The Hope Of The Common Man

Late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa (JSC)
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Dear Justice Oputa,

How are you finding the afterlife in Elysium? Does your paradise involve filtering news from Nigeria or paints a false utopia (as this would explain your silence). I love to be the bearer of bad news (can the mother of a crying child rest?) and I’m here to disturb your eternal rest. I do not understand how our ancestors will hope for peace when they have left their jobs unattended. We were taught as children to recite the national anthem (…the labours of our heroes past, shall never be in vain) yet you do nothing when one man and his accomplice are doing all in their power to destroy the shaky foundations on which Nigeria was built. Ask Madame Kuti, I will not go into another lengthy tirade on the exclusion of heroines in our history as there is fire on the mountain, My Lord. 

I remember when Law was considered a noble profession and lawyers/judges were accorded the utmost respect (Your Honour, I am not saying the profession is not noble o before you hold me in contempt) but I do not think the decline of practising lawyers is for lack of employment.

Asides your filial legacy, we remember the Oputa panel and its task of identifying military violations of human rights (did you consider that Oga’s charge of investigating violations between 1984-1999 was fishy and would not uphold the report when he had already exempted his regime from the enquiry?) in which you were charged with. At what point, Your Honour, did you realise that being charged to investigate Nigeria’s long history of oppression by the powerful would require more than three months as instructed? How did you not advice him that those in glass houses do not throw stones (instead of wasting your time)?

During my Masters at the University of Lagos, my favourite Professor with the imposing physique and booming voice brought up the myth of Sisyphus; a Greek myth of an erring king punished (for daring to consider himself wiser than the pantheon of gods. Did the biblical devil not do the same thing but was rewarded with his own kingdom and agents/demons/POS operators/Nigerian politicians) to push a huge boulder up a steep hill only to repeat the doomed action before he could complete the task. I was enraptured with the futility of his actions as I wondered if he knew he was repeating the task with no end in sight. How did the elements not affect the boulder thereby reducing the size? Was it the same boulder he began with or was a new one provided seasonally? When the boulder begins rolling back to the bottom of the hill, did he try to stop it halfway? Why did he not give up? What compelled him to keep pushing the boulder? How did he not see the repetition in his actions and become conscious of the cruelty of the task?

Do not be quick to discard this myth as Nigerians seem to be on the same path as Sisyphus. The repetitiveness of our thoughts and actions during elections is amazing; a path we seem to be doomed to since our independence. We complain, grumble and curse our politicians and democratically-elected buffoons that treat us as feudal subjects or lepers after canvasing and begging for our votes. We would promise and swear by the seven gods guarding the seven hills and mountains that we would make better choices and consider the future of our unborn children but when presented with another opportunity four years later, we choose the same jailers and oppressors. We never consider holding these rogues accountable for their deceit and corruption (you’d think we have never heard of impeachments or recalling senators/[dis]honourables) but would rather fast and pray with religious crusades tagged ‘Light up Nigeria’ (can you blame us? Ironically, we do not invite officials of the electricity companies as guest ministers) or ‘Pray for Nigeria’. We also gather at bus-stops/newspaper stands and on social media become armchair political analysts until a more interesting tragedy occurs or a gossip blog posts something newsworthy.

After the EndSARS saga, you would think Nigerians would remember the pain and loss, the blackness and heaviness in our hearts but we have rallied around these prison-wardens, wearing their branded shirts, baseball caps and cheering their mandate because of our ethnic and religious sympathies. You would think Nigerian tragedy chooses its victims based on these affiliations (the trailer that crushed that bus at Ojuelegba probably asked the dominant ethnicity to alight to avoid disaster. Or that train in the North that claimed the life of that medical student, separated the supporters of these political principalities from their opponents). When their economic policies favour their elite friends while impoverishing their less-privileged ones (like the fuel hike and naira scarcity) we express shock as our chickens come home to roost.

After making terrible choices with disastrous consequences, we have decided to hang our fate in the hands of the apex court in Nigeria. In a bid to avoid bearing the cost of our stupidity; we are waiting patiently for the outcome of two elephants fighting, in the hope that the grass wins. We have tasked lady justice (who is no longer blindfolded, lost her scale with her palms open wide like members of the black on black force) to support the common man. The question I need you to help me ask our people is: when has the Law ever supported the masses? Isn’t it the duty of lawyers to twist the law to support their clients even when they suspect that client might be guilty? So how can we expect this ‘bendable’ law to support the poor?

It is the way they have been saying, ‘let us hear the supreme court’s decision’ for me. Is it the same Nigerian legal system that handed Imo state, not to the runner-up but he who came fourth? Are we depending on the same system that has just stolen the mandate of the Osun people? The court asked the government to release political prisoners on bail yet they held on to him illegally or the system that was sleeping when Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed? Was the court in recess when the army opened fire on the flag-flying youth at Lekki?

But can you blame the system? When a certain cattle herder removed a sitting Chief Judge, unceremoniously and replaced him with an Islamic scholar, what was the stance of the common man? What did the common man say when DSS officials with dubious search warrants (not even arrest warrants) invaded the homes of Judges in Abuja and Port Harcourt to arrest them like common criminals? Justice Kayode Eso once challenged his colleagues to take their place as ‘guardians of the constitution’ while checking the excesses of the executive & legislative arms of government but how do you tell your employer to stop oppressing the people? This Judiciary that could not take the bull by the horn like lecturers to ask for a salary-structure review but used a lawyer, Senior advocate Sebastine Hon to file the suit and Nigerians think salvation will come from the wig-wearing Bench?

Have you heard the conspiracy theory that our favourite mallam is trying to frustrate his team players with this crippling policy? They say he wants to put an end to vote-buying but in typical fashion has thrown the nation into chaos. When he and his minister asked us to register our NINs with our phone number during COVID-19, our people said it would help security agents catch fraudsters and kidnappers. I love how best friends are playing attack and defense at the same time and it would have been hilarious if it did not affect us too.

When the ousted Chief Justice used a tale to explain the callousness of this government, we looked away as we felt it was not our business. The Yoruba have a saying: that the cane used on the old wife, is available for the new wife but we never learn. At a time when we hold the power and they are meting out this level of hardship, (they are not even pretending to love us in their usual fashion), this means if we pick the brother of our oppressor, we must be ready for the consequences but I know like Sisyphus, we would continue the story of lamentations after May 29.

However, Your Honour, please implore your comrades on the essence of making the right decision for the masses though we are not holding our breath.

Always loyal my Lord,

Giwa writes from the University of Lagos

Ms Omoh Giwa

P.S. Send my love to Chief Bola Ige. Do not tell him that the investigation to find his murderers has hit a reinforced brick wall.

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