WHY WAS THE OLDEST TEMPLE OF JUSTICE IN NIGERIA MADE TO TREMBLE IN FLAMES?

One of the tragic outcomes of the #EndSARS protest and its poor handling by the Government was the disastrous breakdown of law and order – looting, robbery and arson. The matchstick was struck at that dreadful night – the Black Tuesday Night (20/10/2020) – when Angels of Doom in Nigerian Army war gowns, resurrected from hell, and released raw fire at peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate.

As all hell was let loose, the dare-devil inhabitants of the earth went on rampage around Lagos. The pattern of destruction of properties left some significant marks. For instance, the home of the mother of the Governor of Lagos (Babajide Sanwo-Olu) was reportedly burnt. This appeared to have been a loud message of dissatisfaction with the Governor regarding his on the spot comment concerning the Lekki Toll Gate attack. The Governor was quick to say in the early hours of Wednesday (21/10/2020) that no life was lost, contrary to the position held by the public. The Asiwaju of Lagos (Bola Ahmed Tinubu – Former Governor of Lagos – AKA, Jagaban) was also at the receiving end as some companies believed to belong to him came under attack – The Nation and TVC (media outfits). It is widely believed that the Asiwaju of Lagos owns the Lekki Toll Gate and must have masterminded the unleashing of terror on peaceful protesters. The Jagaban has however dismissed the claims as frivolous. He had also denied having any stakes in the Lekki Toll Gate business which he revealed is owned by the Lagos State Government. The irony is that many contend that Tinubu is Lagos and Lagos is Tinubu. Thus, any reference to the Lagos State Government is technically an indirect reference to him. Whether or not unfounded, it was clear that these assumptions led to the attacks directed at the Asiwaju of Lagos. 

The Oldest Temple of Justice

One of the significant marks made by the hoodlums was the looting of properties and the setting ablaze of the High Court of Lagos State, Lagos Division, Igbosere, Lagos Island (“the Court”). Reports have it that this division of the Lagos State High Court is the oldest Court in Nigeria. This is owing to Nigeria’s history and colonization – our colonial masters had their seat of power within the Court environs. 

The writer has quite a close emotional attachment to the Court because it was his most visited court, owing to its closeness to the Law Office where his law career began and has been sustained. 

Why the Court?

This question becomes more and more compelling given that there had been previous crisis and civil unrest in Lagos which never led to any serious attack or any attack for that matter, on the Court. But why now? One is left searching deeper for clues. 

For a second, we must not neglect the fact that there are many citizens of Nigeria and residents within the State that have burnt the courts in their hearts. This is due to the delay in the justice system and other anomalies associated with litigating cases and justice delivery. People are increasingly losing hope in the system. The courts are no longer seen as the last hope of the common man. Many suspects awaiting trial have had cause to serve their sentences in prisons even before being found guilty and properly sentenced by the court. In worst cases, after being held in prison for so long, some are eventually found innocent, and left to lick their wounds. 

Undoubtedly, the Lagos State Judiciary boasts of highly competent Judges with high sense of justice. The Judiciary in Lagos has initiated a number of reforms to address these issues, like the constant reviews of the Rules of Court and Practice Directions. One of the most outstanding achievements of the Lagos State Judiciary is the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) – a centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The centre has been instrumental to the resolution of many cases through mediation. The Lagos Settlement Week which is a free service has been an icing on the cake for long. Through this project, many litigants get to have their civil cases settled by highly trained mediators without charge. The LMDC is connected to the Court as well as other divisions of the High Court of Lagos State. The success of the LMDC has led to the opening of similar court-connected ADR centres in other States of the Federation. 

The writer has laboured to scratch the surfaces but may never come to terms with all the reasons the oldest Temple of Justice would be made to tremble in flames, leaving the Living Oracles of the Law and her Ministers to put on ashes in grief. Thankfully, the Chief Judge of the High Court of Lagos State in a recent interview confirmed that not all records were lost and that arrangements are underway for the courts to resume. 

Where did we all go wrong? Could it be that it was all about getting back at the Lagos State Government who is being fingered as an accomplice in the Lekki Toll Gate incident? Recently, even the Nigerian Army has owned up to having been hired by the Lagos State Government to restore peace but continues to deny ever recking permanent havoc on the protesters, some of whom have since been confirmed dead. This was coming at the heels of the recent admission by Governor Sanwo-Olu that the Nigerian Army was responsible for the attack. Nigerians are still patiently sitting at the dining table, waiting for the Government to keep dishing out the truth gradually, scoup by scoup, for our consumption until we are full and satisfied. While the people look up to justice, those brave Nigerian protesters whose lives were cut short must also be viewing from their graves to see the light of justice shine on their innocent and gentle souls.

Conclusion 

Whatever the reason, it is an abomination to desecrate the hallowed Temple of Justice in the manner just witnessed in Lagos and some other States like Delta. In some of the videos making the rounds, hoodlums were seen putting on Judge’s wig and gown, in an unprecedented ridicule of the authority and power of the Court. What these miscreants fail to understand is that the Judges are the Living Oracles of the Law with the power of life and death. From the reports, many of the people suspected to be behind the arson around the city of Lagos have been apprehended. It is going to be a long day under the claws of the law. Anyone found wanting will be thoroughly and deeply pierced by the swords of the law. But we must not forget, what will deter future occurrence is not arrest and prosecution. But good governance will go a long way in changing the lives of the people.  

 

Featured Image Credit: Premium Times



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

1 Comment

  • Grace

    Oh yes, “it is an abomination to desecrate the hallowed Temple of Justice.” But if the citizens or many have burnt the courts in their hearts,” should we bewail this abomination? What is competence? What is justice, if the common man on the street cannot see it? Where did we go wrong? It’s baffling that the youths in a particular area of Lagos protected the palace in that community, why? What stopped the communities around the Court from doing the same? I still find it difficult believing that the High Court in Lagos was burnt, it’s a sad development!

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