By Mike A. A. Ozekhome, SAN
THE attack on the honourable justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili is highly condemnable, provocative, uncalled for and is certainly dangerous for the Independence and courageous decisions template of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which is the apex court.
It is sickening and outrageous that Justice Mary Peter Odili’s residence was singled out and attacked by hired political hoodlums, miscreants and thugs, just for merely carrying out her judicial functions of heading a five-member panel that delivered the judgement sacking the Governor-elect of Bayelsa State (a state controlled by the APC).
It is interesting to note that Justice Mary Peter-Odili did not even write or deliver the lead judgement. The lead judgement was written and delivered by the Honourable Justice Ejembi Eko, JSC. More significant is the fact that the entire judgement was an unanimous decision and pronouncement made by the entire five members of the Supreme Court panel that heard the matter. Why would she be singled out just because she is from Rivers State, near Bayelsa state? Could not the people doing this read simple history of the last two to three months, to see that the governors of Bayelsa State and Rivers States had not been in the best of terms even though they belong to the same political party (the PDP)?
The danger inherent in this ugly episode will reverberate and ricochet in the foreseeable future. What this simply boils down to is that once a judgement is given and the political party that is negatively affected does not like it, then members of that political party can take the laws into their hands, go to the houses of the Judges or Justices that delivered the judgement and attack them. Where then is the Independence of the Judiciary? What happened to Imo state where the entire panel headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria removed a whole government and enthroned the APC and its governor, a person who had come 4th in the election and whose party did not even win a single House of Assembly seat? Why were the Supreme Court Justices not also attacked for that judgement? Why did selective amnesia engulf these sponsored political thugs? Why this ethnical colouring of an attack? Why this religious colouring of an attack? Why this political delinquency? Why this attempt to annex the Judiciary to the apron strings of the Executive? Why this attempt to intimidate, overawe and humiliate a very well-known, dispassionate, brilliant, intelligent and intellectually-grounded Jurist of impeachable credentials?
This is a Judge who rose gradually from the rungs of the ladder, first as a magistrate; then a Chief Magistrate; and then a High Court Judge; and then a Justice of the Court of Appeal; finally anchoring at the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land. This is a distinguished iconic Jurist who, even as First Lady of Rivers State, never allowed the lure of office to entrap her, or to colour her vision. She carefully kept away from public limelight. She kept to her duties strictly as a role model Judicial Officer, refusing to be deified, or heroine-worshiped by politicians, as others in her position are want to do.
It is that great woman that some miscreants attempted to attack and to destroy her house. I condemn this unwarranted and unprovoked attack on the residence of The Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili in the strongest words possible, not just because she is a Justice of the Supreme Court, but because she belongs to the Judiciary that has already been thoroughly brow-beaten and humiliated enough by the Executive branch of government. This started especially on October 8, 2016, when houses of Supreme Court Justices were mindlessly raided and their family members intimidated and overawed in the ungodly wee hours of the morning by members of the DSS.
We must stop this chicanery before we all get engulfed by the entire infamous conduct of those miscreants. When the Judiciary is finally taken out and a reign of terror is institutionalized, then nobody will have anywhere to run to. Remember the immortal words of Martin Niemoller, the great German Cleric in 1946, after watching the execution of millions of Jews in gas Chambers. He made the following immortal statement:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.
We must be careful to nurture and guide this nascent democracy which some people have deliberately disallowed from growing.
This is not an ordinary incidence. Nay, not one of those that should be swept under the mat by the powers that be. The government, through the DSS, the Inspector General of Police must immediately rise to the occasion and fish out the ignoble perpetrators that committed this heinous crime and this desecration of the citadel of Justice. They must be singled out and prosecuted immediately; and where found guilty, be given adequate punishment that they richly deserve. No attempt must be made to further cow and intimidate the Judiciary; and no attempt must be made to cow and intimidate Justices of the Supreme Court (the apex court) of the land. No attempt must be made by any political party, or by any person or group of persons, however so highly placed, to intimidate the Judiciary and beat it to submission in such a way and manner that decisions of courts are procured by executive or political fiat.
This is a country that is always on the precipice, on tenterhooks, always being salvaged by God on a daily basis. It is very sad that whenever politicians win a case, they say the Judiciary is on song. They say justice has been delivered and served. They say democracy works. But once they lose a case, not only will they criminalize the Judiciary; not only will they vilify the Judge that delivered the judgement; not only will they use expletives against the judges that delivered the judgement; they will quickly say democracy is on trial, or that democracy or Justice has been purchased.