Justice Elizabeth Karatu’s attack: An Assault on the Judiciary

A quiet constitutional infraction has been going on in this country and nobody seems to be paying attention. The judicial arm of Nigeria is being denigrated and openly assaulted. In the last few years the dignity of the Judiciary and aura of its respectability have been considerably decimated. I am, today, however, concerned about two recent events.

The first is the video clip, which has gone viral, in which an ordinary officer of the Civil Defence Corps was sent to prevent Justice Elizabeth Karatu of the Kebbi State High Court from entering her courtroom to deliver judgments. The direct confrontation of the Judge by the government agent has been allowed to pass without any eyebrow being raised.

The second event happened in Kotonkarfe High Court of Kogi State few weeks ago, when policemen guiding the court were withdrawn from the court on an “order from above”, thereby preventing the Presiding Judge of the court, Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, from delivering a ruling in a case involving Kogi State Chief Judge, Governor of Kogi State and the State House of Assembly. Nothing happened thereafter, except the serious indictment and admonition of the court, when the Judge eventually had the chance to deliver the ruling. Justice Omolaye-Ajileye, in his ruling prophetically warned:

“As a threshold point, it is important, for purposes of record, to mention here that this ruling was to be delivered on Friday, 12th April, 2019 but for the sudden and unceremonious withdrawal of policemen from this court in the course of the court’s proceedings. The directive to withdraw the policemen was said to be consequent upon “an order from above”, a disguised phraseology that has the tendency of introducing timidity into the judicial system. The tragedy and desecration embedded in the unprecedented constitutional infraction may not be appreciated now. It may also never attract the attention of the world and the relevant authorities because it happened in a remote village called Kotonkarfe, somewhere around the Niger area in Kogi State. It, however, portends a very bad omen for the Judiciary in Nigeria. I make bold to say, at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, that keeping quiet in the face of such an assault on a duly constituted court is dangerous. The immutable statement of a philosopher and author that, “a people’s liberties are lost, inch by inch, not in one fell swoop, until the whole society itself is imperiled” is apposite. I say no more on this point.”

The primary duty of the Judiciary is to uphold the rule of law is well understood, but then, the pre-condition for the ability to do it, namely, independence of each Judge must be available. The vital importance of this independence flows from the Judiciary’s core responsibility. It is the branch of the State responsible for providing the fair and impartial resolution of disputes between citizens and between citizens and the State or state entities in accordance with the Constitution and the prevailing rules of statute and case law. It is upon this that the equilibrium of the society rests and should never be allowed to be desecrated.

Gbemi Nathaniel Olorungbon

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