By Dr. Kayode Ajulo
The saying that no one is watching more keenly than one who fervently prays to see you fail, may be true in this scenario of deliberate misrepresentation of the speech delivered by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Tajudeen Olukayode Ariwoola GCON, at the State Banquet in Port Harcourt, organised as part of activities marking the commissioning of the two buildings to accom modate the Federal Judicial Service Commission’s South-South Liaison Office and the Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili Judicial Institute, that were conceptualised and constructed by the Rivers State Government.
I have taken ample time to attentively listen to and carefully dissect the clip of the extemporal speech, part of which were obviously made jocularly, and I expected to come across something out of order which would give reason to the angle of the attackers, but I found not a single utterance that portrayed the CJN as partisan, partial or playing to the tune of an imaginary script as concluded by those who strongly seek to persecute him.
What I observed throughout the speech was a man who has an unapologetic affection for good governance, exceptional discharge of responsibility, equitable distribution of dividends of democracy, workable plans towards sustainable development, and resolute belief in replication of good deeds. The CJN’s remarks were no less than a sincere expression of his beliefs, devoid of personal interests or political undertones in their entirety.
His references were solely based on the good performance of the Governor of River State, Nyesom Wike, especially in the area of infrastructural development and contribution to the development of the Legal/Justice sector, while encouraging Governor Seyi Makinde, Governor of his home State, Oyo State, to emulate the good gestures, for the greater good of the people of Oyo State.
Improvements in the Legal Sector by Rivers State Government in Rivers State & Beyond
When Governor Nyesom Wike assumed office in 2015, the courts in Rivers State had been shut for about two years, leaving the legal profession there in a quandary, with Lawyers finding it difficult to earn their incomes. This was partly due to the crisis, regarding ascendancy to the position of Chief Judge of the State. This crisis was swiftly resolved by Wike’s administration.
Some of Governor Wike’s well-known performances in the legal sector include, the construction of a new ultra-modern Law School campus with a Shopping Mall (so that the School can have a source of self-funding) and Staff Quarters in GRA, Port Harcourt; Rivers State Government’s contribution of the sum of N2 billion to the Law School Campus in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, to bring it up to speed; contribution of N500 million by the Rivers State Government towards the construction of the newly commissioned Body of Benchers Complex in Abuja; the construction and furnishing of a new two-storey High Court complex in Rivers State; the construction of the ultra-modern Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division Complex and the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Port Harcourt Division Complex; improvement in the welfare of judicial officers in Rivers State and those who are of Rivers State origin but are serving out-of-State, including the construction of the residential estate for Judges in GRA, Port Harcourt, and monetisation for those Judges who opt for a cash equivalent instead of accommodation; construction of NBA House, Port Harcourt to mention a few.
Others Praised Wike for Rivers State’s Contributions
The CJN’s sins, according to his traducers, was acknowledging the obvious fact that there are five PDP Governors christened “G5 or Integrity Group”, stating the incontestable truth that Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State is one of them, and emphasising the undeniable feat of Governors Wike’s infrastructural development, particularly in the legal sector in Rivers State; a feat acknowledged across party lines, and even recognised by President Buhari/APC’s Federal Government with a National Award.
Why does it sound like the CJN had said anything new about Governor Wike? Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Chairman of the Body of Benchers, saluted Governor Nyesom Wike for being the major contributor to Judicial institutions; the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has praised Wike for his impressive contributions; OCJ Okocha, SAN, former President of the NBA, as well, past and present NBA leaders and several jurists have also eulogised the man for his impressive exploits in the State nicknamed the ‘Treasure Base of the Nation’. Wike himself, is not only a Governor, but a Lawyer and Life Bencher of the Body of Benchers.
A few statements scattered throughout an article I read, claimed that the CJN used humour as a ruse to drag himself into the murkiness of political partisanship and contention, and claimed that all this occurred after the CJN had eaten his fill of Wike’s dinner goodies after the commissioning of the projects. A statement also implied that the CJN could have boycotted the event. For me, this statement came off as a cunning attempt to manipulate this issue, in order to pitch innocent people against CJN.
Meanwhile, according to a press statement from the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the CJN and other senior Judicial Officers drawn from different parts of the country were in Port Harcourt on Thursday and Friday, being the 24th and 25th days of November, 2022, for a 2-day commissioning exercise. In my opinion, staging absence from any of the events scheduled within the State in anticipation of the CJN’s visit, would not dignify the CJN.
