Let Our Judges Run From Esu’s Gourd of Palm Wine

By Suyi Ayodele

OLODUMARE, the Almighty, sent Obatala down to Earth to create land from the water that filled everywhere. Obatala set to work, assisted by toad, hen, a calabash filled with sand and a pigeon. He successfully created land from the water and returned to the one who sent him. Satisfied by the beautiful work done by Obatala as confirmed by Alagemo (chameleon), Olodumare sent Obatala back to the earth to make human beings, who would fill the land he had earlier created. Obatala came back to do the assignment and he worked his heart out creating human beings in different shapes. His job was just to create the human figures while Olodumare would breathe the breath of life into the creatures. After exhausting himself, Obatala became thirsty. While in search of water to drink, the trickster deity, Esu, showed up with a gourd of palm wine and offered Obatala. Obatala took the first cup, and he found the content palatable. He asked for more and more until he got drunk. He went back to work in that tipsy state and began to make all sorts of human beings: some with bent noses, crooked legs, closed eyes and all forms of deformities.

Tired again, Obatala decided to sleep. But before he went back to sleep, he sent for Olodumare to breathe upon the creatures and Olodumare did. While sleeping, Esu took samples of the badly created humans to Olodumare. Olodumare was alarmed and had Obatala replaced. Thus, the deity of creation lost his prime position because he allowed the trickster, Esu, to tempt him with the alcoholic drink.

Two of the key ethical principles prescribed for justices are impartiality and incorruptibility. In order therefore to adhere strictly to those principles, justices are known to refrain from excessive socialising. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is the numero uno among justices in Nigeria. He occupies a very delicate position that stipulates that he must be above board. His sense of discipline should be next to that of Obatala, the deity responsible for creation. In fact, the CJN should have aspired to be at par with Obatala in discipline, self-restraint, decency and discretion. Any mistake from him can spell disaster for the nation. A simple mistake from Obatala is responsible for the existence of the physically challenged among us today.

Justice Ariwoola was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday, November 24, 2022, as a special guest of honour at the commissioning of two iconic projects: the Federal Judicial Service Commission’s South-South Liaison Office and the Justice Mary Peter-Odili Judicial Institute, both built by Governor Nyesom Wike. As the head of the judiciary in Nigeria, we need to quickly say here that it is never out of place for the CJN to have been invited to commission the two projects. Justice Arowoola, I must point out, is far more qualified than any other player in the nation’s judiciary to commission and dedicate those two iconic projects. He is like Obatala, the deity assigned to mould human beings.

But trouble started with the head of the Supreme Court, when he accepted the keg of palm wine offered him by the host governor, Wike, in the form of a state banquet, and did exactly what Obatala did after accepting the gourd of palm wine from Esu. State banquet, a euphemism for the street lingo, come and chop, is usually organised for a visiting dignitary to a state. There is no doubt that Justice Ariwoola’s presence in Port Harcourt, conferred on him the status of a “visiting dignitary”. The problem here is the issue of discretion. If I were him, I would have asked for the list of the invitees for the dinner. And don’t argue it: Justice Ariwoola, on whose honour the state banquet was organised, has the right to ask for those who would be in attendance. His protocol men would have gotten the advance list and discuss the propriety or otherwise of the CJN sitting in company with certain individuals, especially in this season of political madness all over the country.

And immediately the CJN discovered that the protesting PDP quintuplet-governors would be in attendance, I expected him to put on his armour of discretion and be at alert. It is not just bad that Justice Ariwoola would be found in company with the quintuplets of Governors Wike, Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Samuel Ortom (Benue) at this time, it is fatally bad that the CJN would openly approve their rebellion against their party, the PDP and describe them as “these men of the integrity group”. He then went ahead to single out Governor Makinde, saying he was happy “that my own governor is among them…”. This is nothing but careless talk from the number one judicial officer of the country. The explanation that the CJN was merely joking would not suffice here. The CJN’s ‘joke’ at that event is not only in bad taste, but too spurious and a complete afterthought. I perfectly understand Festus Akande, Director, Press and Information at the Supreme Court and his attempt to damage control the ill-advised outing of the CJN at the Port Harcourt banquet. Akande, can use all the explanations in the books to explain off the CJN’s comments at that event; one thing he cannot take away is the fact that Justice Ariwoola, had, by those utterances, put the integrity of the judiciary on the line. I wonder if Akande was physically present at the banquet and if he was, what kind of debriefing did he give his principal before he uttered those statements? The nation’s executives sure need refresher courses in public communication.

