By Law Mefor
Opinion: Some have claimed that Senator Ishaku Elisha Abbo, who served as the senator representing Adamawa North, is frequently grabbing the headlines for the wrong reasons. The maverick lawmaker gained notoriety after publicly assaulting a salesgirl in an Abuja sex toy store about four years ago. This time, he claimed that Senate President Godswill Obot Akpabio was responsible for orchestrating his expulsion from the Senate. He further claimed five other senators, including the former Senate Chief Whip Orji Uzor Kalu, are targeted to suffer the same fate.
Although Senator Abbo apologised to Godswill Akpabio, the President of the Senate, for his unguarded comments accusing him of being responsible for his departure from the senate for working against his emergence as president of the senate, Nigerians should be made aware of the important subject the controversial senator brought to light. Even after issuing an apology, he maintained that his dismissal by the appeal court was not the result of the legal system but rather was the result of unseen outside forces secretly controlling the judges. The Nigerian judiciary has suffered a devastating blow if Abbo is right.
By a decision of the Court of Appeal, Senator Abbo was dismissed as the senator from Adamawa for the All Progressives Congress, APC. Not the court, but the legislative branch of government is led by Akpabio. So why did Abbo claim that the Senate President guided the decision on his election appeal, which was made in the judicial branch, the appeal court?
Even if this accusation is unfounded or appears to be unrelated to Akpabio at first glance, it already highlights how the judiciary is susceptible to outside interference and may have even been completely seized. Although Abbo openly apologised to Akpabio in an interview on Arise television, he did not accept his destiny as a just and fitting course of the justice system of the country.
He said that the news release he made soon after the Court of Appeal decision was premature and added that he acted incorrectly because of incomplete information at his disposal. Who then is accountable for his fate? Given the seriousness of his charge, there was no question that he had faced pressure to retract. However, as they say, the horse had already bolted.
The apology extended to Akpabio, in Abbo’s opinion, was required following their conversation. His words were, “I had a discussion with the Senate President, my brother colleague, distinguished Senator Akpabio, and I’m convinced that he’s not involved. This is due to the fact that when we met yesterday, he swore on her grave, a woman he loves dearly and who gave birth to him.”
I once went to a meeting when someone labelled another person an idiot. The angry presiding chairman demanded that the offender retract the abusive word. His response was as follows: “I withdraw the word idiot, but who I told has heard me.” Laughter filled the room. Whoever was offended had heard since the apology had been offered and accepted. What an apology, you dare say!
This is the straightforward way to assess Senator Elisha Abbo’s withdrawal of his damaging accusation against Senate President Godswill Obot Akpabio. The controversial senator attacked the judiciary in addition to the senate president during the outburst. He only emphasised to Nigerians that the judiciary no longer controls justice. The cliché “Judiciary is the last hope of the common man” was something we often heard, imitated, and repeated since childhood. The statement “the judiciary is the lost hope of the common man” is now highly preferred in light of what the justice system has turned out to be in Nigeria.
Abbo did not absolve the judiciary. He claimed that the amount of information and the added intelligence led him to reevaluate his views. More issues were created by Abbo’s apology. He barely made an effort to defend Akpabio. He was still of the opinion that his dismissal was preplanned and not the result of a fair trial.
The existence of corruption in the judiciary has long been publicised. Even the judiciary, which is an arm of the government, has denounced corruption as afflicting it and giving the impression that it has been afflicted by political influencers who press for the sale of justice to the highest bidder.
Over time, there has been mounting evidence of the government’s judicial branch being corrupted. The emasculation of the judiciary under former Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen was the pinnacle of it. Onnoghen, a sitting CJN, was summarily tried and removed from office by the Code of Conduct Tribunal in 2019. That signalled the end of that branch of government’s independence and its capture and subordination by the executive branch.
Aside from interference, justice is now bought and sold. Recently, a poet from Nigeria penned, “My lord justice, where do I keep your bribe?” That piece wasn’t specifically satirical. It was a thorough account of what has transpired in the Nigerian judiciary, especially from the time Buhari took office as president until the present.
It was most embarrassing before the general election results in 2023. To explain to Nigerians how he was able to get judgments for some of his colleagues through his wife Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, who at one point served as the president of the Court of Appeal, Senator Adamu Muhammad Bulkachuwa proudly claimed so on the Senate floor. His devastating admission caused a nationwide scandal and was the focus of an investigation. However, that has once again been ignored.
Abbo has rekindled the same fire. Before putting Abbo’s vituperation into context, let’s hear again the concerns sounded by worried bench and bar members once more. When a tribunal was sitting on the results of the governorship election in Kano, the presiding judge, Justice Flora Ngozi Azinge, raised the concern that money was being offered to the members of her tribunal. The tribunal had to rely on Zoom to deliver judgement to counter the evil influence.
Just a few days ago, the president of the court of appeal issued an order mandating the relocation of all state electoral tribunals to Abuja and Lagos. This is simply another illustration of how the judiciary is on a systemic decline. The sad stories never stop.
It would be an unmitigated disaster to lose the court under a presidential democracy because it would longer be a democracy. A free and impartial court is fundamentally essential to democracy. The three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—are the foundation of presidentialism. Standing on three legs, a democracy will fall if any of the legs is removed. That is the significance of Abbo’s outburst: it serves as a sad reminder of a severely flawed judicial system where corruption and political influence hold sway. Even the Legislature is not immune, and this leaves only the despotic executive branch in charge of what is best characterised as fascism.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) needs to take action and look into Abbo’s assertion and related others. To give the nation’s courts a breath of fresh air and restore its damaged credibility, corrupt judges need to be removed and the judiciary repositioned.
The EFCC, ICPC, and Code of Conduct Bureau have to all take action to restore the nation’s judicial system because, without it, citizens would only have self-help left. It will be Nunc dimittis (farewell) to democracy. Independent, corrupt-free democracy is the only way to avert the Chief Judge, Federal High Court, Hon. Justice John Terhemba Tsoho’s prophetic warning that loss of confidence in the judiciary is a recipe for anarchy.
The judiciary alone has the power to save itself.
· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; email@example.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.