Oke: Judiciary, Madueke and a House summons

JUSTICE is as much about process as it is about outcome. If the process for the administration of justice is not duly followed, an injustice occurs regardless of the outcome. A responsible, proactive judiciary has a moral obligation to prevent such injustice that may result from the violation of due process, and protect its victims, besides carrying out its statutory function of accurate legal interpretation in such circumstances.

   The above, I think, is the cardinal lesson to be drawn from the judgement delivered on December 17, 2014, by an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Ahmed Mohammed. As reported in the media, the judgement “set aside” a summons by the House of Representatives to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The summons required the minister and the NNPC to appear before the House and respond to its allegation of their having spent the sum of N10 billion on the charter and maintenance of a private jet.

   For a House whose members recently put up the shameful public spectacle of scaling its high fence to forcibly gain access to its chambers under controversial circumstances, pulling jumping stunts that would make monkeys green with envy, the judgement by Justice Mohammed could not have been more timely and to their advantage. 

   If the House could see the bigger picture, it would realise that the judgement was in its favour rather than against it. It is a reasonable reminder that, as a law-making body and the second arm of government, it should never act in violation of the law. Also, that a renunciation of its relevance is implicated in its being responsible for making laws while engaging in acts that are tantamount to breaking the law. Besides, every such breach leaves a dent on the image of the House. And we should applaud every reminder that it is expected to show good example, by being law-abiding in the country for which it is mandated to make laws.

  The judgement is one such reminder. And the House should see it as a beneficial act, like becoming apprised of a character flaw whose elimination would lead to an improvement in one’s image. For, as stated in a story in Vanguard, “Justice Mohammed … voided the invitation by the House on the ground that the conditions precedent in line with Section 88 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, were breached by the lower chamber of the National Assembly in summoning the Minister.”

  And as a related story in Premium Times states:  “… Justice Ahmed Mohammed held that although the lawmakers had the power to summon the minister, they did not follow due process…. that the House of Representatives ought to have presented before the court a journal or gazette of the resolution of the meeting where it agreed to invite Ms. Diezani-Madueke. ‘None of the defendants produced the published resolution where it was said that the plaintiffs should be invited. The defendants ought to have brought before the court the resolution of its meeting wherein the plaintiffs were invited to appear before it. There is no evidence before the court that there was a resolution to invite the plaintiffs and by this act, it renders the summons invalid….’” 

  So we have a civilising judgement that virtually says to the House: “Do not jump the fence to seek entry into the hallowed chambers of justice. You must come through the only permissible entrance – the gate of due process – if the guardian of the law, the judiciary, must grant you access. It shall not condone your violating the same law you are mandated to make by ignoring your attempt at such a brazenly illegal entry.”

   Indeed, what civilised beings condemn as jungle justice is basically a semblance of justice that does not follow due process, as implicated in the matter of the House’s summons of Diezani Alison-Madueke and the NNPC. The outcome may vary – from the lynching of a suspect, to the conviction of an accused by a kangaroo court, to the indictment of a public official by an improperly constituted inquiry, etc. – but the principle of perpetrating injustice by evading due process remains the same. 

  And by condoning such evasion we expose society to the risk of anarchy, as more people would be inclined to emulate it in their quest for “justice.” And so, whatever we may think of Diezani Alison-Madueke and the NNPC, I think we should commend them for having challenged such evasion in this specific case, leading to a judicial pronouncement that should help in sanitising the conduct of public inquiries by our law-making bodies and other institutions.

  And there are well-known examples we can emulate from other systems, which followed due process even in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the culpability of an accused person, which justify the judgement delivered by Justice Mohammed. Suffice it to cite just one: When Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured over 600 on April 19, 1995, he did not contest his guilt before trial. Yet the American system, insistent on due process as it usually is, still put him on trial, granting him the right of fair hearing, before he was found guilty and punished under the law. 

  By contrast, there are hints of prejudice in the House’s framing of its charge against the minister and the NNPC, which undermines its integrity and that of the charge. For instance, as I noted in a previous article titled “Jonamisogyny in Tambuwal’s House,” in framing the charge, the House referred to the alleged charter of the aircraft as “arbitrary” and the supposed evidence against the minister as “reliable.” This suggests that the House has already decided on the culpability of the accused before giving them a chance to defend themselves. Can we guarantee justice for the accused despite such bias on the part of the House as the accuser and judge in the matter, even if we ignore its violation of due process in summoning the accused, which Justice Mohammed’s judgement impliedly condemned? 

  Yet we must plod on as a civilised people to that moral high ground where the efforts of our institutions to administer justice are not tainted by such violation of due process and prejudice, guided by the light of such judgement. Or we risk exposing ourselves to victimisation through such anomalies, though we may not see the possibility while the current victim is another individual or institution.

• Oke, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.



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