Nigeria’s injustice system

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDIt is quite easy to tell when the house has fallen. The absence of the rule of law is one rude indicator. We were in court the other day. It was to be the first day of a pre-trial conference. By way of explanation, the Lagos State Government, years back,pushed through reforms to speed up the justice system. ‘Front-loading’ is not only an integral part of the system now, litigants are also shepherded towards mediation and arbitration, by way of pre-trial conference, to free up the system. On paper, that is great. But how does this elaborate investment in reforms in the system work when your suit does not even get assigned to a judge in all of one whole year? How can the process be speedy when it does not even start?

Well, lucky us. Here we were in court, weeks back – first day of pre-trial since 2012. The courtroom was in darkness. But it was not too difficult to pick the lawyers from the litigants, even in the dark. I was still ruminating over the possibility of the court sitting in the dark, when announcement was made to the effect that the honourable judge would not be sitting. The registrar was polite enough to let us know that the judge was away to attend the valedictory service for a colleague of hers.  A ceremonial function over an official call? Couldn’t lawyers have been alerted via text messages? It is the way we roll, to put it in contemporary terms. Case adjourned for another month. Who knows if this narration, in itself, is not already contemptuous?

If it is so difficult to secure justice the civilised way, is it any news that jungle justice has been elevated to high art in our land? Victims of crime draw back in involving law enforcement officers.  Obtaining justice under such a pay-as-you-go system, with the complainant at risk of swapping designation with the accused, is not a given. Sometimes, in frustration with the system, even those charged with enforcement take the law into their own hands. Prosecuting cases must be some form of punishment for those counsel who have to squeeze water out of stone to make out anything useful from mostly poorly-processed crime files. Criminals, aided by their lawyers, seize on the gaping loopholes to rig the system.

So many of them, including highly placed politically-exposed persons now walk the streets in stolen high heels, poking fun at those who swam against the tide. Some have moved on to higher offices – making laws for the land. There are quite a few of them at the National Conference pretending to be involved with shaping the future of the same country they raped in their earlier lives. A few bold ones are even running for elective offices. That little matter of murder, corruption and other petty crimes can be resolved when the immunity clause runs its course. That is if the man is not promoted to the office of the President. He might as well legislate a pardon for himself, against anticipated crimes. It is all about securing the future – declare houses in the code of conduct form, in anticipation of building them. Declare fictitious billions of Naira in bank accounts, in anticipation of stealing while in office. That is the way.

If rule of law is the foundation for building a truly great nation, Nigeria might as well, be off the mark. If I had thought my experience with mosquitoes in the darkness of the courtroom was peculiar, I could not have been more wrong. A friend, whose case was locked down in pre-trial, was so relieved when the case finally proceeded to trial. Fourteen months after the case had been on trial, he comes into the country to keep a date in court only to be told the judge had been promoted to the Appeal Court. Five years after the case was instituted, it is back to the very beginning, awaiting trial.  Another friend laments that the case instituted against the police by his brother has been in court for six years, it has not been heard, even once.

To be fair, those who know more about how things like this work had advised us on other means of fast-tracking the process of obtaining justice. If you can’t beat the system, you can out-smart it, they advised. We were well in the know on the frustratingly slow process we would have to put up with. But can electing to do the civilised thing be wrong?

It is indeed a difficult time to be sane. At the moment, impunity walks our streets – stark naked.I doubt if there was ever a time such as this, with rogues catwalking the national stage with so much swagger. Yesterday’s men now craft dodgy petitions,send them to the oga at the top, hire minions to legislate lies as truth in the media, then confidently stroll to the court, seeking to handcuff law enforcement agents to stop the law from taking its course. How those cases always end up getting listed for hearing, we might never know. Even rogue bankers convicted of crimes in other climes, and some who are on trial at home, with their charge sheets, miles long, now claim ‘their’ banks were stolen from them. The other Madam is now contesting the forfeiture agreement she signed as a get-away card. Who won’t? With the body language of those transforming the nation k-legged, more miracles are surely on the way.

It is not ordinary that elements who ought to be permanently locked up at Guantanamo Bay for sundry crimes are now so bold that they are confidently taking on the rigged system, firmly convinced that impunity is the order of the day. Nigeria should be convening a National Conference soon to apologise to those unfortunate ones convicted of petty crimes, not to talk of the many young men and women locked up as ‘awaiting trial inmates’ while the judiciary sags under the weight of internally-inflicted and externally-induced afflictions.

It might be only a coincidence, but it was a telling one – the defendant in our case, this big bank that has been playing hide and seek with out-of-court settlement, did not bother to show up in court, even as it was in same court as a plaintiff in another case.  As we stepped out of court, the big man of the 90s whose name rang giant bells in 419 quarters, made his way in, helped by a cane. Did they not say he was down with some high-sounding ailment, in the battle to secure him bail? He surely looked the part, for a man purportedly holed up at that hotel in Kirikiri. Where there is no rule of law, the nation goes to the dogs. With the way things are, with the way they are shaping up, who knows where the nation is heading to?