Both in number and impact, the emails that I received in response to last week’s opening essay in this series constitute some of the most eye-opening responses I have ever received since I began regularly writing this column more than eight years ago, first in The Guardian under a slightly different name, and then in this paper, The Nation. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that after reading many of these responses, I began to feel like one of the unhappy souls in Plato’s celebrated Myth of the Cave!
As those who have read this classic of ancient, Pre-Socratic Greek philosophy will remember, the hapless characters in Plato’s myth, after living their entire lives in a deep, underground cave shrouded in darkness, one day emerge from the cave and its miasmic darkness. But instead of feeling liberated by the brightness of the light that they find in the world outside the cave, they are utterly blinded by its incandescence. As it has been taught to innumerable generations of first year philosophy students, the moral of this myth is that in conditions where darkness, ignorance and mediocrity reign supreme, the sudden introduction of truth, enlightenment and probity may prove, not liberating, but confounding. Ergo, truth, justice and liberating knowledge must be introduced in small, manageable doses in a world in which their opposites – falsehood, injustice and cynicism – always have the upper hand, especially in the professions among which, for our purposes in this essay, we must highlight the law. In case all this sounds rather mysterious, let me briefly give some of the details of the emails I received before linking what they revealed to me with my concluding reflections in this series that began last week.
Perhaps the most startling of the revelations that I received from the emails was the assertion that the problems and crises in the judicial system in Nigeria were far much deeper, wider and systemic than what was indicated in the essential critique I had made in last week’s article. Let me remind the reader that that critique of mine stated that both the law and its implementation in Nigerian courts constitute nearly impregnable accessories to the cynical, merciless and social-cannibalistic looting of our national, collective resources. Beyond this critique – which, I thought, was serious enough – I was told that Nigeria is the ONLY country in the world in which interlocutory injunctions intended to delay, prolong or even permanently defer successful prosecutions are not only allowed but widely practiced in criminal cases.
In other words, in virtually all of the other nations of the world, interlocutory injunctions are allowed only in civil cases, and then only under clearly stipulated and limited circumstances. Only in our country do interlocutory injunctions operate as a weapon, a shield against successful prosecution of those charged with criminal offenses, especially offenses pertaining to looting and corruption. Who does not know that petty criminals do not have the money to hire lawyers, especially of SAN vintage, to tie up cases against them? Dear reader, think of this the next time that you read in the newspapers that an interlocutory injunction has been filed by a lawyer and accepted by a judge in a case of criminal prosecution: Only in Nigeria and for the most part only in cases pertaining to looting and corruption!
In my utter stupefaction in being told of this fact, I asked some of my email correspondents whenand how this incredible exceptionalism in our judicial system came into existence and I was informed that it was started about a decade and half ago. This makes its inception almost exactly coincident with the return to civilian “democracy” after the long and serial interregnum of military dictatorships in our country. In effect, this means that one of the most revealing marks of the kind of “democracy” reigning in post-1999 Nigeria is the legal convention and practice of giving protection, through the use of interlocutory injunctions, to criminal looters who have no equals in the world in the scale of their greed and impunity. This “democracy” is thus nothing but a looters’ paradise in which excessively predatory instincts and practices have the solid protection of the law. In the blinding light of this revelation, it becomes clear, all too clear why all the three presidents since 1999 before Buhari – Obasanjo, Yar’ Adua and Jonathan – constantly gave the excuse that their “fight” against corruption was hampered by their respect for the “rule of law”. What they never cared to reveal is that by this they meant their endorsement of and collusion with the use – theoveruse really – of interlocutory injunctions. The point now is that the cat has been let out of the bag and Buhari does not have that excuse.
