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In the last couple of weeks, I have been to several parts of the country. Everywhere I have gone, people have congratulated me on the recent multiple victories that Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) which I lead, has won in various courts in the country. Sadly, my experience is that many have lost hope that justice can be obtained in Nigeria. I hope that our victories will restore some hope in some of our people that all is not lost.
I am not a quarrelsome person and I do not go to court for the fun of it. I however believe that a nation without justice is not a nation worth its name. When we get a major court decision against a big bank, it is my hope that it sends a message that as big as they are, no bank is above the law. When we get a major court decision against big government law enforcement agencies, my hope is that it is understood that these agencies have been set up to protect us and not to hound and intimidate us. When we get a major decision against a radio station using the intellectual property of young Nigerians to make money for the owner without any compensation for the young artiste, that is part of the war against corruption. Copyright infringement to me, is corruption.
When I win a major defamation suit, I hope that it is understood that while I am a great believer in freedom of speech, freedom of speech is not the same thing as the freedom to maliciously spread falsehood against anyone and destroy his character.
I have written here before that in the building of the copyright system in Nigeria, I have carried placards many times and led very risky demonstrations many-many times. On several occasions, I could easily have been shot by an “unknown gunman”.
I have been to courts across the nation many-many times not over any private land dispute or any matrimonial cause. Indeed, I have been to court more times than many active litigation lawyers and witnessed against top corporations, governments and individuals, time and time again. I have done this because in building the nation of our dreams, we must have precedents that define the ‘do’s and ‘don’ts in our land.
I have gone many-many days without sleep, travelled lonely roads at dangerous hours, written opinion articles, delivered hundreds of lectures, organised myriad conferences, seminars and workshops, written a striking book on a subject dear to my heart because I believe that a significant contributor to the future of our nation will not be our oil and gas. It will also not be buried in the soil. It will be the product of the minds of talented and brilliant young Nigerians.
In the marathon search for justice, we avert wars. You may ask, how do wars begin? Wars begin when people have lost hope. First is the war of words which incubates the hate and mistrust and fires up the young, unemployed and restless. Just turn on your WhatsApp platform and try to follow the endless conspiracy theories and ‘discoveries’ of the plans of one tribe or group to annihilate your tribe, group or religion. How do you know what is true? How many of your young and restless have the maturity to pause and ask questions?
Then there is the frustration that comes with the feeling that there is no way that you can obtain justice. When the prevailing conclusion is that the levers of justice have been hijacked and that you have become a mere spectator in a game in which you should be a player, and the referee is a member of the opposing team and whatever you are given you must take without complaint and if you are not given anything at all, so be it.
That was the situation I was caught up in when some years ago, I began a one-man demonstration for several days in front of the Federal High Court in Lagos. I raised alarm because I saw the rule of law crumbling in Nigeria and the courts shackled.
For someone who verily believes that the difference between a civilized nation and a banana republic is the respect for the rule of law, I could not understand why a judge after hearing my case, would not be allowed to deliver judgment as he deemed fit.
The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), famously argued in his book LEVIATHAN that in the state of nature, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” For me, without justice, a nation is descending to Hobbes’ state of nature. The indescribable corruption, hopelessness, banditry, rabid kidnapping and killings that envelope our country are indices of that descent.
I have written in this column before that my ardent support for the Peter Obi movement is not because Peter or anyone else has given or promised me “shi-shi” or because Peter Obi comes from where he does. I am not an ethnic or tribal bigot. As I have travelled Nigeria, there is no doubt to me that Peter Obi’s support is wide-spread and indeed revolutionary. The reason is simple: Obi replaces the hopelessness of the young people of Nigeria with hope. His words and actions say that Nigeria’s slide into Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature can be halted.
Peter Obi and I share the same values. With Peter Obi, you do not find the unnecessary bigmanism that clouds the average Nigerian in a position of power. He is as simple as simple can be. That disposition makes the undiscerning to underestimate him. Peter Obi is a quiet warrior. He will fight tooth and nail, using the levers of the rule of law to establish justice. He has survived coups upon coups upon coups.
In 2003, Peter Obi contested the Anambra State governorship election as the candidate of APGA. His opponent, Chris Ngige of the PDP, was declared winner by INEC. It took almost three years of battle in the courts for Ngige’s purported victory to be over-turned by the Court of Appeal on March 15, 2006 and Obi to move into Government House, Awka.
After seven months of Obi taking office on March 17, 2006, he was impeached by the State House of Assembly on November 2, 2006. That was how his deputy, Virginia Etiaba, became the first ever female governor in Nigeria’s history. Obi once gain went to court and was re-instated as Anambra State Governor on February 9, 2007 by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu and Etiaba handed power back to him.
Governor Peter Obi was once again forced out of office on May 29, 2007 as a result of the governorship elections said to have been won by Andy Uba. Once again, Obi headed for the courts contending that his four-year term won in the 2003 elections only started to run when he took office in March 2006. The Supreme Court agreed with him and Governor Obi was returned to office for the third time on the wings of the rule of law, putting paid to Andy Uba’s ambition to be Governor of Anambra State. Of course, Governor Obi went on to easily win a second four-year term. Obi’s legal victories have become important precedents in the rules governing elections in Nigeria.
One of the many reasons for which I fervently support Peter Obi is that he has stamina. He understands that the pursuit of Justice is a marathon and not a dash and that a nation without justice, is no nation at all.
See you next week.