It has long been certain that “the wheels of justice grind slowly”, (in Nigeria and other less refined societies, usually oiled by Corruption) yet, contrary to the old adage, they don’t necessarily “grind exceedingly fine.” In all cases, it is the victims that suffer the consequences.
In many cases, hearings are listed intermittently, weeks, if not months, apart. They are interrupted in the middle of cross-examinations, for instance, which have to be resumed after a long hiatus. Not only does this not serve the cause of justice, it subverts it. In our non-jury system we trust judges to retain their impressions of witnesses for unreasonably protracted periods.
Prosecutors, witnesses, and even judges however, can hardly be trusted especially in this decadent society which is endemic with corruption. Then there are lots of external, often sinister influences, not only from the government itself, but also from various selfish political and individual interests. This is the crux of the matter.
Yet this anomaly isn’t preordained or immutable. Perhaps the time has come to copy the US system, where trials are conducted continuously – full day after full day. This isn’t unfeasible here. We can take leave of inefficient, though familiar, legal habits and overhaul the system – even if vested interests are sure to be sacrificed along the way.
Our civic hygiene will not be cleansed and respect for the rule of law will not be sustained until our judicial system are forced to respect others’ time and abide by timetables just as ordinary citizens must.
Now, it is alright if the victim is actually guilty, or eventually found guilty; after all, we will say Justice has been served, and we will say one is innocent until proven guilty, but in our dear country, you are usually guilty until proven innocent, and by that time, you have suffered a great deal and have been subjected to indignities and trauma due to delay of justice and trampling of your rights.
A particularly sad illustration of deliberate official and judicial foot-dragging, manipulation of the judicial process and disregard for the rule of law and human rights, was added recently in the case of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) versus Chief Joe Musa, erstwhile Director General of the National Gallery of Arts and three other Directors of the department (Dr Kweku Tandoh, Mr Olusegun Ogunba and Mrs Elizabeth Oparagu). Mr Joe Musa and these 3 others were arrested, detained and prosecuted in a miasma of unfounded, disgraceful and spurious allegations of theft and embezzlement by the EFCC in July 2009 and for the last two and a half years their lives have been turned upside down, their families have suffered trauma and humiliation and their careers put on hold. Mr Musa (D-G) and one of the co-defendants, Dr Kweku Tandoh, an Executive Director, were appointed in 2006 by Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who was then the Minister for Culture and Tourism in the Obasanjo Administration.
A case that never should have reached court in the first place dragged on and on for almost three years due mostly, at best, to the incompetence of the EFCC investigators and lawyers, and at worst, possibly due to corrupt compromise, blatant and arrogant disregard for the judicial process and the rights of man.
The legal axiom, "Justice delayed is justice denied" means that if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all. This principle is the basis for the right to a speedy trial and similar rights which are meant to expedite the legal system, because it is unfair for the injured party to have to sustain the injury with little hope for resolution. The phrase has become a rallying cry for legal reformers who view courts or governments as acting too slowly in resolving legal issues either because the existing system is too complex, corrupted or overburdened, or because the issue or party in question lacks political support.
On 6th December 2011, the Federal High Court in Abuja not only acquitted and discharged these people of all the charges but the Judge, Justice O A Adeniyi (Commendation is due to this learned man of courage and integrity), in his 33–page ruling, also lambasted the EFCC for filing criminal charges against them that were based on nothing but ''pepper soup and beer parlour gossip'' and for wasting their time and the courts time for two and a half years. The judge said that based on the evidence that was presented, the EFCC should NEVER have filed charges against these four innocent civil servants in the first place and that they should not have sought to torment them in this way and almost destroy their lives. The Honourable Justice even went as far as saying that he would have wanted to compel the EFCC to pay heavy damages to these people for the injustice that have been done against them by opting to charge them to court almost three years ago.
Following my own knowledge and investigations into the case, the following is a timeline and chronology of their ordeal:
Questions that need be answered:
It is imperative that the Honourable Minister of Culture and Tourism, Chief Edem Duke, sets up a panel of inquiry to look into these very serious issues so that justice can be seen to have been done.
In this particular case, commendation must go to the Judge, Justice Adeniyi, a courageous and fair man of law, who many times faced sly and cunning tactics from the EFCC lawyer, and whose patience finally expired after the incessant and obvious delay tactics being employed. He saw through these tactics, and although legally bound to be exhaustive in his hearing of the case, decided that the case does not, after almost three years, have any merit and a halt needed to be called to this ugly, deceitful, deceptive and fraudulent charade being paraded by the EFCC with the active collaboration, if not persistence, of these insidious, deceitful and invidious NGA petitioners in the name of legal process and rule of law..
What the case has highlighted (and there are many hundreds of such cases in Nigeria) to me personally and what Nigerians should be worried about is the arrogant and dastardly display of power by supposedly law enforcement agents; manipulation of the system to suit insidious and self-serving ambitious purposes; political intrigues even in the Civil Service; the frequency, and apparently normalcy of trampling on the human and civil rights of the citizenry by those in positions of authority in the name of fighting crime, including corruption; and a blatant disregard for humaneness and compassion for our brothers and sisters in our society.
With the conclusion of this farce and fiasco (unfortunately, it is not so funny to the victims, Joe Musa and the three directors) it is our hope and call to the Minister in charge to investigate the past and current leadership and management of the National Gallery of Art as to why and how such conniving, conspiratorial, despicable and utterly malevolent members of staff of this high profile department of government could successfully manipulate the country’s foremost anti-corruption agency and the Federal Government of Nigeria, with the latter ending up with eggs all over their collective faces.
The innocent D-G and the three directors should be quickly paid their owed salaries and allowances spanning two and a half years and reinstated fully to their former positions in the civil service.
There is currently no board in place for the NGA as all boards were dissolved by the President in September and that of the NGA is yet to be reconstituted.
The Truth must be said always. Good shall ALWAYS overcome Evil.
I wish you ALL a Happy New Year.