Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

“MY ADVICE TO THE ACTING CJN”, By Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq

Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq

“MY ADVICE TO THE ACTING CJN”, By Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq

About two years ago, I wrote a piece entitled ‘Nigeria, truly an enigma’. We have just witnessed another aspect of it. 

For the first time in the history of the legal profession and the judiciary of this Country, as far as I know, the whole lot of the Justices of the Supreme Court rose up in a protest against their boss, the CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad. 

The protest which caught everybody by storm was revealing of irregularities most unexpected of the apex Court. One of this borders on corruption in the form of misappropriation of funds meant for management of the Court and welfare of the Justices to family use. Then, Sahara Reporters came out with a more damning allegation that a bribe of $10 million allegedly administered by one of the State Governors through the CJN’s son to obtain a favourable electoral judgment. 

It was also reported that the protesting Justices were insisting on a probe of the CJN, implying that there was more that members of the public were yet to hear. And suddenly, the news came that the CJN had resigned on health grounds. And in the face of all these, Mr. President gave him a pat on the back by conferring on him the honour of Grand Commander of the Order of Niger. Given the circumstances, and the allegations, this crown at this time questions our understanding of the meaning of Honour as of a Merit Award. A man who ordinarily should be seen as having embarrassed everyone, from the legal profession, the judiciary, the government, and the entire nation going home with an honour is indeed enigmatic. This is not the first time the absurdity of honouring person who, in abuse or misuse of power of his office, and in betrayal of the National Pledge as well as the National Anthem only enriched himself while the office suffered, is being enacted. 

Maina was to be covered up in the lost pension fund scandal until the table turned against him and he was arraigned. Ibrahim Magu of the unprecedented and scandalous Acting Chairman of the EFCC over which the Justice Salami Panel was raised, has just been reportedly promoted AIG. We are waiting to see what happens to reportedly suspended Accountant General of the Federation, Idris  in whose account was allegedly found N80 billion. What makes the Tanko Ibrahim Muhammad unique is that he oppressed his own brother Justices to the point that the administration of justice, afortiori the peace and security of this nation that is already terribly disturbed, was threatened with total collapse. So, there is a serious question of patriotism raised in this Saga.

One question is at what point did the issue of health become so critical that the CJN had to resign suddenly? In public service, three main factors determine retention in employment namely, good health, good conduct and satisfactory performance. No one can be effective, efficient and or competent in the absence of any of these and the attendant discipline.

Before the curtain fell-: It is always a problem in Nigeria that everyone will know that things are not good and right but they will be looking for a scapegoat.There is no doubt that before the curtain fell, the Justices had hitherto been grumbling, murmuring and complaining, bitterly too, against the wrongs behind the CJN. But before him, they appeared loyal. In the face of such hypocrisy, how would the man know that all was not well?  Things get worse when those who are in a position to speak up wait for who will bell the cat. That is also what has played out. 

Need to speak out-: Sometime in 2020, I sought to see the CJN to raise issue of concern about administration of justice particularly with respect to obtaining date for hearing of appeals at the apex Court. It has been part of my activism over the years to write or seek such audience. But I could not because of this same health issue. Further enquiries revealed it was serious. And I called up some senior colleagues amongst whom, members of the body of benchers, to organise a delegation to meet the CJN to request his voluntary retirement in the public interest and allow the next person take over in the interest of good administration of justice in Nigeria. I could not meet the goal because nobody likes to bell the cat.

They rather watch things going bad while they gossip about the person at the centre of it all. I consider it part of a national duty for citizens to draw attention to what is wrong and needs to be corrected. That is part of the citizen’s right of participation in Government. It would not have been too much for the protesting Justices of the Supreme Court, including Rhodes-Vivour and Mary Odili before their exit at their respective times, to organise a meeting with the CJN towards having him retire on account of his ill-health in the public interest.To the extent that they all chose to keep quiet, condone the attendant inefficiency with the corruption they now complain about, and endure the oppression until it became unbearable such that drove them to  cry out, all the Justices including the erstwhile CJN demonstrate the right attitude dictated by the demands of patriotism necessary in public service for capacity/nation building. 

