A judge who fights in public cannot earn any respect, writes Sonnie Ekwowusi
Last week the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Danladi Umar was found fighting in public. Umar threw decency to the wind and engaged a security guard in an open street brawl at the Banex Plaza, Wuse, Abuja, to the astonishment of the bemused onlookers who could be heard admonishing Umar, “Go away, go away, oga go inside your car, respect yourself, You are not the most powerful person here, they will beat you here”. The video which captured the fight is still making the rounds. Umar fought the security guard. He gave the young man a heavy blow in the face which sent him reeling on the ground. After the young man regained consciousness and got up from the ground, Umar still sprang to his feet, ran to his car, brought out a lethal object and stretched his hand to smash it on the head of the security guard but was prevented from doing so by his two police escorts, driver and some good Samaritans who swiftly used their hands to block him from probably committing murder. I gather that the security guard has been hospitalised.
At the time of scribbling this piece there were insinuations on social media to the effect that the security guard was the aggressor and assaulter of Umar. But Umar’s misdemeanor is that he fought in public regardless of whether he was the aggressor or not. He cannot deny that. The video clip making the rounds is not lying. It is the evidence nailing Umar. Assuming the security was the aggressor, Umar should not have fought him in public. The legal profession is a conservative profession that extols decency, public decorum, social comportment as the hallmark of excellence and success in the profession. By their special vocation as an unbiased empire in the dispensation of justice, judges ought to be the most disciplined officers in the temple of justice. Like Caesar’s wife, judges should not only live and behave above board but manifestly seen to live and behave above board. Judges are honoured and revered because of their impeccable character. This is why judges refrain from joining issues with their critics in the media and public space. This is why judges do not attend any public events or make unguarded public utterances. For example, Master of Rolls, Rt. Hon. A. T. Denning was distinguished by both his exceptional lucidity of thought and character. If Umar can fight in public what advice is he giving to his children or grandchildren? Or, what impressions will Umar’s children or grand-children have watching their father or grandfather fighting in public?
No matter the provocation, a judge of a court of law or chair of a Tribunal must not descend to the low level of fighting in public. Therefore Umar’s disgraceful behavior last week stands unequivocally condemned. Not only is it ethically, professionally and judiciously despicable, Umar’s behavior has brought the Bar and Bench into public ridicule, odium and opprobrium. The security guard was simply exercising his lawful duty at the Banex Plaza. Umar’s car had pulled up and was wrongly parked. The security man on duty indicated to the driver of the car that the car was wrongly parked. That was all. And the only way Umar felt he could show to the guard that he (Umar) was a big man or a big judge was to alight from his car and started fighting the guard. As if the fight was not shameful enough, Umar through his personal assistant subsequently issued a statement casting aspersions on the security guard and other boys who rallied to his help during the fight. He also contemptuously labeled the boys as “Biafran boys”. Shocked by the ethnic profiling, a visibly-angry co-convener of Bring Back Our Girls movement Aisha Yesufu has, in her video, demanded for the immediate dismissal of Umar as CCT Chair.
It beats the imagination that a chair of the CCT should throw decency and decorum over board in order to engage a small boy as young as his son in a physical combat in the street contrary to the Code of Conduct of Judicial officers and the Judicial Oath which Umar not only swore to uphold but made other judges to uphold as well. Why the ethnic profiling? Why was Umar fanning the ember of secession at a time the federal government is preaching against secession? As I earlier said, assuming the security guard was at fault, Umar should not have turned himself into an area boy and start fighting him in public for that matter. The function of the judiciary as a dispenser of justice or as sustainer of good governance is endangered when a chair of the CCT who ought to be an unbiased mortal in the causes of the citizenry, throws decency overboard and engages in open street brawl. Umar shot into public limelight in 2019 owing to his poor performance as the CCT chair. His poor performance, in my respectful view, stems from his character deficit – his incestuous narcissism, sheer arrogance, and pride. For instance, after initially announcing in open court during the trial of former Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen that he would not grant an ex-parte order, Umar secretly went behind Onnoghen’s lawyers and concocted a black-market ex-parte order which President Buhari relied on in illegally removing Onnoghen. Also contrary to law, Umar threatened to jail journalists reporting the CCT proceedings. He actually boasted in an open court that the journalists will languish in prison and may remain there until he (Umar) retires from service after about 28 years.
Now, the same Umar was caught last week fighting in public. Umar’s disgraceful behavior brings to mind the lingering debate about the protection of the integrity of the judiciary vis-à-vis appointing unworthy persons to the Bench. The late eminent Justice Akinola Aguda was a tireless advocate of appointing worthy persons to the Bench. He believed that a single error in appointing unworthy persons to the bench could ruin the whole administration of justice. I remember a paper he presented at the Lagos Island Club in January 1990. The title of that paper was: In Danger of Fiend and the Ghoul. In the aforesaid paper, he gave five reasons why the judiciary wobbles. Among the five reasons was the appointment of unworthy people as judicial officers. Justice Aguda was right. In most countries, only the best and the brightest are appointed judges. Not so in Nigeria. In Nigeria what counts most in the appointment of judges is prebendalism. This is why we were not surprised that a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who did not know the meaning of the notion “technicality in law” during the Senate screening/clearing exercise was still elevated notwithstanding his palpable misfit.
Therefore the National Judicial Council (NJC) henceforth should ensure that only men and women of character are appointed judges in Nigeria. We need judges adored with the breastplate of decorum and discipline. We need judges whose public utterances are salted with the virtues of temperance and mortification. In this regard, the NJC should wield the big stick and suspend or dismiss Umar for fighting in public. On March 15 2010 Hon. Justice Idris Habib Shall of the Bauchi State High Court was suspended by the NJC for fighting in public. Our judges should be people whose public conduct, public behaviour and public utterance are incapable of eroding the confidence of the public in the judiciary. The era of Justices Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Andrews Obaseki, Augustine Nnamani, Anthony Aniagolu, George Adesola Oguntade, Muhammad Lawal Uwais, Niki Tobi at the Supreme Court is termed the golden era of the Supreme Court. Why? Because the aforesaid justices were men of intellectual versatility and impeccable character. Respect is reciprocal. Honour is reciprocal as well. A chair of the CCT who fights in public cannot earn any respect.
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