It is not just the propriety of the PDP and its terrible members that is at stake here. There are many cases in the various courts in the country concerning the 2023 general elections. With the number of contradictory judgements from courts of coordinate jurisdictions, one has no doubt that many of the litigations would end up at the Supreme Court where Ariwoola is the presiding authority. If for instance, the case instituted by some of Wike’s loyalists, challenging the candidature of Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential candidate comes before His Lordship, Justice Ariwoola, how would he convince us that the memory of Port Harcourt would not be a factor? Even if he assigns the matter to brother justices, with the level of suspicion in the land, who will believe his objectivity? I will not be surprised if in the near future, litigants before His Lordship, the CJN, ask him to rescue himself from their matters, citing the Port Harcourt outing!

Here again, we need to sound a note of warning that Justice Ariwooa’s enemies in and out of government should not seek to profit from his gaffe like they did Kemi Adeosun. The imbalance in the nation’s administrative structure is too tilted in favour of a particular section, the north, to the detriment of other parts of the country. Cashing in on the Port Harcourt state banquet to give Ariwoola, the indecent treatment melted out to Justice Walter Onnoghen would spell doom. Already, the PDP has called the CJN out, describing his utterances in Port Harcourt as a violation of his oath of office. Debo Ologunagba, PDP spokesman, said the CJN’s comment is worrisome because “such a partisan comment by the CJN is in violation of his oath of office as the head of the country’s judicial arm, which is expected to be impartial and non-partisan”. The party went further to say while Nigerians expected the CJN to use his office to sanction any partial judicial officer, “the fact that the CJN is the one reportedly violating this critical ethic of neutrality, fairness and respect for the oath of office for judicial officers raises serious concern in our polity. The question is how do Nigerians and especially the PDP trust that the CJN will be an even-handed arbiter in any case or matter relating to internal issues in our party or those connected to other political parties”?

Justice Ariwoola and Akande, his defender-in-chief are Yoruba. The two should be familiar with the saying, though esoteric, that: “Àró Ìká kìí jajá; Òdòfin Ìká kìí jàgbò; Ejèmú Ìká kìí jòbúko; Olórí Ìká ò gbodò jori ajá” – The Àró (head chief) of Ika does not eat dog meat, Òdòfin (second in rank) of Ika does not eat ram meat; Ejèmú (head of the diviners) of Ika does not eat he-goat and Olórí (Head) of Ika must not eat head of dog. These are warnings for those in positions of authority to know what to eat; and to a greater extent, where to eat. A chief justice of a nation, who openly hobnobs with politicians invites trouble for the Bench. When a CJN drinks the palm wine of a politician, he will produce justice akin to the deformed creatures of Obatala. Nothing stopped my Lord from jetting back to Abuja after commissioning the two projects given the caliber of people that were slated to be at the state banquet. The commissioning exercises took place in the daytime. State banquets are dinner events. The CJN is an ‘Elépo’ (merchant in palm oil). The politicians he stayed back to dine with in Port Harcourt are the typical ‘Oníyangí’ (seller of sharp sand). The two are not known in history to hobnob. Whenever an Elépo meets an oniyangi at what we call ‘ese kogbeji’ (narrow path that can take one person at a time), in my native place, Elépo is advised to give the right of way to the Oníyangí. Oníyangí has nothing to lose if in a clash with Elépo, the two spill the contents of the containers on their heads. Wike and his friends have already recorded it in their political voyage that the CJN appreciated their war of attrition against their party by describing them as “men of integrity”. It is the CJN that is battling with the vicious attacks from the political class and public commentators, who see, and rightly too, his lack of discretion in Port Harcourt as unbecoming of a CJN, who is expected to be completely impartial. Permit me therefore to impose on Justice Ariwoola, a simple exercise in traditional discretion. When next the CJN comes across the likes of Wike, he should be circumspect about the chemical content of the cup of palm wine he is offered. More importantly, he should shout loud and clear, the eternal warning cry of our elders, to wit: “Oníyangí má ba tèmi je epo ni mo rù” – Oníyangí do not ruin my ware, I am carrying palm oil. I know the CJN is a Muslim but in Yorubaland we say no religion will stop us from doing the oro of our fathers. So, I plead with Ariwoola to appease Esu Odara by using his mouth to whistle six times: three to the left and three to the right side. He can then go home and sleep, mouth shut. May Esu not take control of our mouths to ruin us.

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, November 29, 2022)

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