbling giant, unsurprisingly contributes a staggering 140 million people.
There is no grim statistics Nigeria does not prominently contribute to. Think of out-of-school children, think of infant and maternal mortality; think of unemployment figures. Given these, how far can a country without justice hope to advance along the path of development and economic prosperity?
The answer to this question is readily readable in the current state of affairs in Nigeria. Things are broken, shattered like the shards of ruined clay crockery. Even the most optimistic cannot really see enough to hold on to.
So, a country thirsts for justice, and for the millionth time, millions are unable to get it. A former Justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, MuntakaCoomasie JSC (of blessed memory) once famously described the judiciary as the ‘last hope of the common man. Today, many call it the ‘lost hope of the common man’ to lament just how much confidence they have lost.
Because it takes forever to navigate the labyrinth of Nigeria’s justice delivery system, people who should seek justice quickly turn elsewhere and like Lot and his daughters, are too terrified to look back.
Justice is rooted in confidence. The hemorrhage of confidence in the judiciary is compounded by the widespread perception that it is corrupt and complicit in the many troubles assailing the country.
Thus, it happened that at the word of a tribunal whose dark arts violently rattled the scales of justice Mr. Walter Onnoghen, then Chief Justice of Nigeria was conveniently eased out of the judiciary just before the 2019 elections. His place was taken by his colleague on the court whose haste to benefit from his predecessor’s pain betrayed Nigeria’s highest court as an odious orchestra of opportunists. Ever since the Supreme Court has remained a bazaar where transactions raise eyebrows.
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Who are those who sell justice in Nigeria? Nigerians want to know the judges who sell justice to the highest bidders in Nigeria and those who presume to buy justice.
Because justice is pristine because it is man’s deepest desire, no polluted hand can touch its pure foundations; not the hands of thieves, not those of turncoats.
Wetin lawyers dey do sef, goes the query in pidgin parlance. It is as grating as it goes. Young lawyers leave their call to bar ceremonies only to find out that the world of justice in Nigeria is a forbidding landmine. In law firms that are more sweatshops than any in the clothing industry, the zeal to pursue justice soon evaporates like early morning dew under the scorching sun, its place taken by a primal need to survive.
Many lack legal representation at all or are underrepresented and underserved. Consequently, they resent lawyers, especially when they see senior lawyers representing those accused of chilling financial crimes.
Many languish in prison awaiting trial because the justice delivery system is one walk of snails. It does not help that Nigeria’s crime detection agencies which round up people are well versed in the dark arts of vendetta and a lack of professionalism.
Many who should cool their heels in jail escape punishment to further compound the frustrations of the system and those the system is in place to serve. In a country of the legally underserved and underrepresented, many are too poor to foot the forbidding costs of seeking justice.
The situation is not helped by an attorney general the country is saddled with. Boasting feathers identical to the ones his fellow cabinet members wear, he is like them in inertia, only coming to life when there is controversy to be courted. Together, they continue to cause Nigerians to wonder why it took the president more than six months to choose them in 2015 given that they have always been as pedestrian as they come.
Nigerians have experienced the eccentricities of many attorney generals over the years but never one who acts as the personal lawyer of the ruling party and the president. With each bewildering utterance or action, he puts the legal profession, his primary constituency, on trial.
From Akwanga to Alor, Nigerians should be able to get justice even if the heavens are falling. Without justice, there can be neither genuine peace nor prosperity.