Tinubu, judicial corruption and Madman of Gadarene-Festus Adedayo

In Port-Harcourt, Rivers State last week as guest of Governor Nyesom Wike, President-elect, Bola Tinubu, promised to fight corruption. To delink judicial officers’ minds from corruption, Tinubu’s blueprint of fighting this goblin, he said, would be to incentivize judicial officers.

“You don’t expect your judges to live in squalor, to operate in squalor and dispense justice in squalor. This is part of the changes that are necessary. We must fight corruption but we must definitely look at the other side of the coin. If you don’t want your judges to be corrupt, you got to pay attention to their welfare. You don’t want them to operate in hazardous conditions,” he said.

Corruption has a long history in Nigeria, with some scholars submitting that it is buried deep down the skin of the African. Indeed, one of the Africanist scholars whose commendable works tried to locate the connect between the African and corruption, late Stephen Ellis, found out that “bribery and corruption were rooted in (African) social networks and moral conventions.” 

By 1970, however, as the Nigerian civil war was reaching its denouement, it had become obvious to the Nigerian military rulers that if the menace of corruption – with its twin nuance of kick-back and armed robbery – was not confronted headlong, the country was headed for ruins.

That generation of Nigerians deployed, among others, popular music to combat the evils of corruption, stealing and robbery. Most of Nigeria’s famous musicians of post-independence era keyed into this crusading and earned their stripes through social and political commentaries. One of them was Ilorin, Kwara State-born Salawu Woro Idofian. Salawu apparently hailed from Idofian in Ifelodun Local Government of the state. While Cameroonian-Nigerian highlife musician of Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father, Nico Mbarga, struck the soft cord of many by eulogizing motherhood with his blockbuster vinyl Sweet Mother, Yoruba Sakara music deity, Kelani Yesufu, alias Kelly, among many other social thematic concerns, intervened on the social menace that the near-epidemic which the venereal disease, gonorrhea, called atosi in his native homeland, was causing among young boys and girls of the era.

As the pandemic soared, sufferers of its painful jab on their penile part rationalized the affliction as a popular disease that only the famous could contract. In that song he entitled Atosi Atogbe, Kelani deconstructed this widely held impression and submitted, via this fluidly racing track, that gonorrhea could never be a disease of the famous – gbajumo. How could a disease that causes so much pain and turmoil within the male genitalia, with the patient who was, most times, reaping the harvest of his libidinal rascality and thus forced to swallow several discomforting concoctions, be an affliction of the famous? he asked.

To combat armed robbery, in 1970, the military government enacted a decree which made the crime punishable by the firing squad. On April 26, 1971, the first public execution of an armed robber took place. Armed robbery was so rampant that, by 1976, 400 of such executions had taken place between its commencement and the end of the civil war. The rate of the executions was so frightening, especially with the realization that the southern part of the country recorded the highest figure of 338 executions in 1984 alone.

Salawu Woro Idofian’s genre of popular music was Apala. Almost sharing same cadence and pattern of singing with the mellifluous-voice of Epe, Lagos State-born Ligali Mukaiba who sang similar variety of music, Idofian stood in his own right. He was widely credited with having made those public executions of armed robbers the thematic preoccupation of his music. As he dramatized these harvests of executions, you would almost feel the pain, agony and sense of finality that the robbers felt as they were matched to the stakes.

One of such songs from Idofian was his 1971 album entitled K’ehin S’okun – literally translated to mean, Execution by the sea. April 24, 1971, the song goes, was the D-day of the execution of some condemned robbers. It was a Saturday and the crowd that gathered at the bar beach was massive. To Idofian, the public execution could be explained in the context of propitiation. Nigeria had offered the bodies of the condemned robbers to the goddess of the sea called Olokun, in exchange for her concession to spare the lives of the righteous. Since creation, the Olokun had never had such bounty of human flesh for the celebration of her annual festivity in the belly of the sea. However, this Saturday, the Olokun was lucky as three robbers’ bodies were offered to her by the military government, in lieu of her ceaseless swallowing of innocent citizens who strayed to its beach. This, Idofian, in that song, expressed thus – “Ni’jo alaye ti daye, eti Olokun o gba ore ri; a’i pa’niyan kale si eti okun pe ko ri’un mu sodun ri; ni’jo Satide, o s’ori re, a ti f’omo jaguda meta rubo si okun ko ye gbe wa l’omo mo; jaguda kekeke to nt’owo b’apo la o fi bo’ya alaro.”

