Nigerians woke recently to learn of the arrest of some Judges in an operation carried out in the night by the Department of State Security (DSS)
The action angered a section of the elite . Much of the furore was over the manner of their arrest. The impression given was that some citizens were above the rule of law and could therefore not be arrested in the night. But before that time many ordinary citizens had been arrested without a whiff about when and where they were arrested. The situation presents serious moral dilemma: is it right to arrest some and leave others suspected of corruption?
This is the moral challenge before us today in our declared war against corruption (WAC).Now a section of the Nigerian elite wants us to apply different rules to the same offense- a set for the poor and unprivileged and another for the rich and privileged.
They did not only question the method used by a branch of the the security agency to arrest some persons suspected of corruption- the reason for the exercise not withstanding, also they began as it were to teach security agencies how and when to catch suspects. Here period of operation excludes the night. According to them, the Judges are special breed that should not be given the ordinary man’s treatment.
As the debate peaks, I began to wonder if we are still with our correct sense of morality or still determined to fight corruption to a finish. Respect for the moral code is vital for the health of any society. Corruption is morally wrong and reprehensible. It should be discouraged at all costs.Then those immortal words of George Orwell in Animal Farm come to mind: ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’. Nigeria is a country with two sets of rules- one for the favoured elite and the other for the non favoured elite including the masses .
This is dangerous for the judiciary and society at large and has to stop. Of what useful purpose will it serve to begin to send suspects advanced notice of arrest? Is it to prepare them for escape or destroy evidence? The moment demands high sense of morality- great value of what is right or wrong and to follow the right path.
The judiciary needs moral authority for survival and this cannot come on suspicion of corruption. Any iota of idea of corruption in the citadel of justice – the idea that justice can be sold and bought will erode public confidence and so leave the system in everlasting state of disrespect and distrust – should immediately be uprooted.
Thus the furore over manner of arrest was unnecessary. First, there was a collective agreement on the need to fight corruption head on and the kick from the elite seems to create doubt about our collective seriousness and commitment to the cause.
Secondly, millions of ordinary citizens have been arrested to face the law. I can not remember an instance when the method of arrest of a suspect was a big issue till time some judges were involved.
Certainly there has been no tears from the top until the search light was beamed on the department of justice. Significantly not all the Judges were arrested but only some who were suspected of corruption .
In the circumstance, the hysteria about the arrest of some Judges who in the eyes of security authorities have some explanation to make about some aspect of their lives beats my imagination.
For many reasons it was uncalled for and smacks of sacred cow mentality. It tells a sad story of a sick country in a state of moral bankruptcy – a society whose elite are yet unready to do the surgical operation necessary to save her life. The wavering of mind on this supposedly joint mission against corruption is indicative of the stench of rot in the land, the flight of morality from our shores over time and the prevalence of lip- service to the declared war against evil in Nigeria.
Also the expressed anger over the arrest of some Judges reflects the perfidy of the Nigerian elite. It demonstrates the dual nature of the justice system in country- one for the poor and the other for the rich. It helps too to explain and understand our backwardness today in the midst of plenty. Nations do not grow in the filthy atmosphere of corruption. We tolerate evil and its agents in the country. Corruption is morally wrong. It is the foremost enemy of the country and retards collective progress. It should therefore not allowed to flourish under any circumstances. It should be killed because no society flourishes in a state of corruption.
Was it proper for the Judges to be arrested in the night? It depends on the perception of the security agencies. Has any suspect been arrested at night in Nigeria before now. What has been the standard practice? As they say there are many ways to catch a monkey or an artful dodger. For me what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. As some lawyers had observed, arresting a suspect in the night is no crime.The security agents knew this and applied it to great effect. Their method might be rough but the intention was noble- to help rid society of corruption by bringing suspected cases to face the law. No one should be seen to be above the law. And they did a good job and sent the right message across- no sacred cows anymore.
There is the need to take the moral question seriously. The furore over the arrest of Judges challenges our collective moral conscience. And we need to be careful not to set bad example because as they say in Esanland laws and tradition are often made on the body of the poor. But soon, the rich get netted and affected by the same law. This is so because in moments of trouble people would make appropriate reference to the earlier judgement passed on the ordinary citizens. It could be embarrassing to the rich and privileged members of society. Otherwise society will become divided and unstable.
There is no doubt that Judgeship is important and must be respected but not at all costs. In the fight against corruption, Judges have critical role to play for success. But they must earn their respect through transparent honesty , fair play ,just and clean habits. One does not become a Judge over night and the title carries respect, responsibility and expectations. However it is only when the conducts of Judges are deemed decent, dignified and aboveboard in the interest of justice would they earn the due respect of members of the public. Otherwise forget it.
Still, I realized that Judges are no super humans and thus could be tempted. But they are not ordinary citizens either. Jesus Christ of Nazareth was tempted by the devil with material wealth but he resisted by reminding the devil that man was not meant for bread alone…Like Jesus, the Judges must learn to resist temptation. Any of them who falls to the sweet temptation of corruption must be ready to face the consequence. He should be treated like other commoners -suspects.
Instead of a devastating blow, we offer excuses as can be gleaned from the present furore over the manner of arrest of some judges. It suggests a lack of will and courage to dispense justice without bias. We prefer lip- service to positive attack on the disease. By so doing, we send the wrong message that the law against corruption is meant only for the small people in Nigeria.This makes the Buhari’s effort more appreciated by extending the dragnet beyond the low to the high also.
When shall we stop offering excuses for corruption. I recall that when Obasanjo tried to confront the monster, he was accused of selective Justice. It did not matter that those being prosecuted were associated with corruption. We resorted to use of legal niceties to protect, promote, tolerate and nurture the evil. In fact one of our leaders actually gave the impression that stealing of public funds was no corruption. However by the time he left office, the country was almost bled to death by the vipers .
Sadly, the rough tactics against justice has not changed. While Buhari’s decision to fight the monster is wise, necessary and hailed by the masses, the old unhealthy attitude of the Nigerian elite that pampered corruption has remained.
One great hurdle perhaps unreckoned with in the fight against corruption is the role of lawyers -especially the senior ones who could turn black to white in the name of law and do many things to frustrate Justice.
Right or wrong, for them one man’s corruption is another man’s legitimate wealth. In their desire for Justice for a privileged few, they had frustrated and perverted Justice for all- unwittingly perhaps. Let us be guided by the moral code that demands equal treatment for all and respect for the rule of law as basis of unity, progress, peace, harmony and development of society.
Dr. Abuere, FNIM, is the founder of Centre for ChildCare and Youth Development, Lugbe, Abuja.