By Gideon Oladepo:
I am a professional: a chartered accountant. Our motto in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) is ‘accuracy and integrity’. These two virtues are expected to guide every genuine accountant in Nigeria. Personally, this was one of the reasons I chose the profession even when I was a teenager. But can this be said of all of us, especially the younger ones, now coming into the profession? Can this also be said of professionals in all other fields: law, engineering, medicine, military etc.?
Professionals are the soul of every nation. The fact that terrorists, who would sacrifice anything to wreak further havocs on the soil of the United States of America, have been hitherto kept at bay is as a result of those responsible for approving migrations to their country taking their jobs very seriously. The same thing can be said of those assigned similar responsibilities in every country deserving recognition among the comity of nations.
If and when, as a chartered accountant, I claim that a financial statement shows ‘a true and fair view’ of the activities of an entity over a period and that the entity has complied with all known regulations and standards regarding its operations and in presenting its financial report, everybody is bound to take me seriously. This is because apart from my supposed expert knowledge in this area, it’s not possible for everyone who would have some dealings with that entity to have the same access I had enjoyed in carrying out my assessment of the entity. It’s not therefore only legal to rely on my assertion it’s also convenient.
It’s however sad that many professionals take the authority conferred on them by their professions as a means to personal gains at the expense of the society at large. To them the end product of their achievements is how much material gains they could acquire and amass for themselves and their unborn generations, using the authority delegated to them by the state, by virtue of their membership of their respective professions. Corruption in the discharge of our professional duties should be seen for what it is: a death knell on the very soul of our nation. Our nation cannot survive where professionals operate more for their own selfish benefits than for the interest of the society. This is why I will strongly recommend a stiffer punishment for anybody caught abusing the enormous powers vested in us as professionals – to whom much is given, much should equally be expected!
This takes me to a trend we are observing recently in the disparity between the decisions of the highest courts in the land: the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, especially in high profile electoral cases. Without prejudice to the right of the Supreme Court to differ from all the lower courts, including the Court of Appeal, in its decisions, we the lay people wonder if their lordships adopt some principled scientific approach in adjudicating on matters that come before them, or they also take into consideration other extraneous matters at their whims and caprices. When we analyze the controls put in place by the judiciary in handling electoral cases to ensure fair handling of such cases, from the constitution of election tribunals, which unlike what obtains in regular courts enjoy a minimum of three High Court Judges, to those of the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court, where ordinarily they sit as panels of judges; one would wonder loudly why so many learned judges involved in any electoral case should differ at all, if their approach is a little bit scientific.
The situation becomes all the more critical when the Supreme Court consistently reverses the decisions of the Appeal Court on such matters. Judged against the fact that Supreme Court judges who enjoy superior authority over their counterparts in the Appeal Court were in most cases judges of the Court of Appeal before their elevation, one begins to wonder if their lordships’ decisions too could survive going through another appellate court, were there to be such a court allowed by the constitution. Where this leaves us the common people is to gradually erode the confidence we have in the judiciary’s ability to dispense justice without fear or favour.
It’s not a mere window dressing that lawyers and judges are addressed as learned men and women. They earn their respect and authority to adjudicate on their fellow men and women on their ability to draw the line between what is just and what is not. Where matters get to the point that what is just and unjust seem to vary widely between one learned person and another, even among those who have been found reliable enough to occupy the highest courts in the land, we the lay people begin to fear if what we have is truly justice or something else.
This is not to cast aspersion on the integrity of their lordships at the two levels of appellate courts, but to alert the judiciary to its responsibility to be more concerned on its image as it strives to undo the injustice now pervading the land. If we ordinary citizens are not sure we could obtain justice even at the highest level of justice, how much less at the lower levels. May be there should be some workshops organized by the judiciary to harmonize some new aspects of the law among all levels of the bench so that they could, in most cases, speak one language in their dispensation of justice, rather than wait till these matters come up on appeal and the highest court now appear to veto the decisions of lower courts.
For example, everybody knows that but for the effective use of the card readers, there would not have been the possibility of Nigeria recording it’s first democratic experience of not only removing a ruling party but also a sitting president. For the use of such an important technology to be capable of being dispensed with in any part of the country, without any electoral consequence even when everybody knew how much those who now gain from such situation had earlier clamoured to dispense with its use, leaves much to be desired. There may be no electoral law to support the use of the card reader, but this is an example of where the highest court is morally allowed to make the law, in my layman opinion. As I write, I am pondering over how Nigerian citizens in those places whose decisions on who should have been their governor have been overturned by their lordships’ decisions, would perceive the judiciary.
I do not share the sentiment that ‘lawyers (who also become judges) are people who can turn white black and vice versa’. Black should remain black and white should remain so. This should be the notion in every profession whether law, accountancy, engineering, medicine or any other profession.
Gideon Oladepo is a chartered accountant based in Lagos.