Sowore and Odunjo’s tortoise folklore
What makes the difference between a civilised society and a primitive one is the rule of law as opposed to the rule of man. Because of the imperfections of man, in the days of yore it was thought that we may not be able to rule out prejudices from his appreciation of events, from his judgment on the actions of his fellow men. The renowned thinker and philosopher, Aristotle wrote centuries ago: “It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens.” For this reason civilised societies surrender themselves to the rule of law which demands that everyone is subject to law, be he governor, president, the lawmaker or the law enforcement agencies. Rule of law dates back to Magna Carta in 1215, but took a firm root through the instrumentality of 1689. A Scottish theologian, Samuel Rutherford, it is said, was the first person to use the term the rule of law, employing it in his fight against the divine right of kings.
To drive the rule of law, separate institutions are set up as independent and disinterested arbiters. They are the courts, most times also referred to as temples of justice. These are very high concepts depicting the sacredness of justice and the dome in which justice is dispensed representing a temple. In modern times, justice administration has been refined. At no time, however, is its sanctity touched or dragged down to such a level that it is assailed by doubts. It is not infrequent, therefore, that when there is a semblance of a miscarriage of justice, Nigerians say in disgust that the country is finished!
A temple is a sanctuary in which all that is pure, noble and just, is to be found. It is the rampart of defence for the mighty, the powerful and the common man. It is thus said of it that it is the last hope of the common man. It is a bulwark of defence for the powerful because, as the wise is wont to say, the race is not always for the swift, nor is the battle always for the strong. There are days the rich also cries. He is in dire need of rescue. Such is the sanctity that is invested in officers who administer justice that they are addressed as ‘Your Worship’ for the one in the magistrate’s court and ‘My Lord’ for the justices in the high court and the appellate courts. They are so addressed because they alone among the citizens have the power of life and death over their fellow human beings. Any death meted out by any citizen to his fellow men or by government which is itself regarded as a juristic person, without the sanction of the court, is regarded as extra-judicial killing with serious consequences. The driving component of the rule of law, as its engine without which it is hollow, is due process.
The uproar that attended the Omoyele Sowore affair is not about the crime he is said to have committed; it is not about whether he is guilty or innocent, but the violation of his person and the flagrant assault on his dignity. Charges have been drawn up against Sowore, principal among which is that his call for RevolutionNow amounted to a coup; he was out to violently overthrow the Federal Government. The secret service is the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge in its own matter. There is absolutely no regard for due process to establish Sowore’s guilt or otherwise. There were no qualms, that check that admonishes you that you are on revered grounds and must behave. It was reported that because of the commotion about to build up in the courtroom, the judge rose abruptly for the day so she would not witness the desecration of her hallowed chambers. Other cases she would have taken could not be heard. The video that was circulated about the moment of national shame showed struggle with Sowore inside the courtroom. The secret service, DSS, says it was a stage-managed scene by Sowore’s supporters who had thronged the court.
The presence of Sowore and DSS in court on Friday was for the DSS to report that it had complied with the court order to release him. The DSS had defied orders of the court to release Sowore who had been granted bail on very stringent terms; he is confined to Abuja, he cannot call a press conference and his international passport was asked to be deposited to the court. Meanwhile, Sowore had been in custody for more than 100 days. If there were fresh facts to warrant additional charges, he could have simply been invited down to help the DSS investigations. It cannot also be out of place for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) prosecuting, to inform the court that the state had additional charges and he would like to amend those already filed against Sowore. But the DSS would rather insult the intelligence of Nigerians. It is good that the organisation sent a delegation to apologise to the court on the handling of matters on Friday.
The greater insult, however, was to come from the Presidency that the travail of Sowore was solely a DSS affair, although they were not surprised he is of interest to the DSS. The statement only goes to show that the DSS read the body language of the President correctly. President Buhari is a believer in maximum government. His irritation for the rule of law is well known. He told a conference of Nigeria Bar Association last year that national security should not be subordinated to the rule of law; it must take precedence. In his first coming in 1983 on the eve of the New Year 1984, he said to the editors of NewWatch magazine led by Dele Giwa two weeks into his ascension to the throne that he was going to tamper with the freedom of the Press. And he did, promulgating a decree criminalising publication of truth if it embarrassed a public official.
Today, Sambo Dasuki, National Security Adviser to Goodluck Jonathan is still in incarceration despite orders of five high courts, according to civil rights activist and Senior Advocate, Femi Falana. His apologists are at their posts, defending the indefensible, living in denial, instead of helping him to recognise the new times, that his administration cannot suppress freedom of the 21st century Nigerians. He did not succeed in cowing the Nigerian Press in his first incarnation. He cannot succeed in this era of a supposed liberal climate which the constitution bestows today, bad as the document itself is. It is reassuring from what I am reading that the Nigerian Press and civil society organisations are headed back to the trenches so they could be on guard.
What I am getting at is that no matter the alleged crime of Omoyele Sowore, it is not for the government or its agencies to pass prejudicial judgment on him. Due process must be followed for the law to take its course. The principle is higher than gloating over Sowore for demonising Jonathan and working tirelessly to see to the victory and emergence of Buhari he called a messiah as President. The court should be allowed to do its work without intimidation.
I was sent a post during the week recalling a story by J. F. Odunjo. Anyone of my generation in the South West would remember the inspirational and moral-laden poems by J.F. Odunjo in his many books. Here is one story by him captioned “The Tale” which also reminds one of the place of tortoise in the folklore of the people of South West: A long time ago in the Animal Kingdom, a sheep was passing and it saw a lion trapped and crying inside a cage. It begged the sheep to save him with a promise not to harm the sheep, kill it and eat it. The sheep refused knowing the character of a typical lion. After much persuasion and in the sheep’s gullibility the sheep opened the gate for the lion.
The lion was however very hungry, having stayed in the cage without food for days. It went back on its promise and quickly grabbed the sheep ready to devour it. The sheep reminded it of its promise. They were there arguing when other animals came passing. These sought to know what the matter was. Both the lion and the sheep narrated their stories. Because of the fear of the lion and in order to curry its favour, all animals took sides with the lion, except the tortoise who feigned not understanding the whole scenario.
The tortoise asked the lion to show them where he was before the sheep rescued it. The lion pointed at the cage. The tortoise asked again: “were you inside or outside when the sheep arrived”? The lion said it was inside. The tortoise then said, “O.K. Enter and let’s see how difficult it could be inside.” The lion entered and the tortoise bolted the door, locking the lion back in the cage.
In amazement, the other animals asked the tortoise “why did you do that?” He replied saying, “If we allow him to eat the sheep today, he will still go hungry tomorrow and we don’t know the next amongst us it would eat tomorrow.”
The moral of the tale which has a general application, according to the sender is: “Do not support evil today because it doesn’t affect you directly, tomorrow it could be your turn.” Does anybody need say more, especially in this era of crass opportunism?