Misunderstanding Wike’s Visit To CJN
THE hysterical reaction in some quarters to the visit by Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is a well-known perception management technique that seeks to, through deliberate misrepresentation and misinterpretation, cast aspersion on the integrity of a targeted individual. It is hardly surprising that the usual suspects in character assassination are in the forefront of those who have sought to discredit Gov. Wike, and in the process scoop political capital out of their reaction to a harmless undertaking by the Rivers State Governor.
Yet, something else is more edifying, if not gratifying. Other informed commentators have advisedly refrained from joining the fray. Their hesitation, as well as caution, is to be applauded. Gov. Wike paid an unscheduled visit to the office of the CJN at the Supreme Court, Abuja, on July 6, 2015. The CJN was unavailable, as he was away on hajj. Wike returned on July 8, 2015, and the CJN was again unavailable, as he was attending the screening of nominees for consideration as Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). It is reasonable to infer that Gov. Wike came a second time, apparently because staff in the CJN’s office might have informed him that, by the date of the second visit, the CJN would be at his desk. Why did Wike visit? He had gone there primarily to discuss with the CJN the imminent lapse of the acting appointment of the Chief Judge of Rivers State, an event that would occur at a time when the judiciary, and members of the National Judicial Council, headed by the CJN, would be on annual vacation. Wike was seeking to renew the acting appointment.
Over this, all hell broke loose in partisan quarters, because Wike is a respondent in a petition filed against his election in April, this year. Although those who have expressed reservations over the visit may have other objectives, let us, however, assume that they were motivated by a desire to ensure that the CJN is not perceived as being susceptible to political manipulation and inducement in the dispensation of justice. Regrettably, that is where they got it all wrong.
By insinuating, or implying, that the CJN could be swayed to upend justice following a visit or two by a politically exposed individual is to insult the person and office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. To further imply that Gov. Wike, whose victory in the April 2015 governorship election is being challenged at an Election Petition Tribunal, may have gone, or presumed to have gone, to obstruct justice, or manipulate the outcome of the petition in his favour, those who have frowned at the visit for that purpose have cast aspersion on the integrity of the CJN, as well as on the members of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal. For, they are implying that the CJN and the Tribunal members are malleable and bribeable. This is sufficient cause to demand an unreserved front-page apology to the CJN, the Tribunal members, and the Bench in general.
The election petition is not directly before the CJN; but some commentators are mischievously suggesting that the learned CJN could be manipulated to issue directives to Tribunal members, in order to meet the purpose of the bribe. Of course, that misses the point. Such commentators do not have legal knowledge to understand how election tribunals operate. Yet, we must not lose sight of the fact that the writers argue that the election petition may ultimately end up at the Supreme Court, and that the CJN might be perceived as tainted. Again, that also aggravates the slur on the person and office of the CJN.
Clearly, the commentators failed to educate themselves on what went on in the past. Until he won this year’s presidential election, President Muhammadu Buhari had contested the election three times, beginning in 2003. After he was defeated in each of those polls, he went to court to petition the loss. All his cases ended up in the Supreme Court, which is headed by the CJN. Pray, the Presidents in those years (Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan) held public and private meetings with the incumbent CJN over those years. And there is no record that any jaundiced commentator wrote about the potential of the President influencing the CJN with respect to an election petition in which the President was a respondent.
It is common practice for legal practitioners and judges to hold meetings in judges’ chambers—-before they come into the open court. Nobody ever imputes in those circumstances that justice is being wangled. A case is decided on its merit. To imply that a visitor to the CJN could work on him to rig the outcome of a petition not directly before him, or even if it were before him, is, as stated earlier, the ultimate insult on the Bench.
If Gov. Wike had gone to visit the CJN at his official residence, and if it was in the wee hours, and if he was turned back when he came calling, there might be reasonable ground to ponder the rationale for such nocturnal visits. Wike did not also try to telephone the CJN, because everyone recalls the example of Justice Salami. On the contrary, Gov. Wike went to the CJN’s office in broad-day light. He did not pretend to sneak in; he walked and was seen visibly. Mercifully, there was no report that Wike was accompanied by aides hauling fully-loaded Ghana-must-go bags, with what that invariably suggests. Wike did not fly in from Port Harcourt solely to see the CJN. He had other engagements in Abuja, and he deemed it fit to stop by at the CJN’s office to raise the matter of getting approval to extend the tenure of the Acting Chief Judge of Rivers.
The point has not been canvassed that all visitors, repeat: all visitors, to the CJN’s office must have prior appointments. The CJN handles administrative and judicial matters. Wike visited in respect of one of the CJN’s administrative responsibilities, that is, as chair of the National Judicial Council. And this was not a visit connected with disciplinary measures against a judge. Make no mistake about it. If the CJN was at his desk when Wike came calling, chances are that he would have granted the Governor audience.
• Odessa Writes From Port Harcourt