In my opinion, the health that has suddenly become the ground for resignation ought not to be accepted to sweep the serious issues raised by the protesting Justices under the carpet, as the declaration by the new CJN, Kaode Ariwoola, portends when he said, We are one. If we are to improve and shape the future of this Country, the  erstwhile CJN ought to be probed as demanded by the Justices.

VALUE OF THE PROTEST-: Notwithstanding the fault in delaying to cry out, the outcome of the protest has shown that there are advantages in speaking up. Apart from removing the obstacle to moving forward from the way, it sets the right pace for the new CJN. With the experience we have just had, it is not expected that the new CJN will repeat the errors of previous CJNs.  It often beats my imagination that at certain age such the CJN is, consideration should still be given to acquisition of private wealth so much that one would open himself to such cry as Probe the CJNIt is understandable if such is demanded of a Governor or Minister or other office public office holders; they are mostly politicians and have no respect for integrity and good name. Can a man eat more than his stomach for a CJN who upon retirement has a good package to go home with to think more of wealth accumulation than what he should be remembered for?

ADVICE -: It is against the foregoing that I like to offer the following advice to the new CJN. One, do not see yourself as superior to your Justices as to subject them to the same condition your predecessor did them. But humble yourself and and see them as equals save that you are only placed by reason of being the head to superintend over them. Jesus Christ exemplified this standard when he washed the feet of his disciples. So close to his disciples was he that Judas Iscariot needed to point at him for the Jews to identify who they were going to arrest. Humility earns respect, the pride of office only alienates your team and the cooperation that goes with it. So close was Jesus to his team that the disciples respected him to the point of vowing to die with him.

Two, pay more attention to the interest of your team than to your personal interest. Do not hold back, and eat, whatever is due to your Justices because it is within the power of your office to do so. That is stealing.

Three, strive to make a difference by engaging your Justices in constant or regular consultation on policy and policy decision making. This gives everyone a sense of belonging and will strengthen their sense of commitment to national service, ultimately helping you succeed and making a mark.

Four, separate your family from your office. You are the only one appointed by your Country as CJN. Leave this idea of first lady and first son to the politicians. If some of us who are not CJN or CJ or PCA but mere, and struggling, private practitioners can provide some level of comfort for ourselves and families, I reckon that the regular salary and other perquisites of office can help the CJN to help his family reasonably. It is when a man wants to give more than is necessary, invariably as a show off, nothing more, that he gets into what has scandalised your predecessor and caused you to call for his probe. If I were you,considering where I am coming from, I would rather work and return home with true honour than what even your predecessor knows he does not merit.

Five, on the slow pace of administration of justice in your court, please you need to seriously look into the matter. Over 50% of the appeals before your court have no business being there at all. Your Lordship’s lamentations in recent time over what you described as frivolous or useless appeals or appeals filed to garner the number to make the silk attest to this. But the more serious aspect is that judgments are not enforced; judgment creditors get frustrated. This affects commercial transactions and invariably both local and foreign investments. In cases involving non payment of pension, pensioners are dying by the day waiting for dates from the Court. 

Other adverse effects consist in sharp practices involving brief rustling among lawyers particularly of the inner Bar. In one case, a  colleague engaged me to lead him in an appeal before the Court. He gave me a deposit from his own pocket while he was discussing the fees with the client. I had done everything, filed appellant’s brief when suddenly this very Senior Advocate of Nigeria came in to take over the case in very questionable circumstances. When queried on the impropriety of his actions, the learned silk said, he was going to use my clout to get an early date.  The client is paying for my clout. I lost the brief and my friend the deposit.Your Lordship’ will recall my appearance before the Court on the 17th of January 2022 in the case of Esezoobo v Dr. Abba Aji. Hear what Babatunde Kasunmu told me on that day When I got the text from the Supreme Court, I said you must have worked extremely hard to get the date. And I told him, Ironically, I did not do anything, I just got a call the matter was coming up. Thus, a situation where lawyers have to go lobbying for dates, and when they even now get dates without any underhand dealing, it is viewed with suspicion, is not complementary to our noble profession.

Wishing you a successful and fulfilling tenure, I hope you will consider these few observations and many others not too far to identify.

Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq Can Be Reached Via :+234 803 320 0595