JUSTICE AND THE RULE OF LAW IN ACTION



According to Saint Augustine, one of the leading lights of western civilization, he said: “without justice, the nation-state is merely a band of thieves.” “Justice is the first condition of humanity,” Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, opined in his prison memoir, “The Man Died.” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said by venerable Martin Luther King, when he emphasized the importance of justice1. Without argument, justice is said to be as old as mankind. Even philosophers and poets have through all ages, focused on the problems of justice. Indeed, the concern for justice, the demand for justice is as
intense as its denial. The most evocative call for justice, arguably, came from the Old Testament biblical prophet, Isaiah, who in the distressing condition of impunity and injustice lamented that “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off, for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth cannot fail and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.2 Before now, the prophet has railed woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have presented to the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of my

People, that the widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless”.3
        Realistically, justice is the first and fundamental condition of humanity. Justice is the organizing principle of collective action, whether at the level of government. The dominant theories and systems of political government all stress the importance of giving citizens a sense of justice. In fact, the sense of justice has proved more important than the ‘fact of justice’ in constructing the state. Where people perceive injustice (not withstanding whether injustice is actual or not), the setting is set for combustible reactions. Wars and fierce contestation ensue. The crisis of perception of injustice has resulted in the invention of the art of the management of conflict. It is in respect of management (and disguising) of perception or injustice that the institution of law plays a very important public role.4
        Unarguably, pragmatism and doggedness have been very illuminating on most of Nigerian lawyers in the quest to bringing justice to the reach of the down-trodden individuals in the society. Judges as well have demonstrated praise worthy and commendable high sense of judicial activism through proper interpretation of the law.
        Some of the political personages who have changed human history and executed programs that furthered the aspiration of social justice were lawyers. Such leaders like Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, and Mahatma Gandhi etc. had utilized the institution of law to constitute new patterns of social discourse and new notions of government.
 In the case of Nigeria, the struggles of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, for which he has received both official and unofficial honors, derived from his determination and dedication to use law as both the logic and terrain of social contestation for justice.
        In the demonstration of this justice and the rule of law, we would have to look at the extent of struggle for justice and the rule of law by late Abdulganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, popularly called Gani, who died on Saturday, September 5, 2009. He was a quintessential lawyer, indefatigable human rights crusader and the scourge of every usurper of public office in the land5.
5 News Watch Magazine, Sept. 21, 2009, Page 14
6 Abashia v. Andrew Obeya (Unreported)
 
