By Ochanja Obayuana
The man-made virus targeted at ensuring a total desecration of the judiciary appears not yet done with what has become the current fate of Nigerian judges in the face of calculated and unending attacks on them in the performance of their judicial functions. The minions of this war of attrition have again upped the ante in their antics of attritional crusade of attacking not only the mainstream judiciary but have also directed their barrage of bullets against any quasi-judicial bodies sitting in any judicatory capacity.
The ongoing Justice Ayo Salami-led Presidential Panel of Inquiry investigating the many allegations of corruption and abuse of office against the suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ibrahim Magu, has become the latest victim of the calculated and unwarranted attacks against judicatory bodies.
Trouble started when the chairman of the Presidential Panel, Justice Ayo Salami (Retired), in what has become a new normal not only within the protocol of court room trial but also in all public gathering as dictated by the current Covid19 protocol of social and physical distancing, directed that only one counsel would be permitted at a time to appear for a party or any interested party into the venue of the trial sitting at the State house in Aso Rock.
It is to be noted that this directive is not out of the blues nor out of tune with judicial sittings, as even in the regular courts, only limited number of lawyers and witnesses are allowed into the court room by the presiding Judge per time in keeping with the Covid19 precautionary measures of physical and social distancing.
The above was all that the attritional minions of anti-judicature bodies required, led in vanguard by a self-acclaimed Professor of Law, one Zainab Abiola, and who also claims to be a widow of late Chief MKO Abiola, to descend on the highly respected Chairman of the Presidential Panel, in torrents of vituperations and media campaign of calumny, describing Justice Salami’s directive in such derogatory terms as a “Hitler’s Gestapo rule”. Not done, she went on to describe Justice Salami in a more derogatory expression as an “emperor” sitting at a “kangaroo contraction”(sic)” in respect of Twenty-Two allegations which she referred to as “22 lies” against Ibrahim Magu!
Whilst not holding forth for neither Justice Ayo Salami nor any interested persons in the ongoing investigation of the suspended acting Chairman of the EFCC, (even as the relevant Legal practitioners’ Act and Rules of professional Conduct for lawyers obligate me as a member of the bar to speak in defence of the judex in the face of such slurs as cast on My Lord justice Ayo Salami, Retired), it has become a public duty for all men and women of goodwill to speak out against the pervasive bullish conducts and utterances of persons on self-serving missions, running amok at any slight opportunity to wantonly cast aspersions on judges and persons on quasi-judicial functions.
If the said Zainab Abiola who claims to be a Professor of Law and wife of the late philanthropist and business mogul cum politician, can truly own the two claims of a professorship in Law and wife of the late Chief MKO Abiola, then she has woefully failed in the legitimate and reasonable expectations of what those two claims ought to resonate in her in the eye of the public.
A professor of law is presumed as one who is a lawyer by training, called to the Nigerian Bar and trained in the finest tradition and etiquette of the Bar and who has reached up to the zenith of the discipline of law, from whom the profession, nay, the world expect of her the highest level of decorum both in conduct and speech. In similar vein, her claim as a widow of the late Chief MKO Abiola, a claim not supported by the Wikipedia on the personal details of the late MKO Abiola were there are listed the names of the late MKO Abiola’s wives, except Zainab Abiola belongs to the “other women” listed in the Wikipedia under the listed wives of the late MKO Abiola therein, one should equally expect of her a manifestation of the culture of speaking from the enviable heights of aristocratic decency even in extreme situations of provocation as seen in the behavioural conducts of wives of the late MKO Abiola such as Simbiat Abiola (of blessed memory), Kudirat Abiola (of blessed memory), Doyinsola Abiola, to mention but only the three above, as against the resort to gutter language that came handy for the said Zainab Abiola in a scenario where such descent to the low that she went was unwarranted. One is therefore hard put to believe, against the reasonable expectations of the very backdrop of her claims as a Professor of Law and a widow of the late MKO Abiola, her claims in the above respects as there has never been any mention of her name or appearance of her lawyer’s seal on any process of courts nor membership of any branch of the bar in Nigeria or elsewhere, not to mention any publication credited to her as her contribution to the development of the law in any reputable journal in proof of her claim as a Professor of law, only to pop up at the venue of the sitting of the Presidential Panel to do a yeoman’s hatchet job, apparently for the press, to satisfy whatever interest of causing a distraction she came to serve.
Having brandished her professorial status before our faces, it is therefore meet to equally call her out in public scrutiny to lay bare to the public her entire biodata showing the schools she attended and qualifications obtained, in proof of the professorial claim.
It is instructive to note that among the many allegations of corruption and abuse of office against the suspended acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, subject matter of the investigation by the Presidential Panel, is the allegation of use of proxies who acted as go-between in the collections of bribe money from the many victims of extortions in the allegations of corruption and abuse of office against Ibrahim Magu. It calls to mind the truth of the saying that “if you fight corruption, corruption fights back”.
It bears repeating to state that the façade of constitutional and democratic rights advocacy that she put up in apparent justification for staging her outing on that day of the incident under review, was only intended to mislead unsuspecting members of the public to buy into her antics that the Justice Ayo led presidential Panel is acting out a script against her principal, Ibrahim Magu.
Otherwise, it is difficult to fault the directive of the Presidential Panel on any issue of bias or violation of right of representation as alleged or being insinuated by Zainab Abiola in her diatribes against Justice Ayo Salami, as the Panel never denied, but satisfied, the constitutional requirement of Ibrahim Magu’s right of legal representation.
I have taken time to monitor the proceedings of the Panel and observed that for over one month, and still counting, that this panel has sat, Wahab Shittu has always appeared as lead defence counsel for Ibrahim Magu. At no time has the said Zainab Abiola ever appeared otherwise, she would have been aware of the Panel’s insistence on having only one counsel per party in representation. That a host of counsel must be allowed in at the venue of sitting in satisfaction of that requirement, as Zainab Abiola appears to suggest, is to stretch that legal requirement to suit other interests than the legal interest it is, as even where more than one counsel is representing a persons in court or tribunal, only one of the counsel is allowed to speak in representation.
This is the standard practice all over the world. Any other counsel in the team can only make his/her contribution in ideas or otherwise and harmonise with the lead counsel prior to the sitting.
There is therefore no justification, whatsoever, for Zainab Abiola who was expected to have made all her contributions and handed same over to the lead counsel prior to the sitting, to conceive of any ill motive against Justice Ayo Salami on his directive to permit only but one counsel, across board for that matter, to represent persons at the panel.
Except the Bar rises up to set in motion the legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee against such erring members of the bar, if the claim of Zainab Abiola as a lawyer called to Nigerian Bar is anything to go by, the desecration of the legal profession, particularly the Bench, and by members of the legal profession, as it has become the pastime of many with attritional interests to serve, may yet continue with the attendant consequences of total collapse staring at us in the face.
Ochanja Obayuana, is a public Affairs Analyst writes from Abuja