When two elephants fight, the grasses suffer. This statement could not have been truer in Rivers State. The judicial system in the state has been in a lockdown for some months now, all because of the combination of ego, selfishness, disregard and unrestrained clash of personal interests.
The urge to write about the judicial mess in Rivers State has been prowling for some time. I stayed away because I did not want to contribute my own two kobo to the fray, and I wanted to get a good picture of the scene. Now, I am ready to talk.
The seat of the Chief Judge of a state becomes vacant, and all hell breaks loose over the appointment of a successor. That is the story of Rivers State. It is the story of a fight between the backers of Justice Daisy Okocha, and Justice P. C. N. Agumagu.
This article is not interested in which side is right. There are already lots of written opinions on that. Legal experts can do a better job at clarifying legal aspects of the imbroglio. Rather, this article is interested in the sufferers of the fight. The people who the grappling power brokers do not give a hoot about.
The first victims are the lawyers, and paralegals who work in law firms. Their livelihood comes directly from the operation of the judicial system (maybe except for the “charge-and-bail” lawyers). I have been told that government employees in the judicial system are receiving their salaries. I do not know whether this applies to all the government employees, since victimization and selective payment could easily happen.
The legal workers have bills to pay, just like other persons. Their income comes from doing legal work for clients, filling briefs, offering legal advice and so on. The majority of these activities require courts to be functional. Some people may argue that there are federal courts. However, federal courts have somewhat limited jurisdiction, limited mostly to federal laws. By keeping the state courts locked, private legal professionals and their dependents are being punished for a fight whose outcome will likely not have a direct effect on many of them.
Next on the victims’ list is “the people”. The people who the “pompous” lawyers refer to as “unlearned”. The people who need the judicial system to solve disputes, to get out of trouble, to get legal documents like affidavits etc. These people have been denied access to the third arm of government. I would likely receive some flak for ranking “the people” after legal workers. After all, democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. It ought to be all about the people. However, I ranked “the people” after legal workers because “the people” need the legal workers to reach the courts.
Democracy of the people apparently does not exist in Rivers State. If the people were considered, the courts would still be running. I do not have statistics to buttress this claim, but I believe that this state has a high number of cases concerning chieftaincy titles and lands. I wonder the number of persons who are currently parading themselves using disputed titles or who have seized or encroached upon other people’s land with unrestrained impunity. I wonder how many persons are suffering blatant injustice because they cannot approach the courts for aid. Many persons are languishing in police cells or prison cells because there is no court to hear their cases. When courts were in session, we had an enormous number of persons awaiting trial. Imagine the scenario when the sluggishly moving wheels of justice have been completely halted. If the “powers-that-be” cared about the people, they would not keep the courts grounded.
The next victim (quite debatable) is the police force, whose officers have been given an incentive to perpetuate corruption. Apparently, it is a disguised blessing for them. Reports abound of police officers making brisk business from the dysfunction of the courts. It is been accepted as simple logic that since the court are not in session, it is better to settle with the police officers, rather than risk been locked up till whenever the courts are reopened. Police officers have “wisely” turned the state’s quagmire into a treasure chest. Thus, efforts to sanitize the police force have encountered a decelerator.
These three groups are the real victims of the power struggle in Rivers State’s judiciary system. The other groups of vested interests are concerned about having control of the reins of judicial power, while instigating a tragedy.
A real tragedy is playing out in Rivers State. The government, like a three-legged pot, rests on the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Now, one leg is broken. While some are unconcerned, we forget that a pot can rest on two legs for only so long. A time will come when the effect of the broken leg can no longer be ignored. Then, the pot will come tumbling down, because, three, not two, is what keeps all together.
Yeats said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. For Rivers State, it is, “Things fall apart; two legs cannot hold”. Rivers State has become the “Treasure Base of Injustice”.