Port Harcourt — It was unusual the way Nigeria bid bye to its birth month of October. After the muted celebration of our 61st independence anniversary on October 1, some security operatives decided to remind us of the parlous state of our polity by conducting a spurious and ill-advised raid on the home of a Supreme Court justice on the 29th day of the same month. They couldn’t wait for November to mock our claims of mature nationhood! The raid on Justice Mary Odili’s home has ignited a chorus of condemnation and expression of righteous anger from as many individuals and organisations that can issue press statements, and an unusually strong reaction from the Supreme Court which described it as a “mission to maim or kill.” A chief superintendent of police, Lawrence Ajodo, was said to have obtained a magisterial search warrant following a tip-off from a whistleblower suggesting “criminal activities” were taking place in the Abuja residence of the second most senior justice in the highest court in the land.
Mrs. Odili is the wife of the former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, so everyone thought this was part of investigations into the two-term tenure of the medical doctor turned politician by the EFCC. The agency had been eyeing him after a Federal High Court issued “a perpetual injunction restraining EFCC and other security agencies from arresting him.” Dr. Odili had the injunction re-affirmed when he successfully sued to reclaim his passport after it was seized by immigration officials at the airport. But in this raid, the retired governor was not the target. That made tinfoil conspiratorialists to go berserk with theories on the drama that was playing out at Justice Odili’s home. They said the raid was a ploy to deny a ranking southerner in the apex court to succeed the Northern Chief Justice who is “sick and nearing retirement.” They said the aim was to embarrass the lady and render her unfit for the top job, as they did and forced out the former Chief Justice Mr. Walter Onnoghen. The Governor of Rivers State reacted in his own way. Speaking like a trade unionist, Mr. Nyesom Wike gave the Federal Government 48 hours to probe the “invasion and bring the perpetrators to book” but stopped short of saying what will happen at the expiration of the ultimatum.
Matters were not helped by the fact that the magistrate who issued the warrant walked back on the order, saying he was misled. The office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice denied any knowledge as did the State Security Services (SSS) and the police. The Police said they would investigate. Are we to believe that it will take the Federal Government of Nigeria an investigation to find out who raided the home of a Supreme Court justice? Are we to believe that the Nigeria police will need to set up a panel to fish out the brains behind an illegal action played out in broad daylight in the nation’s capital, a stone throw from the force headquarters? Are we to believe that the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and the SSS are so helpless that, all they can say in a breach of this nature, is to weakly distance themselves, and willingly dispossess themselves of the capacity to see, say or do anything material?
So let me tell you what will happen: Nothing! You will recall that the SSS raided the homes of some judges, including two justices of the Supreme Court, in Abuja and other parts of the country in 2016. There was a similar outcry but we eventually got tired and kept quiet as we went hoarse with anger. The Supreme Court drew parallels with these incidents in their reaction on the latest Abuja incident. The press statement by their spokesman Dr. Festus Akande, was frank and plain, devoid of the legalese that we’ve come to associate with the revered justices.
The court said, “We are alarmed with the news of the unwarranted and despicable raid on the official residence of one of our senior justices in the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Mary Peter Odili, JSC, CFR on Friday October 29, 2021 in a Gestapo manner that unfortunately depicted a gory picture of war by some armed persons suspected to be security operatives representing different agencies of government, who seemed to have come to kill and maim their target under the guise of undertaking a search whose warrant was questionable and baseless.” It decried the spate of “unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on judicial officers and even facilities across the country,” saying “enough is enough.”
If history is any guide therefore, the purported police investigation into the raid is a ruse to assuage public anger. With a loaf of bread costing twice as much, Nigerians will quickly return to mind their bellies and the dust will settle. But let’s be clear, the raid speaks to the stymied growth of a Nigeria at 61. First, it shows the victory of impunity over due process. Why all the fuss if there was a genuine need to search the home of a justice of the Supreme Court? No one is above the law, at least in theory, so why not go through the proper channel if a crime is suspected? Second, the raid exposes Nigeria as a laughing stock in the international community. For a country in dire need of foreign investments, the negative headlines from this action reinforce the impression of a country where the rule of the jungle has replaced the rule of law. Thirdly, the raid has once again exposed the fault lines in the country, where every action is interpreted through the lens of ethnicity. It would’ve been sufficient to condemn the raid for what it is but, sadly, the headlines quickly degenerated to a Northern Vs Southern jockeying for position in the Supreme Court. As Justice Odili tries to regain her peace, Nigeria continues to stumble and fumble on the path to nationhood