The condemned robbers had been found guilty by the Armed Robbery and Firearms Tribunal for having robbed an Alhaja at the Surulere area of Lagos. Williams Oyasima and Joseph Ilogbo were the robbers in that brutal encounter. Babatunde Folorunso, Idofian’s narration continued, had robbed a man of his car and Ten pounds. As ricochet of bullets tore through the bodies of these robbers, their heads lost their hold and bowed in magisterial surrender. Brutal epilogue of promising lives, Idofian warned, awaited parents who condoned stealing by stealth by their wards: “Nigba t’ota at’etu ndun mo barawo lara, won nsori ko… omo yin o s’agbafo, o nk’aso wo’lu, ki le ti lo ma ri?”

Since the menace of armed robbery went full throttle in the immediate post-petrodollar Nigeria of the early 1970s, it has grown further into becoming a social pandemic today. Rivaling it as another menace that spreads like the metastasis of cancer, the way armed robbery has, is corruption. The spirit of acquisitiveness, the centrality and preferencing that wealth enjoys today in Nigeria is mind-boggling. This spirit has pounced upon the heart of virtually all Nigerians. Mammon today enjoys a pride of place as the reigning god of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Mammon didn’t get here in a day. Its reign began with the fad of bribery which was common in private and government offices in pre and post-colonial Nigeria. Polish-British sociologist, Stanislav Andreski, who lived in Ibadan in the 1960s, saw the menace and coined the word “kleptocracy” for its description. This variant of corruption so galled the coupists of 1966, led by Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who held the back of his tongue for its perpetrators, who he labeled ten-percenters. This appellation was got from the tradition of demanding ten percent kickbacks from every government contract. Today, Nzeogwu would turn in his grave to find out that awarded contracts running into billions of Naira are most times not executed at all and its total proceeds pocketed. In cases where they are executed at all, heavy shellacking of bribery and kickbacks ensure that they are so peremptorily and haphazardly executed. The result is that the projects last only in the now.

Last week in Port-Harcourt, Tinubu woke up the ghost of judicial corruption, an albatross that hovers over Nigeria like the Swords of Damocles. If the Nigerian democracy suffers spiritual legitimacy, the Nigerian judiciary is complicit. By the way, some scholars have reasoned that the lack of legitimacy, of perverted electoral justice, may be why Nigeria is this stunted and stymied.

In theory, we all know that the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary and the courts underpin the Nigerian legal system. This fundamental principle is predicated on the belief that the courts are independent as an organ of government. Embedded in this assumption is the philosophy of the centrality of the judiciary. This is what the concept of justice and the rule of law in Nigeria are based upon. With the role of the judiciary as central to global concept of justice, built-in and implicated in it is the need to maintain the pride of place of judicial ethics. 

There is no doubt that since its inception in 1999 till now, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has brought some measure of sanity into judicial practice in general and operations of judicial officers in particular. However, there are still a lot of patent doubts about the impartiality of Nigerian judicial officers. There are flying allegations of judges’ availability to lend themselves to the whims of politicians. There have also been cogent and seemingly irrefutable allegations that the top echelon of judicial offices in Nigeria are not totally insulated from the activities and the personal caprices of politicians. The influence of money in the determination of cases is also high.