I wish I didn’t have any more revelations of the stultifying nature of the uniqueness of interlocutory injunctions in criminal cases in Nigeria to report from the emails that I received this past week but alas, this is not the case. For it appears that “interlocutory injunctions” does have a slew of other siblings and cousins in the dysfunctional family that is our judicial system. It appears that beyond the specific instance of interlocutory injunctions, accumulation of wealth, status and prestige among our lawyers and judges are all solidly built around the extreme sluggishness, the extreme cumbersomeness of the administration and dispensation of justice in our country. For this reason, there seems to be an entrenched and almost immoveable resistance to change and reform among our lawyers and judges. Additionally, some of the problems in our judiciary are so comical, so absurd as to be beyond belief. My “favorite” in this regard is the fact that judges mandatorily have to write their judgments in long, hand-written texts; their judgments cannot, must not be typed!
It says a lot that much of what I have written here about the terrible state of the judiciary in our country comes from lawyers themselves: there are reformers and would-be reformers in the profession. Unfortunately their ranks are thin and the weight of investment in wealth accumulation, achievement of prestige and maintenance of status and the pecking order among their colleagues works overwhelmingly against these reformers. In this, the legal profession in Nigeria is no different from other upper middle class professions like medicine (doctors and pharmacists); academia (the professoriate and the academic administrators); and surveyors, engineers and industrial chemists. Without exception, all these professions and their ranks are deeply infected with the rot that is endemic to the predators’ republic that our “democracy has been since the return to civilian rule in 1999. Thus, in all these cases, true and genuine reforms will not only come from within the judicial system itself; they will also be precipitated by reforms in and of the political order at large.
The upshot of this preceding observation is that we cannot wait until the entire judicial order is reformed before we put a stop to the cover and protection that the judiciary provides for criminal looters who “kill” through the consequences and ramifications of the vast, mind-boggling sums they steal from our national coffers. It will take a vast and sustained project of reform to clean up the mess, the unwieldiness in our judicial order. Before then and right now, the stolen loot has to be recovered; and endemic corruption has to be halted in its tracks. The suffering, the hardship that it causes to millions of our peoples cannot, must not go on. I believe that as indicated by Falana, the acts enacted by the 7th National Assembly just before its dissolution can provide at least a minimal basis both for recovering a substantial part of the monies looted and for at least curbing the excesses and the impunity of corruption in our country. This in effect means that beyond the enabling laws that will minimally make this possible, Buhari and his administration have to look beyond the law, beyond the cooperation of lawyers and judges for recovering the stolen loot and curbing corruption. What exactly do I have in mind in making this assertion?
It is on record that many foreign governments and financial institutions have given strong indications that they are willing to give every assistance necessary to Buhari and his administration to recover the stolen monies that have been hidden away in foreign countries and bank vaults. Indeed, reportedly, the names and sums involved have been privately divulged to the new administration. But so far, how have the items of information been used, been acted upon? At best, they have been “revealed” to us, the Nigerian people, piecemeal, in a completely uncoordinated and haphazard manner, as if an open, detailed and comprehensive account to Nigeria and the world is either unnecessary or would be damaging to efforts to recover the looted sums. This is completely erroneous. If Buhari and his advisers don’t know it, let them know now, today, that so far on the interrelated issues of recovering stolen loot and curbing corruption, they have been acting like amateurs and inept improvisers. They have been throwing all sorts of figures around; and they have given no clear outlines or guidelines of what they are doing now and will be doing in the months and years ahead. And above all else, they are acting as if they regard the Nigerian people as passive bystanders in the whole project. We are not, both Nigerians at home and Nigerians abroad.
I ask all who are reading this to please get involved. Write to your Governors and Senators and “Honourables”. Have the leaders of your professional associations to speak up on your behalf. Hold peaceful demonstrations and rallies asking the new administration to give a full account of what they are doing to recover the stolen loot and what they are going to do with it when it is recovered. In some accounts, the total sums involved are as much as $150 billion dollars. Even half of that, if wisely spent, will substantially reduce the suffering and the hardship in the land. So compatriots, don’t wait for them to deign, to condescend to let us know what is going on, at their pleasure. Demand to know as if the survival of our country depends on it because, as a matter of fact, it does.