Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A good judgment indeed

A Federal High Court in Lagos recently awarded N100 million as general and aggravated damages to a victim of military brutality. Chief Mike Igbokwe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) had been beaten up four years ago by two soldiers on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

The soldiers acted on the orders of a superior officer, who had been involved in a minor traffic incident with the senior lawyer.

Justice Tijani Abubakar, in awarding N100 million to the plantiff, described the action of the soldiers as “brazen recklessness” which must be condemned. He added that the conduct of the soldiers was “wild, barbaric and uncivilized,” and must not be allowed in any decent sociey.

The judge upbraided the Army authority for its indifference even after the incident was reported to the Chief of Army Staff. He ordered that the defendants offer public apology to the plaintiff, which must be published in two national newspapers.
We applaud the ruling by Justice Abubakar. It is a good judgement indeed. Apt, laudable, praiseworthy. It puts the military in its proper place in the society, particularly in a democratic setting.

Our judiciary, in recent times, has made courageous pronouncements which inspire confidence in Nigerians, and portray the institution as fair, just and dependable. When it is said that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, rulings like the one by Justice Abubakar reinforce and bolster such notions. We are quite delighted by it, as it is a good anchorage for our democracy, which recently turned 10, after years of prolonged military rule.

There is indeed a hangover of military dictatorship and the excesses that go with it in many parts of our national life. This is expectedly so, having been under the yoke of miliatry rule for a larger part of our history as a nation. The days of military rule were characterized by impunity, in which uniformed people, particularly soldiers, took liberty for licence.

Ten years after the end of that era, many of such people find it hard to adjust to the basic tenets of civility and proper conduct, which democracy demands. The ruling by Justice Abubakar is, therefore, a wake up call. It sends the right signal at the right time. This society wil no longer condone brutality and barbaric behaviour, which were some of the hallmarks of military dictatorship.

Under democracy, the military is subject to the laws that guide good societal conduct. They do not live in a world of their own, but should rather subordinate themselves to the etiquettes of society, and even play their constitutional roles in upholding and nurturing such. That is the stage in which we are as a nation, and we daresay such fact bears repeating over and over again, which the law court has now done.

We recall that a similar case is pending in court between Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade of the Nigerian Navy, and one Miss Uzoma Okere, who was beaten and brutalised in Lagos traffic by military aides of the naval chief. It is a salutary development that the military can be taken before civil courts, who will adjudicate in cases of perceived infractions.

We believe it is best for the army to obey the judgment of the High Court, and promptly too. It will show the institution as being law abiding, and ready to subject itself to the dictates of civil rule. It will be a demonstration of the acceptance by the military that brute force is no longer the norm, but rather an aberration.

In these days of national rebranding, it may perhaps be a worthy venture to extend the exercise to the military. Soldiers do not operate outside due process and rule of law, but are rather bound by it, just like any Nigerian. It is a fact they must internalize, and which should begin to exude from their very being, if they will be part of the new Nigerian nation that we so much desire.

The ruling by Justice Abubakar should not only be complied with by the military, we urge that the public should be apprised of the compliance. This will be a vital case study in military versus civilian relations, and signpost a nation where, truly, nobody is above the law.