Misunderstanding Wike’s visit to CJN -By Ken Odessa

Filed under: Political Issues |

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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 Wike and, in the process scoop political capital out of their reaction to a harmless undertaking by the governor.

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 the governor came a second time, apparently because the staff of the CJN 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. The governor 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. 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 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 CJN. To further imply that Wike, whose victory in the April governorship election is being challenged at an election petition tribunal, may 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.

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 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, the governor 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.

There is nothing in Wike’s previous conduct that links him directly or remotely with the perversion of justice. Wike is a lawyer, and member of the Body of Benchers. Rather than lambast him, he deserves all the accolades for getting Rivers judiciary to work again. The governor went to the CJN’s office with a pure heart, and in the interest of Rivers judiciary. He had no mens rea. But those who have sought to impugn the integrity of the CJN owe him and his office an apology.

Odessa lives in Port Harcourt

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