November 19, 2023

The Chief Justice Has No Clothes - Ugoji Egbujo

In The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, two rogues go to a vain Emperor to say they can make him a wonderful dress that will be invisible to fools. The emperor, who believes he is as wise as Solomon, agrees. With the new clothes, he will sift the competent and clever from the chaff amongst his ministers and special advisers. The swindlers tell the self-absorbed Emperor that the dress will fit a special parade. He agrees. The emperor loves pomp and parades. Parades allow him to flaunt himself and bamboozle the public. The swindlers collect exquisite royal linen and threads and stash them away in their roofs or banks. In Nigeria, judges loot looters—politicians—and stash away. Mugu having paid, the crooks resume at their looms.
After a while, the curious emperor, pulsating with anticipation, sends his men to check up on the weavers. It must have become a national project of some sort, covered by a humungous supplementary budget. The Emperor’s men observe the swindlers weaving thin air at two separate looms. The king’s men look flabbergasted. The swindlers sneer at them, express delight at their work, and explain the intricacy of their stitches with heavy jargon. The emperor’s men, smiling, nod knowingly, hiding their disbelief, so they don’t become fools and lose their jobs. Outside, they address the press and praise the concerted effort of the weavers to honour the great emperor and their beloved country. Then they return to the State House to tell the emperor that the weavers are doing a splendid job.
Elated and bragging about his visionary prowess, the Emperor goes to see his new clothes for himself. A kind of project inspection with a musical band singing ‘As e dey pain them’. His ministers, having abandoned their jobs in solidarity with the father of their freedom, dance behind. Again the weavers are busy stitching air. But the bewildered Emperor isn’t a fool. So he smiles sheepishly. Sounds like Ajaokuta. No, Mambilla. The weavers use colourful words to invite him to behold the beauty of his new garment. The emperor banishes all doubts and sings the praises of the weavers and their artistry, promising that the dress will resuscitate the tourism industry. The patriotic weavers are bestowed national honours. The dress is ready. On the day appointed, the Emperor submits himself to be dressed by the sartorial geniuses. They meticulously drape the naked emperor with their deception, and the emperor heads out into the street, his family jewels dancing before him. Outside, the naked emperor is cheered enthusiastically by his aides. He waves. The atmosphere is electric. His media aides go around describing the robes as the best in the world.
The public lines up like a crowd rented by a Nigerian politician and submits to the delusion. Nobody wants to be a disgruntled social critic labouring in vain. They hype the emperor with raised fists. A child sees the emperor, runs to him, and remarks that the emperor is naked. Uncorrupted innocence of childhood. Or the fearlessness of youth. Adults pause to consider what the child has said. They appear startled. The emperor hears it, smiles and marches on. Probably gone too far to return to reality. Or he might have waved off the boy, deemed him a child of anger. After all only fools and unpatriotic citizens would want to heat up the polity. If the emperor had proper goons, the child might have been arrested for spreading fake news. All eyes are on the emperor. The emperor marches on more proudly than ever.
A couple of weeks ago retiring Justice Dattijo Muhammad described the Supreme Court he was leaving in his valedictory speech. The Chief Justice and other Supreme Court justices attended. Justice Dattijo Muhammad described the Supreme Court as rotten, stinking, and infective. Justice Muhammad said the Chief Justice was power drunk. He said the CJN was disdainful of the Constitution and unmindful of the fundamental illegitimacy of a skewed Supreme Court. He said the refusal to fill up the depleted Supreme Court which adjudicates constitutional disputes in the federation was deliberate. If it was deliberate then it can only be abominable. He said the office of the CJN got funds but neglected the welfare of the justices.
As far as euphemisms go, there might be no better way to level a charge of embezzlement against a lord than that. The speech has gone viral. The nation didn’t catch cold. The NJC said nothing. The honourable CJN didn’t flinch. He has marched on, shoulders high, to other things, without compunction. The Supreme Court has carried on as if Justice Muhammad was drunk. The problem is shamelessness. Judas sold his master and collected 30 shekels of silver. When he realized he had delivered an innocent man to wicked people, he returned the money. Judas returned the money and hung himself. Judas was a senior apostle. Apostle Mark said it was greed. Apostle John said it was Satan. Whatever it was, Judas convicted himself. He wasn’t altogether shameless. He restituted as much as he could. That might not have been enough considering the sacrilege he committed, but Judas didn’t try to wait out the guilt and let it blow over. Neither did he smother it with a blanket of silence.
The retired Justice confessed that the Supreme Court had lost moral bearings. It could have been a better place if it were filled with Judases rather than cold unperturbable folks. Justice Muhammad alluded to the cases of Lawan and Uzodimma. None of those cases involved a philosophical knot. The Supreme Court had the constitutional power to bend over backwards and do justice. But it just bungled them and baffled the public. Nothing in Dattijo Muhammad’s speech is new. The messenger makes the message compelling. But the Chief Justice, unperturbed, is marching on more proudly than ever. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad talked about justices who have become campaign vuvuzelas for politicians. He didn’t mention names. But not many might remember that at a certain event that was held in February this year, the Chief Justice was on TV eulogising a certain politician and advising the governor of his state to emulate the man. As he wallowed in the sacrilege, other justices, rather than cringe, cheered. The Supreme Court should use its tongue and count its teeth because the dog that comes to lick its sores wants them to heal.
Some have called Justice Muhammad a coward. They said he sat out 43 years on the bench and didn’t see the maggots till he was at the door. Others think Justice Muhammad is a chameleon. They say he was part of the filth but now wants to be part of the soap. Wounded fellow justices might think him a traitor. I hold no brief for the man. In Islam, repentance starts with remorse. In Christianity, repentance starts with remorse and proceeds with a confession. Dereliction of high duty, probable misapplication of funds, administrative ineptitude and deliberate sabotage of juridical values have been alleged by an insider. Learned men need not gather to quibble, split hairs, and revel in whataboutery. The tale, Emperors New Clothes, has thrived on a thousand adaptions to paint the vanity of leaders and highlight the passivity of the masses who can’t trust the evidence of their eyes. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad has broken omerta. The judiciary is rotten and must be reformed. Heads need to roll to appease god and man. A fish rots from the head. Shall we tell the Chief Justice?.
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