Thursday, March 17, 2016


My late Uncle was a state Judge, in old Bendel State. My extended family (on my father’s side), is full of “learned men and women of the wig”. My darling big sister is a lawyer…my brother is a lawyer…if I had to count on my fingers, the amount of lawyers in my family, I would exhaust both hands-no jokes! But even though I come from a family flooded with “black-robed men and women”, I must confess that I have no faith in the law! Okay, let me rephrase- I have very little faith in Nigeria’s judiciary!
The case of Ricky Tarfa, SAN, is just one case which re-affirms my deep-seated distrust of the Nigerian legal system. When lay men and women commit obvious crimes, one may be tempted to say, “Oh, maybe they didn’t know better…maybe”. But when a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is caught red-handed breaking the law, then it is only right that we all begin to throw stones! So here’s the story. The esteemed SAN was not too long ago, accused of hiding two foreigners in his car, in order to protect them from the long arms of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). These 2 alleged criminals were accused of fraud and tax evasion. When he was arrested, he threw out the “my fundamental human rights are being abused” card! We all watched the spectacle play out. We watched as Tarfa was then “escorted” to court, by a very large number of his fellow esteemed men and women of the wig. It was as though they were all there to “intimidate the presiding judge and prosecuting counsel”! Then the EFCC threw out the joker- alas, Barr. Tarfa had been caught- with “receipts” provided- bribing a certain Justice Mohammed Yunusa. In fact, his law firm had on various occasions, gone through the back door, to ensure that their cases were routed to the said judge, in order to ensure easy wins. And so, in the face of such incriminating evidence and obvious disgrace, one by one, just like the apostles who abandoned our Lord Jesus in his moment of trial, the “escorting lawyers” deserted their now-shamed colleague! The case is still being played out…
Upon assumption of office, President Muhammadu Buhari outlined the key focus areas of his administration: the economy, security (the fight against Boko Haram), and the fight against corruption. Let us focus on the fight against corruption. So far, the EFCC has arraigned numerous prominent individuals, accused of corruption. The key phrase has been “embezzlement of public funds”. From Dasuki, to Dokpesi, to Metuh, to Moro, to Badeh…the list keeps getting longer. We have watched men being led in handcuffs into court, being taken to Kuje Prison (by the way, is Kuje Prison the only prison in Abuja?), being released on bail, being arraigned for further hearing(s)…and on and on, the circus keeps going. Still yet, not one final verdict. And if past antecedents are anything to go by, these cases would probably die into the cold dark night.
Professor Yemi Osinbajo, our very likeable Vice President- he is said to be more “humane” than his boss- was at a judiciary conference sometime last year. The Vice President is a lawyer himself…like Tarfa; he is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. As he stood before his learned colleagues, he bemoaned the state of the judicial system; admitting that there have been instances of high profile corruption in the judiciary, especially when they involve ex or current political office holders. The nation’s Chief Justice himself who was also at that conference, lambasted certain unscrupulous elements within the noble profession who through their “unlawful conducts”- how ironic- had caused a large section of Nigerians to cast aspersions at the judicial system! In fact, to paraphrase the VP’s statement, “the fight against corruption is mostly being hampered by dubious, scheming, money-loving, corrupt judges who prolong cases or render faulty judgments, in favor of obviously guilty individuals who line their pockets”! So then I ask, how can this same judicial system which is so obviously corrupt, so obviously tainted, so obviously filled with crooked individuals, be entrusted with effectively administering righteous judgments? How can I trust that if I stand before a judge, and the Counsel for my opponent is Ricky Tarfa; that I would be given a fair hearing? How will I trust that the case would not already have been decided the night before, over drinks, and with the exchange of brown envelopes?
Aside from politicians, many other “normal citizens” such as myself, have no faith in the law. I have never been in a court-room; but I have been reliably informed, that most times, proceedings are somewhat akin to a playground. A magistrate sits before you and renders judgment on a case in 2016, based on a judgment rendered by a now-deceased judge on another case in 1854! The rationale is that the cases are somewhat similar…even though when it boils down to specifics, they usually aren’t! So the opposing counsel says, “my lord, refer to the case brought by the Mouse, against the Cat, presided over by the Lion, in the High Court of the jungle, in the year of our lord, 1854 AD; and you would see that the charges raised by the individuals on the other side, are not enough to convict my client…the “doubt” is just not “reasonable” enough”. Then the judge would adjust his/her spectacles and pretend for a brief moment to be deep in thought…and then before you can even say “but my lord”, he finds the case in favor of the accused, and might even order you –the righteous plaintiff- to pay damages! Okay, I admit, I watch too many movies in my head, so my mind is a bit crazy; but I can bet you that it does happen this way!
I believe- and I should apologize beforehand, to those who are not so- that our Nigerian Bar Association, is mostly filled with quacks! I apologize because like I said, a sizeable portion of my extended family members are lawyers. Also, some of my dearest friends are lawyers; and I would like to think of these people as brilliant, outstanding, integrity-laden individuals. But they constitute a very “minute minority”. And so, because they are so few, it is very easy to “lump them in” with the larger sordid population! There are quacks sitting in magistrate courts, state courts, federal courts, and probably even within the Supreme Court! And unfortunately, these quacks have been entrusted with “safeguarding and judiciously interpreting” the law! Oh, how I weep!
Ricky Tarfa, SAN, like the dodgy fellow that I think he is, is now throwing out every card in his “Rule Book of Dodgyness”… the same rule book that has obviously been read by a million other Nigerian lawyers! Fellow Nigerians, how can we then expect an effective fight against corruption, when our law courts are filled with men like this? *deep sigh* I have exhausted my words; but I would say this finally- until our judicial system experiences a great reformation which would weed out the thistles and thorns from the fine grain, the guilty will continue to roam free! Until our judicial system is truly “born-again”, the righteous, who seek the judgments of our law courts, would continue shaking their heads in disbelief and wishing that they hadn’t! Until men (and women) like Ricky Tarfa are called out and punished when they commit a crime, “lady justice” would continue to weep beneath her blind fold! I pray for our country…may we get it right…may justice prevail!

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