Reading the News: Rule of lawyers and Road accidents, By Issa Aremu

Reading the news last week, the most refreshing was the Supreme Court dismissal of the applications seeking to review the earlier judgment of the court on Balyelsa gubernatorial election. Without prejudice to the expected judgement of the Supreme Court on Imo, I commend the  Supreme Court, which last Wednesday, upheld its earlier judgement and went further to fine Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) N30 million each for agreeing to file an application for the review of the apex court’s judgment on Bayelsa election. It is commendable that for once, Supreme Court damned what is increasingly seen as a budding dictatorship of some lawyers and desperate politicians which if not checked might undermine democracy. Nigeria must uphold the rule of law as distinct of rule of some senior lawyers in collaboration with some desperate politicians. Justice Amina Augie, who read the lead judgment, observed rightly that the applications amounted to an “attempt to make the court violate its rules and the provision of the constitution, which makes it the final court of the land”. The justice further held that the applications, if granted, had the capacity to belittle the dignity and status of the court and open a floodgate for such requests in the future. 

Of particular importance was her “regret” that “senior lawyers in the country could be involved in the filing of such applications, which it further described as regrettable motions and a deliberate desecration of the judiciary”. Her quotable quote: “I feel like shedding tears that senior counsel, in this case, would ever bring this kind of frivolous applications during my life time.”  The court, rightly  dismissed the two applications filed and argued on behalf of the applicants by their counsel, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), on the grounds that they were without merit and amounted to an abuse of court process. The seven-man panel headed by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, described APC’s request for a review of the judgment that voided the participation of its candidate in the Bayelsa governorship election as “vexatious, frivolous and an abuse of court process.”  I also hail the ousted APC governor-elect of Bayelsa State, David Lyon, for his statesmanship for accepting the final ruling of Nigeria’s highest court, Supreme Court that nullified his victory at the November 16th, 2019 governorship election in the State. Democracy tasks all stakeholders to abide by the rule of law if democracy would be sustainable. Some lawyers are turning   courts as temple of justice into arena of legal transactions of market place in which any brief is acceptable.  Prominent Senior advocates who are eager to hold briefs both for the opposition and ruling parties alike. No more legal taboos of the old as anything is open to litigations. Endless  litigations over electoral matters must give way to matured political culture which must start with respect for finality of court rulings by contestants.   After 20 years of democracy, it’s time to learn from the past experiences and avoid the pitfall of how endless litigations, suits and counter suits which helped to undermine the first and second Republics.  During the controversial June 12 crisis, for instance the judiciary was central to the political impasse which led to the criminal annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was poised to win.

Specifically, Justice Bassey Ikpeme who ordered that the election should not hold on the eve of the historic poll, was one of his judges. In addition, Saleh ordered Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, to stop announcing the election results almost mid way into the exercise. Some lawyers got the tragic briefs. Both the bar and the bench must help to deepen democracy not undermining it through frivolous transactional litigations. Also the despicable idea of demonstrations at EU and American embassies to resolve electoral matters is not only ill informed  but unacceptable and must be discouraged. Americans would not go to Nigerian embassy in Washington to perfect their electoral processes which indeed are full of imperfections. 

At weekend I paid a visit to the state secretariat of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Kaduna State Council, in Kaduna where  I formally registered my condolence  on the death of former Treasurer and Secretary of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Kaduna State Council, Chief Dominic Uzu. He died on Tuesday February 4, 2020 following a tragic fatal accident along Kaduna-Zaria Highway. Dominic Uzu was a tested Journalist. His tragic death was a great loss to the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), his family and all his colleagues in the profession. The best way to mourn Comrade Dominic Uzu is to collectively put an end to cheap and callous wastage of human lives, (low or high alike) on our roads.  Tears are not just enough.  There is an urgent need to rebuild our roads and ensure safety rules are observed with a view of reducing accidents on our roads. Seeing the poor survivors and dependents of victims of roads accidents should make us change our perception of   accident victims as mere statistics! Accident victims are humans (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, bread winners,) with all the valued human relationships suddenly terminated on account of avoidable “accidents”. A visit to  a typical emergency/casualty ward in our hospital shows that road accidents do as much violence as terrorism does. Sudden deaths of  working journalists and Nigerians in general  further point to crisis of road governance in Nigeria. Nigeria today qualifies as an unofficial global capital of “road accidents”. Every year, over 39,000  Nigerians die from road crashes. In the 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated road traffic fatalities in Nigeria at 39,802, while the estimated rate per 100,000 deaths stood at 21.4. Nigeria losses more humans on road accidents  than estimated 11,310 deaths reported in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone due to Ebola epidemic! We must halt this road-terrorism, or better still road virus called accident. An accident is defined as happening “unexpected” or “unplanned”. The accident which killed Dominic was as a result of over-speeding,  involving two vehicles, (a DAF truck and a Toyota Hiace commercial Bus) and bad road (potholes). Most  roads are unmotorable. Drivers are reckless and often our road safety officials are not on duty. When accidents prove addictive as they are in Nigeria, they are no more “accidental”. Addictive accidents mean incidents for which the governments at all levels must be concerned to put an end to.  These “accidents” are certainly not inevitable. 

 Issa Aremu, mni