Friday, September 16, 2016 11:34 am
By Bola Bolawole
When Federal High Court judge, Okon Abang, delivered his judgment sacking Abia state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, on June 27 this year, I was flabbergasted. The learned trial judge, a high court judge, assumed the air of finality on the matter. Justice Abang spoke as if he were the Supreme Court giving the final pronouncements on the matter, even when everyone, including himself, knew quite well that a high court has not been designed as the last bus stop on the matter. Parties to the case still had the opportunity to approach both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. But it would seem as if Abang would have none of that.
He made to blackmail everyone; he actually over-reached himself trying to arm-twist; and he hoped to get away with it! Had he, he would have gone away with what is worse than blue murder! He whimsically sacked an elected governor and maliciously proceeded to try and handcuff him and deny him the opportunity to seek reprieve. He ordered the INEC to immediately issue a certificate of returns to a man he appeared to have made up his mind to make governor through the back door; ordered the Chief Judge of Abia State to immediately swear in this man as governor; and he expected all of us to chorus, as lawyers do before judges in the court room, “As your lordship pleases”!
Ridiculous! Absurd! Could this have been the product of vile corruption or an unmistakeable evidence of lack of competence? Few will see it as mere error of judgment. Regardless, it was impunity of the highest order! Abang’s misadventure reminded me of one-time U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig. President Ronald Reagan had just been shot in an assassination attempt; Haig came out and announced “I am now in charge”! If the attempt on Reagan’s life was shocking, Haig’s statement was ludicrous; and a brazen and bewildering attempt at the subversion of the Constitution of the United States of America. But he was wrong! The Secretary of State was not the next-in-line; the Vice-President was – and still is. The pugnacious Haig was soon put in his place, tail behind his legs and the then Vice President stood in while Reagan recuperated.
A similar redemption came Nigeria’s way recently when the Court of Appeal put Abang where he properly belongs. And, oh my God, the appeal court’s judgment was whittling! It ran Abang ragged! It absolutely de-robed and stripped him naked. When I finished reading the Appeal Court’s judgment, I could not but wonder what was left of the reputation, integrity, honour, and good name of Justice Abang. I could also not stop to consider the implications of the continued stay of the said Abang on the Bench.
Now, I have read quite a lot of appeal judgments overturning the decisions of lower courts – high courts upturn magistrate courts; appeal courts upturn high courts; and the Supreme Court upturns Courts of Appeal. There is nothing unusual in this; in fact, it is the norm. Usually, judges are reserved, temperate and measured in their choice of words; they are conservative and not flamboyant and treat colleagues with respect bothering even on veneration. However, whenever they are upset by what they see as a vicious assault on the Bench, many of them are usually unsparing in their choice of words. Most judges take special exception to anyone defiling the temple of justice; more so when the offender is someone standing inside and pissing into the temple of justice.
It is my considered opinion that this was how the Court of Appeal judges, five of them, viewed and treated Abang’s handling of Ikpeazu’s case. Their judgment was unanimous and it took Abang to the cleaners; not satisfied; in fact, the judgment tore Abang into shreds. If, in the face of the appeal court’s decision, this Federal High Court judge still remains on the Bench, it will be a measure of the kind of society we live in. The stench, I dare to say, will not go away in a hurry and the Judiciary as a whole will be the worse for it. Ordinarily, appeal courts are respectful even when disagreeing with trial judges. The only redeeming feature for Abang is, if parties dissatisfied with the appeal court’s ruling – if there are any – go on appeal to the Supreme Court and get a favourable outcome.
I shudder to repeat the words used by the Court of Appeal against Abang’s judgment. They are not words we should be proud to put on record. Like Nobel Laurete, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said of one political character in “The man died”, they are words that leave sour tastes in the mouth. By my own reading, the appeal court found that Abang engaged in quasi-justice; miscarriage of justice; travesty of justice; mischief; importation of words\evidence extraneous to the case before him; and abandoning the clearly defined lane of law to engage in a voyage of discovery; to mention but a view. Now, for a learned (?) trial judge who erred or misadvised himself so disastrously, imagine that he also tried to cast his ruling in iron and prevent those at the receiving end of his atrocious judgment from seeking or reaching reprieve!
Not only must this judge watch his outings henceforth, the Judicial Council should also take notice of his activities. Abang is one of the judges neck-deep in the crisis whacking PDP; I have read and listened to commentaries disagreeing with his rulings and orders as well as the inflamed words he employs even against fellow judges. Some misdirected and compromised judges played an ignoble role in the June 12 impasse that nearly tore this country into shreds; we must prevent a recurrence capable of truncating our renascent democracy. A stitch in time, as they say, saves nine.
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