Discernment & Open Mindedness
I am of the view that the context of the CJN’s remarks should be discerned with an open mind, and properly placed. The CJN is human, and should have the latitude to make healthy banter. It is expected that the special guest at such a gathering would have the honour to give remarks, and oftentimes, such remarks are of an informal nature, in order to corroborate the social nature of such setup. The mention of the wife of Governor Makinde and her ancestral tie to Rivers State is a healthy banter that holds no water, as it is certain that no one can withdraw the Governor’s wife.
How has calling something the name it bears become a sin? Are these five Governors not now truly known across Nigeria as G5 or Integrity group? How has the CJN’s statement involved him in the internal affairs of the People’s Democratic Party? Is it worthy of needless debate, since it is known that the CJN visited Rivers State for no other reason than to commission projects related to the Judiciary? A project conceptualised and constructed by the Rivers State Government led by Governor Nyesom Wike – a rare occurrence in today’s political space? Must we at all times speak, act, and transact only within political inclination even to the detriment of national development? Must we continue to view our everyday activities through the lens of political affiliations and sentiments only?
These, and many more questions were racing through my mind as I read from the attackers of the CJN, and continued to observe the speech to find a nexus I was never able to spot.
Non-Violation of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers
It is imperative to state that the CJN, during his banter, did not violate any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. Rule 1(2a) which makes provisions for ‘Social Relationships’ states;“A Judicial Officer must avoid social relationships that are improper or give rise to an appearance of impropriety, that cast doubt on the judicial officers ability to decide cases impartially, or that bring disrepute to the Judiciary’’. It is clear that the CJN’s presence at the gathering on Thursday was in no way a contravention of this section, as the event in question was graced with and well-attended by the presence of several dignified and principled members of our society, including his brother judicial officers past and present, and the CJN’s presence could not have in any way brought disrepute to the Judiciary.
Rule 3 B(ii) which provides for Freedom of Expression and Association in accordance with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution states:“A Judicial Officer is like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, Provided, however, that in exercising such rights, he shall always conduct himself in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of his office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary”. Again, the CJN has done nothing to violate this provision; like every other citizen of Nigeria, he has a right to express his views and beliefs, as he is entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly and his conduct during the event did nothing to compromise the dignity of his office, nor the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary.
Like William Shakespeare prescribed, “Give it an understanding, but no tongue”. The CJN’s statements, as they appeared in their actual context, are good wit seconded with clear understanding; therefore, this is the first requirement of his attackers’ sanity test who did not seek to give the CJN’s remarks an understanding but rushed their tongues and pens to action.
In general truth, and to my admiration, I was only able to listen and observe an upright man that I have known to always insist on due process and like every noble Yoruba man from Oke-Ogun, is full of wit and anecdotes. A man who speaks the truth as it is at all times, devoid of external influence and personal gratification, to avoid partiality in the disposition of his constitutional responsibilities.
Apart from the aforementioned, I had no personal thoughts to suggest that the Honourable CJN had made a mistake that would give his attackers the cheap political points they so desperately crave, in order to satisfy their disproportionate interests.
However, by my sincere observation, I had to believe that the CJN, being an apolitical professional, does not entirely understand the current system of political followership in the present-day Nigerian politics. A political followership that will sight white and call it black, and painstakingly defend its unfathomable position with unthinkable lies because of party differences, a political followership that will trade national development for personal gains.
These people particularly, are the ones who either want your job or achievements for themselves, or for their paymasters at all cost. They are inflicted with such a terribly enduring appetite to punch holes in every statement, even in a statement as simple as ‘Good morning’. It is disheartening to read many unimaginable and condemning statements, even from within the groups of presumed intellectuals, who are attacking the CJN for a harmless statement. In the actual sense of it, his comments deserved a resounding applause for encouraging positive comparison and competition between two States as far as the development of judicial institutions are concerned, and not a deliberate misinterpretation of his words.
Though, it is quite understandable that the impulse of this issue is at a high because it happened within the season of aggressive politicking, which is why it has sparked such needless criticisms and unhealthy debates. But, for me, it equally revealed how badly opposing figures have been infected with the “bring him down syndrome”, and are unrepentantly trying to seize every undue advantage to patronise the trade with unproven and baseless assumptions.
In the words of author, Shawn Anchor, “The most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block, but as a stepping-stone to greatness”. The CJN is a man of integrity and upright character, and a blessing to the legal profession and Nigeria. He has a great track record to his name, and his little time as the Chief Justice of Nigeria has in no doubt been absolutely witnessed with commendable achievements.
As a Lawyer, I find it unethical to see people disparage the legal profession with the sole purpose of starting pointless arguments, to further their excessive and insatiable need for political significance. I sincerely hope other legal minds will share this view, and stand against any unjustified intimidation and oppressive plots.
–Dr Kayode Ajulo is a lawyer and head of chamber Castle of Law, Abuja.