“If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” – Louis Brandeis, Associate Justice US Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939.
Can you imagine a litigant walking up to Supreme Court Justices in the middle of a trial and handing the justices a check to halt a pending case that Appellate Court had decided it should go to trial? This is exactly what Bukola Saraki the Senate President did to temporarily halt his case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) scheduled for hearing November 19, 2015.
SaharaReporters (SR) in its lead story Thursday, November 12, 2015, states that Justice John Fabiyi led four other Supreme Court Justices who halted the trial of Saraki pending the determination of Saraki’s appeal before them. According to SR, “…Toyin Sanusi, one of his (Saraki’s) aides, drove a Black Toyota Corolla car, license plate YAB 595KZ, to a meeting several times with the Supreme Court registrar at No 17 Mandela Street in Asokoro, Abuja. It was the house that Saraki’s agents reportedly met some justices.”
Friday, November 13, SR carried a follow-up lead story to the November 12 story detailing how the Supreme Court deputy registrar helped cut deal to halt Saraki’s trial. “SaharaReporters has learned that a Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hajio Sarki-Bello, played a key role in facilitating a decision by a panel of justices of the apex court to temporarily halt the corruption trial of Nigeria’s Senate President Bukola Saraki.”
SR further reports that “… Mrs. Sarki-Bello… arrange with few ethically questionable justices to quickly hear Mr. Saraki’s case and grant him a temporary reprieve from the ongoing trial at Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).” “Our sources disclosed that the deputy registrar at the Supreme Court met several times with Toyin Sanusi, a former aide to Governor Ahmed Abdul Fatah of Kwara State who now works for Mr. Saraki in Abuja, to cut the deal for the embattled senator.”
“Our source described Mrs. Sarki-Bello as extremely close to former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore, who had been anchoring the attempts to bribe justices to halt Mr. Saraki’s trial at the CCT. Our judicial sources said Mrs. Sarki-Bello, who hails from Niger State, was promoted from level 9 to level 16 between 2006 and 2007 when Mr. Belgore was the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
The Supreme Court panel that temporarily halted Mr. Saraki’s case include Justices Suleiman Galadima, K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun, John Inyang Okoro and Aminu Sanusi. It is instructive to note that Justice Fabiyi is reputed for rendering purchased verdicts in favor of powerful politicians. He was the judge who reversed PDP’s Bode George case after a deal was struck. He was the same judge who declared late President Umaru Yar’Adua the winner of the presidential elections. Yar’Adua later admitted that the elections were rigged.
Saraki’s case has assumed a complicated corruption stature with moving parts. His legal options running out, Saraki widens his shopping frenzy to buy Supreme Court justices. Corruption in Nigeria’s court will disgust and frighten you and propel you into a world of racketeering, greed, larceny, outrageous disdain for due process, the Rule of Law and the Nigerian Constitution.
It is a bleak irony that the Supreme Court of a nation is awash in “dark money.” The coming and going of Saraki’s case like Abiku has become a notorious symbol of money and power in our judicial system which gave corruption a central place. It’s not always that Barbarians usually bring down advanced civilizations, even epidemics of Biblical proportions do not necessarily destroy a culture. Far more dangerous are institutionalized corruption, a lack of transparency, and creeping neglect of criminal laws.
Nigeria continues to be in the cesspool of corruption because government works for only those who pay kickbacks. Only politicians who stole our money and the stinkingly rich Nigerians can expect upward mobility, clean water, adequate public safety and reliable power. In Nigeria, tribalism and bribery gets who gets hired and fired, who gets prosecuted and convicted,who wins or loses a contract, who receives or goes without public services. Nigerian people are sick of these age-old symptoms of internal decay.
The frightening thing about the Supreme Court of Nigeria, it’s not that it is stacked with cheap biddable justices – buy one get four free – who are willing and ready to truncate a corruption case against the chief law breaker of Nigeria, but assumed no one would find out, or perhaps even mind. Ultimately, no nation can continue to thrive if its Supreme Court refuses to enforce the laws of the land but rather offer its justices for sale to the highest bidder.
Nigerians are angry. Why are some highly placed lawbreakers like Saraki are selectively exempted from following the law, but ordinary Nigerians face the wrath of the legal system? If Saraki succeeded in buying off the Supreme Court justices, it means the justices are breaking the law from inside. The case gives another clear example of how injustice and arrogant corruption are tightly woven and embedded into the fabric and body of our judicial system.
An article written by the US Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis published by Harper’s Weekly in 1913, characterized the actions of justices like Fabiyi and his four colleagues as “…the wickedness of people shielding wrongdoers and passing them off (or at least allowing them to pass themselves off) as honest men.” The one question that kept coming to my mind as I continue to write and observe Saraki’s case was if Saraki was a poor Nigerian would he be able to abuse the legal system for so long and get undeserved reprieve from the law? The answer always returned to me as “No.”
I’m not a lawyer. I’m a journalist. But I know the Code of Ethics in the legal profession insists that all judges who are officers of the court and arbitrators, avoid even the appearance of impropriety and must remain impartial. The Saraki’s case continues to dominate the headlines by appalling news stories of expanding crisis of corruption among Nigerian judges. The deepening despair of Nigerians about their own legal system is fueling frustration and criticisms of the judges.
A lot has been revealed by Saraki’s case that Nigeria’s legal system resembles that of a banana republic. Nigeria judiciary has become a sink-well of secret dealings sullied with documented corruption, fake trials, and court fraud. The Nigerian judicial corruption is a key to understanding Nigeria’s whole socioeconomic and political crisis.
Human Rights lawyer and activist Femi Falana does not disappoint. His thoughtful and thought-provoking article on the illegality of stay of proceedings in Saraki’s case published yesterday by SR, is a solid piece that illuminates the subject of unending trial of Saraki. Citing the provisions of sections 306 and 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, Falana argues that “… the law has abolished stay of proceedings and interlocutory appeals by merging all preliminary objections with the substantive case in any criminal case instituted in a federal court in the country.”
“The evolutionary intervention of the law,” continues Falana, “ was occasioned by the unending trial of politically exposed persons in corruption cases.” In a penetrating and insightful analysis citing numerous cases, Falana blames Justice Fabiyi for the stay on Saraki’s case. Listen to Falana: “Therefore, any judge who orders a stay of proceedings in any criminal trial does so illegally and is liable to be sanctioned by the National Judicial Council. It is unfathomable that the Supreme Court decided to return the country to the status quo ante in rather brazen and bizarre manner.”
Fabiyi’s decision to stay the proceedings of Saraki’s case at the CCT is inherently dangerous to the health of our democracy and for justice to thrive in a country badly riddled by corruption.
In order to control things for the benefit of the rich and the powerful like Saraki, Nigerian judges act like perverts with regard to average Nigerians. They lie, rob, cheat, steal, and destroy any mere Nigerian. With the expose done so far by SR on Nigerian judges handling Saraki’s case, the Nigerian judges operate like criminal gangs. They get together to decide which case to halt or dismiss outright.
The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution – nothing more and nothing less. What the Supreme Court says and does has a broad effect on the values and long term direction of our society. The Supreme Court has a special power to rise above corruption, bribery, mean-spirited stereotypes. The Supreme Court should lead the way in interpreting the Constitution and upholding justice for the highly and the lowly, the prince and the pauper.
But “the Emperor has no clothes!” The Supreme Court has been stripped naked by the SR investigative reports and the illegality of its ruling brilliantly exposed by Falana. The Supreme Court is boxed in. The nation is waiting and watching. Let Saraki’s case begin NOW!