By Farooq Kperogi
Most Nigerian newspapers on Friday reported Kayode Ariwoola, Chief Justice of Nigeria, to have said in Port Harcourt that he was “happy” that the governor of his state, Seyi Makinde, was part of “the men of integrity group”—as five breakaway PDP governors describe themselves.
The reports formed the basis of my latest column titled “An Openly Partisan Chief Justice of Nigeria.” But shortly after the publication of my column—and obviously in response to the profusion of comments that called out the CJN’s unabashed partisanship—the Supreme Court’s Director of Press and Information by the name of Festus Awaneri Akande issued a statement yesterday in which he denied the facticity of newspaper reporting that Ariwoola said he was happy his governor was a member of the men of integrity group.
“We wish to state unequivocally clear that the CJN, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, GCON had never at any point said such during his brief remarks at the State Banquet organised as part of the events lined up for the commissioning of the two Judiciary projects undertaken by the Rivers State government,” the statement said.
Well, TheCable, a digital-native newspaper, found and shared a video clip of the CJN’s comments in Port Harcourt that put the lie to this disavowal.
In case you’ve not able to watch the one-minute-27-second video, here’s a transcript of the video TheCable shared on Twitter:
“…I understand will continue to commission projects till his last day in office [tentative, lukewarm applause from the audience]. There are projects wide open all over the place. And that’s why we should not be scared to have these men of integrity group, and I’m happy that my home governor is one because, you know, he will, he will try to imitate his friend and in-law because if—for my governor, you know, so His Excellency Governor Wike will always threaten that he will call back his sister if my governor fails to play ball [tepid, nervous laughter from the audience].
“And that’s why if you see him following His Excellency [laughter from audience], my governor is afraid, you now, of his wife being recalled [audience laughter]. So, please, eh, I saw governor Wike almost mad with people. We have kept people waiting for too long. I shall not keep you waiting further. You are invited for dinner, and it’s almost getting late for dinner. Please enjoy your dinner, sumptuous one, and God bless you. We see tomorrow.”
So, contrary to the press statement he caused his press and information officer to issue, the CJN gave his stamp of symbolic approval to the name Governor Wike and his gubernatorial flunkeys gave themselves in their revolt against their party’s presidential candidate. He also said he was “happy” that his “home governor” was a member of the group.
What exactly is he denying? It’s beneath the dignity of the office of the Chief of Justice of Nigeria to lie so casually and so shamelessly about something as verifiable as what he said at a political event just a few days ago.
What the CJN did and said in Port Harcourt, as several senior lawyers have pointed out, violates Rule 1(5) of the Judicial Code of Conduct, which states that “a judge must avoid social relationships that are improper…. or that may cast doubt on the ability of a Judicial Officer to decide cases impartially.”
By traveling to Port Harcourt to commission Wike’s projects; by lavishing extravagantly syrupy praises on Wike as if he were a professional praise singer; by describing governors who’re revolting against their party’s presidential candidate and chairman as “these men of integrity group;” and by openly admitting that he was “happy” that his “home governor” was part of the group, the CJN has signaled that he has taken sides in PDP’s internal disputes and won’t be impartial to Atiku Abubakar and Iyiorcha Ayu whom his preferred politicians are up in arms against.
But this is not about Atiku and Ayu. It’s about the appearance of brazen judicial compromise during an election season in which the CJN will sit in judgment over the disputes of politicians.
If I were the CJN, I would apologize for my grave indiscretion and verbal diarrhea instead of lying to cover my blunder. That’s the path of honor.
▪︎ Kperogi, a US-based professor, is of Nigerian descent.