Democracy without decorum, courts without justice

A few weeks before he was assassinated in 1947, the esteemed advocate of non-violent opposition and resistance, Mahatma Gandhi, had a conversation with his grandson in which he provided him the “seven blunders” that accounted for the violence that ravaged the world.

These seven blunders, which he had earlier called “seven social sins” in an article he published in his weekly newspaper “Young India” of October 22 1925, are: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle. His grandson, Arun Gandhi, added the eighth later, which he called “rights without responsibilities”.

Now, if being an ardent fan of Gandhi entitles me to anything, I would add two blunders of our modern age, which account for both passive and active violence, to the list to make them ten altogether. These are democracy without decorum and courts without justice.

Though democracy is hailed as the best system of government and it is the bride of the civilized world, the Athenians who invented it still stir in horror in their graves at what their good system of governance has been turned into. Though instances abound all over the world where the enthronement of democracy does not translate to social order, Nigeria obviously offers a good example as the quintessence of democracy without decorum.

Since 1999 to date, the story of our democracy is a sad one. From executive rascality to legislative lawlessness, decorum seems to be alien to our socio-political fabric. It is a democracy where a Governor can wake up after a bad dream and start demolishing poor people’s homes without providing them alternative residence. It is a democracy where some elected leaders at all levels would appropriate the collective resources of their people and fill the airspace with noise for doing an insignificant fraction of what they are being paid to use public funds, not their fathers’ patrimonies, to do. It is a democracy where we are treated to the sheer buffoonery of those who are supposed to redeem us.

Quite unfortunately, the victims of our (s)elected leaders are the same people who voted them into power. There is therefore a lot of suffering and hunger in the land with people’s hopes being stifled with every passing day. Life for the average Nigerian has become Hobessian, despite democracy: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Under the watch of our African leaders, as Prof. Robert Rotberg, formerly of Harvard University and now of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada, put it, “infrastructure has crumbled, currencies have depreciated, prices of goods and services have sky-rocketed while job availability, healthcare and education standards have seriously declined….Ordinary life has become beleaguered, general security has deteriorated, crime and corruption have increased, much-needed public funds have flowed into hidden bank accounts and officially sanctioned ethnic discrimination…has become prevalent.”

As the legislative arm of government constitutes the fulcrum of democracy, the indecorum of our over-paid law makers is record breaking. If they are not falsifying certificates, sharing money in broad daylight in “Ghana-must-go” bags and engaging in odious deals as revealed by Dr Wale Okediran in his “Tenants of the House”, they are shouting on one another in a manner that would make touts and thugs green with envy.

When leaders go to the extent of fighting one another with bestial savagery, the type of which was witnessed recently in the Rivers State House of Assembly, which does not need any rehash here, it goes to prove the point that the bane of our civilized world is democracy without decorum.

This is why I admire the recent apology of Chief Edwin Clark to Nigerians and his call for unity. Accepting that one is wrong and offering apology are not simple tasks for the faint-hearted. “I am sorry” is a simple statement but it takes great minds to say it While he deserves our appreciation for the courage to apologise, it is hoped that others would take a hint from him and rid the polity of incendiary statements and misguided utterances that unnecessarily increase our national blood pressure.

On courts without justice, there is a proliferation of courts all over the world but justice is elusive and judges are not always just. The Black community in the U.S. is still incensed by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered Trayvon Martin in February 2012 at a sidewalk in Sanford, Florida. A minority of the all-female jury, one Maddy of Puerto Rican descent, was reported to have said, “George Zimmerman got away with murder. But you can’t get away from God.” Like her, we all know justice lies with God, not necessarily with the courts.

Similarly, earlier in the year, virtually all Nigerians were outraged by the award of just N750,000.00 fine against the person who pleaded guilty to stealing a sum of N23.1 billion, John Yakubu Yusuf. The public outcry against the judgement made the National Judicial Council to suspend Justice Abubakar Talba from office for a period of one year without pay for failing “to exercise his discretion judicially and judiciously”. What flabbergasted Nigerians actually most about the perceived miscarriage of justice was that a poor man would have received a severe punishment.

One possible explanation for why Courts do not dispense justice, uttered in hushed tones, came to the front burner from The Gambia earlier in the week damaging our already unenviable international reputation. A senior Nigerian Judge, Mr. Joseph Wowo, serving as the acting Chief Justice of The Gambia was sacked for soliciting 2.5 million Dalasi (N12.3 million) bribe from a Gambia-based businessman for a favourable judgement in a disputed land case where “Oga” Wowo agreed that the Dutch rightly lost.

According to the online media that broke the news, the judge, a former President of The Gambian Court of Appeal, was caught on tape holding a secret meeting with the former Gambian Minister of Justice, Lamin Jobarteh, a Dutch national, Andre Klaarbergen and his Nigerian lawyer negotiating the price of subverting justice. Mr. Klaarbergen offered to pay 500,000 Dalasi (N2.5 million) ultimately.

“How much are you willing to offer so that we can negotiate?” the unjust Judge began. “I’ve read your file at the Court of Appeal, (and) that is why I said you don’t have any case at the Court of Appeal. You will lose at the Court of Appeal because the way they deal with the case at the Court of Appeal, the lawyer messed it up. That is why I called your lawyer and said let us see how we can help you”, he added further.

The clip of the shame on YouTube begins with a banner insult thrown at our face: “This is hilarious and sad. These Nigerians have put the legal system on its head. Both sides have their Nigerian lawyers present at the meeting which is held at the residence of the Minister of Justice.” Our path to progress will begin from ridding our democracy of all indecorum and sanitising our courts to dispense justice without fear or favour.


Dr Adedimeji is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ilorin, Ilorin.