Throughout the 44 years he practiced as a lawyer, before his death, Fawehinmi championed the cause for the advancement of the rule of law with extraordinary courage and conviction. His path to greatness as a crusader for the public good started in February 1969 in Jos, Plateau State6. It was a sex scandal case. Bala Abashia, a job factory worker, claimed that the late Andrew Obeya, who was then the secretary to the Benue/Plateau state government, had an affair with his wife, Hanatu, in a car parked along the Jos/Zaria Road, Jos.
        Although this should normally be a private tussle between two citizens, the state government got involved on behalf of its official. As a human rights crusader, Fawehinmi, who was then a young lawyer, volunteered to defend Abashia who sued Obeya for adultery and assault. The late Joseph Gomwalk, who was the head of state, made efforts to get Fawehinmi to withdraw the case. When that failed, attempt was made to kidnap him from the Hilltop Hotel, Jos, where he used to stay; that was unsuccessful. That compelled Obeya’s lawyer to settle Abashi’s suit out of court. Eventually, Obeya himself was forced to resign from his job.
        For all his troubles, especially in making an unassailable case for his poor client, Fawehinmi suffered what became his first extra–judicial detention by the authorities. He was clamped in jail under a detention decree that allows people to be detained without trial. But Fawehinmi was happy that through his legal assistance, Abshia, the poor and underprivileged factory worker, had his pound of flesh in his case against Obeya, a government official. That marked the beginning of Fawehinmi’s rise to fame in legal activism.
Fawehinmi had an uncontrollable love for the poor, the cheated, the oppressed, the persecuted, the ignored and students. This passion is responsible for the selfless service he rendered without charging fees for the protection, defence and advancement of the Nigeria people. It is on record that he handled more than one thousand, five hundred briefs free of all charges for members of his self-defined constituency – the poor, the cheated, the oppressed and the persecuted. One of such cases was in 1971 when crisis engulfed the University of Ibadan over a peaceful demonstration by the students against the excesses of the university authorities. The police invaded the university, killed Kunle Adepeju, one of students. The nation rose against the then Yakubu Gowon regime.
        Gowon set up a commission of enquiry headed by Justice Booyan Kazeem of the Lagos High Court. Fawehinmi volunteered to defend the students in court free of charge over the unprovoked killing of Adepeju. When the report of the enquiry was released, more than 50 percent of the students’ demands were met.
        In 1976, the students of the University of Benin benefited from Fawehinmi’s free legal services when many of its leaders were rusticated and some expelled over a crisis in the institution. The student had contacted Fawehinmi over their ordeal and he responded by filing series of actions in the Benin High Court. At the end of the legal battle, all the actions taken by the university authorities against the students were nullified.
        In 1978, Fawehinmi sued the Federal Government, and then headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo, for banning the National Union of Nigerian students, N.U.N.S., and the detention of Segun Okeowo, its leader. In the course of the case, Fawehinmi was charged with stealing a camera.
        When he obtained bail, he filed an application seeking the release of Okeowo from illegal detention by Ishola Oluwa, the trail Judge. He won. Okeowo was later released from illegal custody and he served as an administrative officer briefly in Fawehinmi’s chamber before he was re-admitted by the University in obedience to court order. Fawehinmi was himself acquitted and discharged of his trumped-up charge by a magistrate.
        In 1983, the students of the University of Maiduguri enjoyed Fawehinmi’s free legal services after a crisis. There was a riot by the students of the institution on February 2, 1983. After the riot, many students’ leaders were rusticated and some were expelled. Fawehinmi took up their case up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then compelled the University authorities to re-admit the rusticated and expelled students. Okon Akiba, one of the affected students, is now a medical doctor and health service manager of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
Fawehinmi also showed himself a crusader for justice in the murder of Dele Giwa, founding Editor–in-Chief News Watch, on October 19, 1986. Fawehinmi led the legal battle to unravel the perpetrators of the heinous act.
As a courageous lawyer, FAWEHINMI had, on several occasions, taken the government to court challenging some anti- people policies. One of such notable cases was against the military government of Babangida in 1991; it was an action Fawehinmi instituted to force Babangida’s government to render account of crude oil during the Gulf war in 1991. In 1993, he filed an action challenging the Interim National Government, ING, of Ernest Shonekan and exposed its unconstitutionality after Babangida stepped aside.
        In 1994, he filed another action compelling the late general Abacha and all the public officers who served under his regime to publicly declare their assets to enable the Nigerian people know the extent of corruption in public places. Again in 1998, Fawehinmi went to court to challenge the decision of General Abdul Salami Abubakar, the then Head of State, to increase the pump price of fuel from #11 to #25 per liter. He said that the decision would bring serious economic hardship and pains to the people of Nigeria. This was actually an indefatigable human rights crusader who fought against injustices and showed the society that judiciary is the last hope for the common man.
        He considered how suicidal and outrageous it would be for the rights of the less privileged to be denied and swept into the gutter.    
        Our Judiciary should be commended for its resilience to uphold the individual rights, especially the rights to fair hearing. This is because, of what use is a right to fair hearing (or trial) and equal protection of law for a man who cannot afford the “legal” cost of the fair trial. The right might as well not exist. In the words of the eminent Jurist, “.T.A Aguda, he said:
 If a poor man is cheated of his legal right by the state or a member of the ruling upper class who can afford the luxury of litigation in our courts, he may have no alternative than to forgo that right and await justice from God… If however, he is foolhardy enough to enter the temple of justice, he and his family may regret for the rest of their lives. For in the process –in his pursuit of what he consider to be justice-he may become bankrupt and die a pauper...7
        From the opinion of T.A Aguda, it is actually a thing of the past when the less privileged in the society was humiliated and oppressed. This was the situation in the then military regime in Nigeria. The regime, in which fundamental human rights were swept into bins.
 
        Judiciary today has strived to uphold and maintain justice and bring it to the door step of the poor masses in the society hence, it is believed to be the last hope for the common man. The Judiciary should preserve the fundamental rights of the citizens. The Proper role of a Judge is to do justice between parties before him. If there is any rule of law which impairs the doing of justice, then it is the province of the judge to do all he legitimately can do to avoid that rule or even change it so as to do justice in the case before him. The Judiciary should be seen as the last hope for a common man. As ESO, JSC puts it in the case of SAIDU GARBA V. FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION;8
…Contemptuous of the judiciary which must command the full confidence of citizens at all times in order to maintain the Rule of Law.

        The role of the Judiciary should be to safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens and to sustain the democratic process. Commenting on the role of the Judiciary in the democratic process, ESO, JSC said in the case of ARIORI V. ELEMO8 as follows;
Having regard to the nascence of our constitution, the comparative educational backwardness, the socio-economic and cultural background of the people of the country and the reliance that is being placed and necessarily have to be placed, as a result of this background, on the courts and finally the general atmosphere in the country, I think the court has a duty to safeguard the fundamental rights in this country which from its age and problems that are bound to associate with it, is still having an experiment in democracy.
          Finally, for the Rule of law to triumph under a democratic government in Nigeria, the three arms – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – must work pari-passu. They must work like a relay team which needs the active participation of all the members to win the race or like white and black keys in a piano’s keyboard which must work together to produce melodious music. As ESO K. put it:
        For the rule of law to be meaningful, the direction should not be left solely to the executive and legislature. The court must regard it as a duty to pursue the principles positively for it is only when this is done that justice would be done and also seen to have been done”.10

Share on Google Plus

Declaimer - MARTINS CHIMA

The publications and/or documents on this website are provided for general information purposes only. Your use of any of these sample documents is subjected to your own decision NB: Join our Social Media Network on Google Plus | Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

READ RECENT UPDATES HERE