For all the criticisms of the law, justice and equity remain its redeeming features even though the courts of law are ever too slow to serve justice to litigants who battle for either reparation or absolution, particularly in justice systems like ours, weakened by the improprieties of power, by merchants who hawk influence inside the Temple of Justice.
The law like Lady Justice is blind.
They can only be blind when upright judges dispense justice, compel those who seek restitution to appear before them with clean hands, unblemished hearts and consciences. Of a truth, justice is never blind, courts of law aren’t always courts of equity, and judges aren’t always upright. Ask the poor, hurled before courts, who never get justice because the law and the judge price justice out of their reach. Ask street hawkers who hawk their wares on the shoulder of the road. The law or the court doesn’t protect them, so they are always condemned to prison by unjust environmental laws and by unjust judges who think they blight the aesthetics of the city.
Then, too, ask yesterday’s men of power who have fallen on the wrong side of power. They can’t make a choice between reparation and absolution when power is vehement on banging them up without due process.
Ordinarily, due process offers procedural protection to the high and mighty who ride on the ass called law the same way it offers poor folks dispossessed by power.
Here, where one’s closeness to power counts for little, bank balances matter less, the law reckons less with those who gracefully swag their agbada over the accused box or who dream of sassing Lady Justice.
In short, due process offers same right, same opportunity, same ambience of courtroom trial to all, as the law seeks to separate guilt from not guilty, innocence from culpability, finds the punishment for every crime, and the judge weighs the evidence on the invisible scale of justice. Here, justice and equity are the victors.
There are those who weigh their emotions against the more important aspects of the law – justice, equity and mercy- in our streets. The end result of their emotions can be anything from the damnation of the law, pronounce of judgment upon those who like the four young boys of Aluu are found guilty before they are tried, to the outrage that we might end up as victims of mob justice someday soon.
Still, there are also those who seek vengeance rather than justice, and there are those who dismiss due process and throw justice beneath the wheels of the DANFO BUS, not minding the violence on reason and logic.
Shakespeare understood the illogic of this violence, so he depicted the dangers of mob justice- the killing of justice by avengers, the instinctive appeal of vengeance and murderous actions which appeal more to the depraved mind- and the stirred blood of men and women. In his play, Julius Caesar, Cinna the poet, having been mistaken for Cinna the conspirator, was murdered by plebeians who hung the albatross of the name Cinna around his neck.
Hear them: “Your name, sir, truly”, the third plebeian asked. “Truly, my name is Cinna”, the poet answered. “Tear him to pieces. He’s a conspirator. Tear him for his bad verses! Tear him for his bad verses!”, the first and fourth plebeians snarled. They tore into the poet and dragged him away to his unfortunate death while protesting, “I am not Cinna the conspirator”.
As the curtain fell upon that classical Shakespearean scene, the fourth plebeian was heard saying, “It is no matter his name is Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart and turn him going”.
The murderers didn’t avail the poet the protection of the Roman law. The adjudication of the Roman magistrate was of scant importance to them. The Tribunus plebis- the tribune of the plebeians- had no say in the mob justice of the streets of Rome.
This odious sidestepping of due process found its painful resonance in ALUU a few years ago. Remember Chidiaka Biringa, Lloyd Toku, Tekena Elkanah and Ugonna Obuzor, students of the University of Port-Harcourt who were murdered for an offence they didn’t commit.
The culture of mob justice highlights the utter depravity of mankind.
Democracy does not connote mob rule, nor does it connect democracy to the rule of the fist. Democracy connotes the supremacy of the law- the rule that allows the law to promote its primacy over and above human affairs, to enact the observance of its commands and prescient rites- when power threatens all.
In a democracy, the rule of law protects poor and wealthy citizens against arbitrariness, compels the accountability of persons and institutions. Here, every individual, no matter how powerful, submits to the law. No individual- politician, judge, lawyer, mason- is above the law, no individual can pick or choose the law to respect and to obey.
The culture of lawfulness in a democracy which compels every individual to act in accordance with the law proposes the idea that the end state of democracy is that in which freedoms flourish, rights are respected, access to justice is guaranteed, procedural fairness is ensured, justice and equity are the certainties of the procedural due process. Though the rights of citizens and the interests of the state often clash in a democracy, my view is that while the rule of law cannot be hurled as a refuge for fugitives of justice, the rule of unlaw- the abuse of due process and the derogation of procedural rights- doesn’t provide much protection for the state as it exposes it to charges of arbitrariness and irrationality.
The rule of unlaw activists insist on the derogation of procedural due process to place a handle on the fight against corruption. They are wrong.
There are fundamental freedoms – freedom against arbitrary arrest, right to know criminal charges, to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, right to bail, to speedy and fair trial – that cannot be taken away by the state. It is these procedural rights and freedoms that make constitutional democracy possible.
The rule of unlaw activists who inveigle power to suspend procedural due process overlook the more important attributes of the law- sanction, punishment and mercy- and invite us to accept the stupidity of the MOBILE VULGUS- the justice of the fickle mob, ochlocracy- the graveyard of rights and freedoms.
But if the rule of unlaw activists rightly prove one thing, it is that men and women are won over by little lies, demagoguery and rhetorics.
Procedural due process is what guarantees fairness, protects the right to legal representation and bail, and secures the burdens of proof. When procedural due process is scrupulously adhered to, for example, accused persons would always feel that they were treated fairly.
The right to procedural due process is a fundamental right.
When the rule of unlaw activists allege that accused persons scream due process because they want to conduct their criminal defences from the comfort of their homes rather than from the dingy cells of the prison, they seek to surrender the procedural rights of accused persons to political expediency, condemn them to the fickleness of the mob, scorch the age-long gains of the halcyon days of civil rights struggle, and take us down the wrong road of history.
Accused persons are entitled to the protection of their rights.
Does it matter that they seek protection merely for the sake of lounging in their homes, sipping fine wines from the best wineries of the world?
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty”, screams the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). The presumption of innocence means that accused persons don’t have to prove they are innocent. Instead, it is the duty of the prosecution to prove their guilt.
While they wait on the prosecution, they have their lives to live in ways prescribed or circumscribed by the law. No more, no less.
What presumption of innocence, according to the Rule is of unlaw activists, is what must stand against accused persons who should not presume their innocence but should rather prove they are not guilty. The discriminating argument for derogating procedural rights, canvassed on the basis that accused persons are untrustworthy to be allowed to enjoy their pre-trial freedoms, is nonsense to me.
The rule of unlaw activists conveniently forget two things here. First, depriving accused persons of their rights can only be justified within the ambit of the constitution and criminal procedure. Not outside. Second, the weak state of our administration of justice system cannot be strengthened by the rule of the fist.
The rule of unlaw activists are intent on a poor vision of justice, purchased with thirty pieces of silver betrayed with a kiss, intent on herding us into THE ROAD TO ALUU – that place that is at once symbolic of death- we must resist the urge to embark on the journey with them, we must winnow out that evil taking hold of their minds, we must remind them that tyranny and oppression have no place in a democracy.