By Dr. Dons Eze
We may compare the traditional masquerades, the masquerades we see in our various villages to members of the Nigerian judiciary, the courts, with their men and women in hooded gowns.
As the village masquerades were regarded as the true spirits of the ancestors, the reincarnated spirits, feared and respected, so also were members of the judiciary, men and women in hooded gowns, taken to be like angels, sinless, holy and spotless.
While only on condition of death would anybody unmask or reveal the identity of the masquerades to women and to other non-initiates, so also on no account would anybody desecrate or violate the sacred institution of the judiciary and the courts.
Because the village masquerades had the aura, and the dignity, coming from the land of the spirits, they were both feared and respected. In those days, nobody ever dared to argue or to challenge any decision or any action taken by the masquerades, for that would amount to arguing or challenging the gods and the spirits.
Now, everything has changed. We begin to see township masquerades (Monwu Obiagu), solicit “money for pure water”, even from women!, which means that the township masquerades have now debased, desecrated, or exposed the true nature of the masquerade. Unlike the village masquerades, which people fear and respect, the township masquerades are not feared or respected. They have desecrated the masquerade system.
In the same vein, we used to hear that our courts, or the Nigerian judiciary, was the last hope of the common man, and that the men and women who sit in the temple of justice, were impeccable, without blemish, and would deliver judgements that were sound and faultless. They were then equated with the angels, feared and respected.
But this seems to be no longer so these days. Since the present dispensation, we have seen the judiciary turned upside down, and the decision of the courts spurned or rejected. We have seen men and women who sit in the temple of justice maligned, openly harassed or attacked. We have seen private homes of judges raided in the middle of the night by operatives of the secret police, because they were suspected to have soiled their hands in the course of their duties, in their delivery of judgments, etc.
Before now, we used to think that men and women who sit at the Supreme Court of Nigeria hardly make mistakes, that the judgments they deliver could hardly be faulted. But we now see even some barely literate people begin to interprete and fault judgments delivered by our apex court.
Before the Nigerian independence, appeals from our Supreme Court usually went to the Privy Council in London. But after independence, our Supreme Court becomes the final arbiter. If you lose there, you only appeal to God, and nothing more.
But like our township masquerades, our judicial system seems to have now been debased, desecrated. Many people, even non-lawyers, now reject and openly criticize the verdicts delivered by the men and women in hooded gowns, even those at the apex court, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, believing them to have compromised.
People who feel that they had not been fairly treated, or that they have been shortchanged by our apex court, now apply to the same Supreme Court for review of their cases. By accepting to sit over the review of these cases implies that the men and women who sit at the Supreme Court admit that they are humans, and therefore, could make mistakes, which is commendable.
However, we hope that this would not be like the case of a bird that took off from the ground and landed on an anthill. It is still on the ground. In other words, we would want whatever review that would be done to be thorough and comprehensive, such that it could hardly be faulted.
These, notwithstanding, our concern is for the men and women in hooded gowns, men and women who sit in the temple of justice, to endeavour to redeem their tottering image, by restoring the honour and dignity of our judicial system. In other words, members of the bench should save themselves from themselves.