The Legal Adviser, International Secretariat of Amnesty International, London, Mr. Kolawole Olaniyan, has described as inappropriate the recent open criticism of Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Obasanjo had reportedly described the judge as “ignorant and stupid” for entering a judgment, directing all past civilian Presidents from 1999 to 2015 to account for the loot recovered from the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha.
The judge had made the pronouncement while delivering judgment in a Freedom of Information suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, demanding the disclosure or details of the recovery and spending of the Abacha loot.
The judge had issued an order of mandamus directing the Federal Government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, to compel the regime of Obasanjo; that of late former President Umaru Yar’ Adua; and that of former President Goodluck Jonathan to publish the details of the recovery and spending of the loot.
But Obasanjo, while reacting to the judgment, reportedly dismissed the judge, saying, “They said the money recovered from Abacha, I should account for it. What stupidity! The man who asked for it, the man who gave the judgment or who answered them are all stupid, with due respect.
“I don’t keep account; all Abacha loot was sent to the Central Bank of Nigeria and every bit of it was reported to the Minister of Finance… But again, it shows ignorance, total ignorance, which is lacking and you wonder, are these people educated?”
In a statement on Thursday, Olaniyan, however, said his criticism of the judge was not only an attack on the judiciary and the rule of law but also on the Freedom of Information Act.
The lawyer said it was not surprising that the former President would attack Justice Idris for giving a judgment upholding the provisions of the FoI Act since Obasanjo had “ignored wise counsel to sign the bill into law during his time in government.”
He explained that though judges were not infallible, they did not give judgments based on their “whims or fancies”, but based on the facts presented before them and on laws and established judicial principles or legal precedents.
He described as unfair Obasanjo’s attack on the judge, who could not defend himself against “inappropriate criticism.” He stated that “there’s nothing stupid in Justice Idris insisting on transparency and accountability from leaders, who once held a position of trust and control over the public treasury.”
Olaniyan added, “If judges have to decide cases on the basis of what politicians or someone else wanted the law or the result to be, the very principle of the independence of the judiciary would be forfeited.
“While it’s within Obasanjo’s right to disagree with the judgment or even criticise it, calling Justice Idris “stupid and ignorant” simply for doing his job amounts to inappropriate political criticism as it threatens the judge’s independence and integrity.”
While describing Justice Idris’ judgment as “a great victory for transparency and accountability in the country,” Olaniyan said President Muhammadu Buhari would only do well to instruct the AGF, Abubakar Malami, to ensure that the judgment was enforced to the letter.
“Nigerians do not demand infallibility from their leaders and institutions, but it’s difficult to accept the proposition that a judge granting Nigerians the right to know what their leaders and government are doing is “stupid and ignorant.”