Military justice and its impact on democracy (2)
CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY
MILITARY Decrees, Tribunals and their Impact on Justice:
2:1:The Constitution Suspension and Modification Decree No 1 of 1966 (January 17th 1966). This Decree laid the first building bloc upon which subsequent Decrees derived their origins. It was promulgated two days after the military coup of 1966.
2: 2: State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 3, 1966 (February 8, 1966). This Decree placed the state above the rights of ordinary citizens and it simply meant that anyone considered an enemy of the state could be picked up at any time and kept or put way for an indefinite period of time.
2:3: Recovery of Public Property (Special Military Tribunals) Decree 3, 1984
The aim of this Decree was to empower the State recover stolen properties and monies especially from the corrupt members of the political class by setting up Tribunals. It is important to note that in response to this Decree, the late Gani Fawehinmi was the only one who broke ranks with the Nigerian Bar Association and agreed to appear at the Tribunals. It is also interesting that the focus was on politicians and not businessmen and women who may also have been corrupt.
2: 4: Federal Military Government (Supremacy & Enforcement of Powers) Decree 13, 1984
This Decree put the final stamp on the supremacy of the ruling council over any other source of justice by citizens. It simply meant that the octopussean hold of the military was guaranteed.
2: 5: Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Decree 2, 1987:
This Decree was made in the wake of the crisis in Zangon Kataf. It was also invoked during the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and it was simply a firm statement that closed all avenues of seeking redress from these Tribunals.
2:6: Concord, Punch, Newswatch, The Guardian and African Guardian (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation, Decree 7 and 8.
This law ensured the arrests, detentions and incarceration of journalists and the closure of Media houses. All that was required was for a journalist to annoy a sitting office holder. It did not matter whether what they wrote was correct.
2: 7: Nigerian Labour Congress (Dissolution of National Executive Council (Decree 9, 1994)
This Decree enabled the federal military government to arrest members of organised Labour or dissolve their organisations.
3: Law and Justice for a Democratic Society:
In my book, Witness to Justice (2011), I addressed substantial issues regarding the legacy of our military regimes and the consequences of their rule on the quality of our Democracy. For those who have not read the book or those who have, I recommend that you read chapters 2, 5, 6 and 12.
Chapter 2, titled, Do Not Forget to Remember, draws attention to need for eternal vigilance as the most viable tool for ensuring the protection of our collective freedoms and avoiding the return of tyranny. Chapter 5, titled, The Military on Trial, drew attention to the rut that had set into the military in the course of their involvement with politics and I argued that the integrity of the military had suffered as a result of its engagement with power.
The military had already by its conduct shown itself as incapable of redeeming the country. Chapter 6, titled, Military Decrees and Judicial Impunity, assembled a host of Decrees to illustrate how, through what I called the Tribunalisation of justice, the military had manipulated the judiciary and sowed the seeds for the culture of impunity through the collaboration of greedy judges. Finally, in chapter 12 titled, A Theological Economy of Reconciliation, I tried to wrestle with moral questions of justice and reconciliation. I asked: Can we have reconciliation if the thieves do not return the proceeds of their theft? Can a sinner gain repentance without restitution? I argued that indeed, the theft of state resources, looting as we have come to know it, was the first violation of human rights. Therefore, I noted, we need to come to terms with the theology of Justice captured in what we call, Commutative, Distributive, Retributive and Restitutive forms of justice.
I was quite pleased and felt a sense of vindication when the President resonated on the first day of this Conference, the ideas I had canvassed with greater intensity after my experience with Oputa Panel. The real challenge is to balance the urgency of a sense of speedy trials with the reality of the warning by the Road Safety Agency that some speed is good, but excessive speed kills.
As I conclude this brief intervention, let me return to the conclusion of the main paper by Professor Oyebode. In ending his paper, he concluded that there was need to: Remove the existing gap between Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and the Armed Forces Act to effect the harmonization of the criminal administration across the divide between the military and the rest.
To do this, I believe that the Nigerian Bar Association, working closely with the National Assembly should expeditiously embark on a deliberate policy of excavating and discarding all the iniquitous laws in our statute books. I do not think it is enough to merely convert Decrees into Acts. There is need to address the spirit of the time and the context in which those laws were made. Military Decrees were anti-people, anti-development, anti- progress and inhuman. We need to bend the arc of the Law to serve as a vehicle for national integration and cohesion.
There is need for robust public debate about the future of the rule of law. There is need for resurgence of more activist lawyers banging on the doors of the Supreme Court, hopefully inhabited by equally activist Supreme Court judges genuinely concerned about the future and the welfare of the common man or woman to ensure the emergence of a truly democratic nation. In that way, we should be able to extend the frontiers of freedom and justice for Nigerians. And, as the United Nations enjoins the world, we must understand that there is: No peace without Development, no Development without Justice and no Justice without human rights.
• Bishop KUKAH, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, delivered this as Remarks at the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, held at the International Conference Centre, ICC, Abuja,