One very potent case to back this up is the recent controversy on the Supreme Court judgment affirming the victory of Senate President Ahmed Lawan as the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the senatorial contest for Yobe North. In a majority judgment, the apex court allowed the appeal filed by the APC against Bashir Machina’s candidature. The court had pronounced Lawan victorious against Machina simply because it held that, where there is an allegation of fraud, it should not be commenced by an originating summons. Arguments are weighty to back up Machina’s allegations. However, legal technicalities prevailed. While technicalities cannot be discountenanced in law, fastidious sticking to them, at the expense of substantive arguments, can continue to impugn the judiciary, especially when decided cases have spoken vehemently on the need to face substantive matters of law and urging judicial officers not to be bound wholesale by technicalities. Though perceptions may not be real and could be misleading after all, conversely, perception is everything, especially when these judicial officers are dealing with Nigerians who are not abreast of the rules of technicalities. 

To combat this pandemic of corruption in the judiciary, Tinubu’s submission to tackle the epidemic is through what he called “the right incentives.” It will seem that Tinubu was just being simplistic, or at worst minimalist in his conception of judicial corruption. It is laughable that his proffer to deal with the octopodal dragons of judicial corruption is merely to throw money and comfort at judicial officers. This definitely cannot work. First is that, corrupt Nigerians today have not succeeded in drawing a line on when enough is actually enough. They amass sickening wealth that fails logic and common sense. So, if you incentivize judges, it is enough to deter them from corruption? Tinubu is apparently seeking judicial officers who live in a sequestered world, pampered so well that they are insulated from the vermin of corruption, away from the rest of the world. This can only exist in a dream world.

The Tinubu intervention on corruption provoked cynicism of the Nigerian media the second day of his Rivers State epistle. Newspapers that led their next day editions with that thrust did so out of an amalgam of mockery and cynicism. Whether real or imagined, global perception is that, a Tinubu presidency would battle everything but corruption. His pedigree is that of an insider-outsider in the sewage of corruption. Only during the week, the Premium Times reported the linkage of the president-elect with twenty high net-worth properties in the United Kingdom, which allegedly belong to him and his close associates and which were mostly acquired when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State. As we match into May 29, the day of inauguration of the new president, Nigeria will be transiting from the general perception (which is very likely unreal) of an austere and incorruptible president who is passing the baton of power, to another general perception of a robustly corrupt president (which is likely real). While the former perception didn’t keep corruption at bay in Nigeria, the latter perception may likely make the atmosphere free for corruption to luxuriate, flower and flourish.

What can keep corruption at bay in Nigeria is leadership by example. Which Nigeria may not have from May 29. In spite of general global perception that Nigerians cavort with maggots in the sewage, a stern leadership that is ready to make example of malefactors will scare corrupt people off their perfidy. That leadership must advertise itself as ready to throw anyone, including itself, under the bus if it is caught having saturnalia with corruption. It does not appear to me that Tinubu presidency, Nigeria will have this. Only a few days ago, Bloomberg reported that Tinubu’s son, Oluwaseyi, is the main shareholder in Aranda Overseas Corporation, an offshore company which bought a controversial US$10.8 million U.K. property in 2017. In the two reported damaging stories, mum was the word from Bourdillon.

If you now compare these two stories with how Nigerian petty thieves get jailed for minor offences as shoplifting and larceny, an empire will seem to be on the verge of being constructed for corruption to reign in at least the next four years. It is comparable to the Yoruba conception of injustice and unfairness. This was aptly depicted in a short fable that talks of a sick hired hand who is disdained for his temerity to fall sick, in comparison with a sick son of the taskmaster who is pleaded with to sip a broth of peppery soup - Ojojo nse iwofa, won ni alakori gbe’se e de; bo ba s’omo olowo, won a ni ko roju f’ata s’enu.

In my estimation, corruption will no longer strike Nicodemusly in Nigeria in the next four years, either in the judiciary or Nigeria in general. This is because the vultures that will surround power will fertilize the ground for corruption to luxuriate. The corruption to come will share same template with the legion demons in that famous story of the Madman of Gadarene, told in the three synoptic gospels of the bible. This story is about a demon-possessed madman with a thousand maddening spirits. When the mad spirits were commanded out of him, they begged to be sent, not out of the country, but into a herd of swine. If corruption played under the cover in the last few years under Buhari, going forward, swine with similar demonic spirit of corruption will be openly possessed by that spirit n years to come. They will however not perish in the sea like the swine of Gadarene.

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