By - Isaac Joseph
Judiciary, they say, is the last hope for the common man! However, it seems to be surest hope for the affluent, in this part of the world. Judicial system in Africa has become a tool in the hands of the powerful to oppress people and influence verdicts, even amidst compelling witnesses and evidences. And when it seems the judgments do not go in their favour, leaders disobey court orders, making mockery of the hallowed chambers. The last hope for the common man has now become a dreadful place to behold, as everyone within the court premises seem compromised, including the gentleman at the court’s gate.
Oumar Moussa Ba is a prominent Mauritanian poet, who was self-educated but later received a graduate degree from the Sorbonne. He has produced an excellent oeuvre and other writings in French, celebrating Sahelian Africa, its crepuscular nature, its myths and its great men. Oumar is the first published Mauritanian Francophone poet and a true precursor. In this poem “Justice is Done”, Ba takes a critical examination of the judicial system in Mauritania, and by extension Africa. He narrates the story of a man:
This tells the everyday story of a typical African man. Being ‘beaten up’ might not necessarily be physical; it could be a psychological meltdown, experienced as a result of abuse of powers by those at the helms of affairs. In the poem, the young man was robbed – this tells the relatable story of how leaders milk-dry the state’s treasury. Every opportunity to forcefully take what is not theirs is maximized. Corruption at its peak! The common man is not catered for and neither does he matter in their scheme of governance. He gets hospitalized, as a result of the brutal and oppressive treatments received. Do we begin to mention several cases of people whose lives get endangered due to the excessiveness of our leaders? Do we begin to mention those who lost their lives as a result of the unfair treatment melted on them? It is indeed a sad tale but what is bothersome is that every of these injustices was done in the open. Ba goes further to say:
“And the witnesses?
Many as the grains of the sand:
Kadiel is one;
Ndyam Bele is one”
The misdeeds of these ‘evil’ were done in the presence of a crowd of witnesses. Oumar went on further to mention names such as Kadiel and Ndoulla. He uses their first names alone to symbolize that they are people we could relate with. Ba used the name ‘Ndyam Bele’ to paint the image of a foreigner, who also witnessed the onslaught against the common man.
“Even the birds can testify…”
The birds of the earth were also witnesses. In this digitalized world, media coverages of these misdeeds were taken and one would have thought that it would be easy for social justice to be served. However, Ba called our attention to something precarious:
“But you forget that the chief
Has his son as the judge
And his son-in-law as interpreter.”
He asked if we have forgotten that the ‘chief’, apparently used instead of the word ‘thief’ is so influential that the judge would do his bidding as a ‘son’. And even if we try to present our case in the language of the courts, through well versed lawyers, the ‘chief’ has his son-in-law as the interpreter. Where then lies the hope of the common man? According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime based on an assessment of the justice system integrity and capacity in Nigeria, it stated that “corruption in the judiciary may turn out to be more harmful because it could undermine the credibility, efficiency, productivity, trust and confidence of the public in the judiciary as the epitome of integrity.” The court is now seen as a playground for the rich to make a show of how influential they are, on the judicial ‘powers.’ In some other cases, it is believed that some cases are only handled according to the script handed over to the Judges. This is common in Nigeria, where cases emanating from elections are assumed ‘premeditated.’
Of note is Nigeria’s kidnap kingpin, Chukwudubem Onwuamadike, also known as Evans, who was arrested by the police in 2017 for coordinating several high-profile kidnappings, armed robbery and murder within Lagos, Enugu, Anambra, Edo and Abia States, as reported by the local media. Despite the level of allegations leveled against him with the evidences, it is ironical that Evans is yet to be convicted by any competent court of law. Several delay tactics have been used to stall the progress of his case till date, which is a testament to the judicial corruption that is fast sweeping across the continent. Also, in a documentary released in Ghana by investigative journalist, Anas Armeyaw Anas, it showed 12 high court judges, 22 other circuit and district court judges, and about 140 other court officials, accepting bribes and demanding sexual favours in order to obtain favourable judgments. In 2018, it was reported that corrupt judges were stalling anti-graft drive in Kenya, despite the fact that corruption in East Africa’s biggest economy drains billions of dollars from the state in rackets, with government officials and businesspeople, known as ‘tenderpreneurs’ for their success in winning public contracts, as reported by Reuters. In a statement made by a chief prosecutor, Noordin Mohamed Haji, in Kenya, he stated concerns over this menace. In his words, “if you have judicial officers who have been compromised and they rule against you, the argument will be the case was weak.” Many corruption cases have been ruled out based on ‘technicalities’, despite the abundance of evidences provided for prosecution. This is not unconnected to judicial compromise to avert justice.
In a fast growing world like ours, the importance of an independent judiciary cannot be over-emphasised. The Global Corruption Report of 2007 by Transparency International highlighted the efforts to curb Judiciary corruption. In its report, it stated that “corruption in the judiciary is a central focus of the global anti-corruption effort because of the powerful and corrosive influence a corrupt judiciary can exert on the rule of law and on society as a whole. Success in attacking judicial corruption will boost citizens’ trust and national efforts to achieve transparency and accountability.”
In another move to tame the upsurge in judicial corruption, the International Bar Association (IBA) President, stated that “corruption in judiciaries is a problem on every continent. Where it occurs, this corruption undermines the rule of law and civil society, because it causes citizens to lose faith in the ability of government to assist them. And where judicial corruption exists, it is impossible to eliminate corruption in other aspects of government. This issue requires the attention and resolve of the legal profession as a whole to overcome it, and the IBA, as the global association of lawyers and bar associations, can uniquely contribute to the fight against judicial corruption.”
The judicial system in Africa needs a reform if the tenets of the rule of law are to be upheld. While there are several alleged ‘mitigating’ factors which hinders the true course of justice to be served, it is imperative that judges stand firm to exert their authorities and ensure that social justice is not averted. It is time to stop being tools in the hands of the powerful. Isaiah Berlin once said – “Freedom for the wolves (powerful) has often meant death to the sheep (common man);” however, one thing remains certain – “justitia ejus semper praevaleat.”
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