At times in Nigeria, when the wheels of justice turn in their usual ponderous and predictable manner, or when they move as if driven by whirlwinds, it is with a sigh that Nigerians receive their sound which should otherwise be soothing and even reassuring.
Yet, in a country where citizens have long lost faith in the ability of its judiciary to do justice, justice, whenever it is served, is at best received with the suspicion reserved for things that have lost every iota of credibility.
If justice is rooted in confidence, many Nigerians have lost confidence in the judiciary. And if this is a source of great concern to those who make laws, enforce them or sit in court to interprete them, what a fine job they are doing of masking their concerns!
For master kidnapper Hamisu Bala, also known as Wadume, the yawning cracks in the Nigerian justice system aided his great escape on July 22, 2022 when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja sentenced him to seven years in jail for escaping from lawful custody and dealing in prohibited arms. Wadume was prosecuted on a 13-count charge which included counts of terrorism and murder.
If those who would exonerate Nigeria`s criminal justice system would point at Wadume`s sentence to say that he did not escape punishment completely, they will also do well to remember that the seven years given him is akin to a slap on the wrist for the iniquitous crimes he was alleged to have committed. But maybe, he was not satisfactorily prosecuted for them.
Courts of law act on the evidence before them. Thus, before a court of law can convict a defendant of any crime, it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Thus, while it is not exactly clear that the Federal High Court acted contrary to the evidence before it, Wadume`s somewhat lenient sentencing raises eyebrows and asks poignant questions of Nigeria`s criminal justice system.
How can someone accused of kidnapping and killing of so many escape with so light a sentence? The least that should have been given to Wadume for his iniquitous crimes is life imprisonment. That this has not been done puts Nigeria`s desire to fight kidnapping which has become one of the thorniest contemporary issues under the spotlight.
For Agba Jalingo, a journalist and the publisher of an online newspaper Cross River Watch frequent visits to the police have become routine.
On Friday August 19,2022 he was arrested by the police in Lagos and whisked away to Abuja. The police later confirmed that his arrest was consequent upon a petition by one Elizbeth Alami Ayade an in-law to Ben Ayade, the current Cross River State Governor, who had accused Agba Jalingo of criminally defaming her. His arrest continues what has become frequent run-ins with the powers that be in the country.
He had been arrested in August 2019 for accusing the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, of diverting N500 million belonging to the state. He was charged with terrorism, treasonable felony and cyber crime and incarcerated for about 179 days. In March 2022, the charges against him were dismissed.
It is popular legal aphorism that justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. With the way things go in the trial of some of those accused of committing one crime or the other in Nigeria, it is fair to say that many Nigerians do not see that justice is done in many of those cases. And because they cannot see that, they do not believe that justice is done in many instances.