P’Harcourt attack: Implications for Nigeria’s democracy

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A dastardly, deadly and condemnable attack on the judiciary took place recently at the Rivers State High Court complex in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, when hoodlums denied judges, magistrates, staff, lawyers and non-judiciary officers who reported for duty, access to the complex as all the gates were padlocked and the buildings, surrounded by hoodlums.

The hoodlums, who were said to be heavily armed, reportedly inflicted bodily harm on judicial officers and other staff of the Judiciary going about their lawful duties. The Turks also destroyed some properties belonging to the Judiciary. The action was aimed at stopping the court from sitting and delivering a ruling in an intra-party dispute of the All Progressives Congress in respect of the local government congresses of the party in the state.

 

If the local government congress of a party resulted in attack on the Judiciary, what would happen during the usually charged atmosphere of the gubernatorial and presidential elections? One, therefore, admonishes politicians across the country to be of good behaviour as they embark on politicking for the 2019 elections

 

Violence was said to have erupted in the court premises on the day when the armed thugs loyal to a faction of the APC in Rivers invaded the court, where an application by a rival group in the party seeking an injunction to restrain the party from holding the local government congress in the state was to be heard.

However, security agencies were said to have later brought the situation under control following which the judge was able to deliver the ruling in the case.

If anything, the court’s invasion was an attempt to ridicule the Judiciary and undermine the integrity and powers of the third arm of government. Indeed, violence, the type visited on the judiciary of Rivers State, is alien to any civilised society and therefore, condemnable. The action was an act of intimidation of the judiciary and an unwarranted violence against a peaceful institution of an arm of government.

In all democratic societies, the Judiciary remains the last hope of the common man.  Judges and judicial officers must remain true to their Oath of Office. They must remain focused, resolute, and courageous, regardless of the effort at intimidating them. They must, therefore, dispense justice without fear or favour.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria has condemned the invasion of the Port Harcourt Court complex and warned on the grave dangers to democracy, portended by such invasion. Appeal, as a result, goes to Nigerians to continue to have confidence and faith in the Judiciary of the nation. The endpoint for any legal struggle is the Supreme Court. Any person who has any genuine complaint against the other, or against an organisation or institution, must continue to employ the civilised and legal option of seeking redress, as contained and guaranteed by the country’s Constitution. Also, any person who is dissatisfied with the decision of a court of law has the right of appeal, as enshrined in the same Constitution.

Standing commended on the eventful day in Port Harcourt, are the security agencies who helped bring the state of chaos under control, thus allowing the affected judge to go ahead and deliver the ruling on the matter.  However, such an attack on the judiciary, if not checked, portends a disaster that would end democracy in Nigeria, as parties would resort to self-help in the absence of the Judiciary or confidence in the Judiciary as an arbiter.

If the local government congress of a party resulted in attack on the judiciary, what would happen during the usually charged atmosphere of the gubernatorial and presidential elections? One, therefore, admonishes politicians across the country to be of good behaviour as they embark on politicking for the 2019 elections. They must constantly remember that no matter the situation, it is the height of political rascality for any person, group of persons or institution to pervert justice or attack the judiciary.

They must, therefore, play by the rules. They should campaign by selling their manifestoes and not embarking on personality attacks using hired thugs and assassins. At all times, they must remember that when they attack the temple of justice, it is a sign that they no longer want democracy. They must know that it is sacrilegious for anybody to attack the court or any arm of the judiciary.

The leadership of the political parties must also inculcate in their followers, the virtues of the rule of law and accord respect to the judiciary, which is a critical organ in all democratic societies and the last arbiter in all legal disputes. The political leaders must also remember that in their quest for power, they must never take any action capable of truncating or undermining democracy or societal values, as doing so is capable of spelling doom for democracy in Africa’s largest democracy.  In the meantime, those who perpetrated the dastardly show of shame must be brought to book.

The police and the Directorate of State Security must swing into action and bring the culprits to face the wrath of the law. As the CJN rightly observed, if they are allowed to go scot free, it would motivate others of their ilk to unleash similar attacks on the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, whenever they are displeased with the courts’ decisions.

*Onibile, a veteran journalist and economist, lives in Lagos