I had thought overtly for Nigeria’s justice system amidst public tongue-lash and back-lashes, till my recent discovery in the Tropics that our Southern neighbour has grown not only beyond the shards, rubbles and plunders of injustice but also succeeding in becoming a touchstone in the judicial space, now being referenced by other African countries and by extension the world.
The trial of a rich man, presumably as rich as Creosus; Oscar Pistorius, a sport icon who triumphed over disability to compete with able-bodied athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics, including other multiple paralympic games (what some ebullient bodied youths still in search of jobs in Nigeria cannot do). Probably for his utility of a carbon fiber prosthetic blades to run, sobriquetted him the Blade Runner. A South African runner, born without a fibula in both legs, became the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400 metres semi-finals in London, 2012. A man purpled in splendour with a glamorous mien; structured in appearance-honey-combed cynosure, now has his fate already decided on the anvil of justice. A man so far slapped with diverse adjectival descriptions has been eventually found guilty of culpable homicide. Pending the courts resumption, Oscar stands on bail till the mitigation hearing on the 13th-16th of October, 2014. I need not start reinventing the be-all-and-the-end-all about the storyline of this unfortunate 27 years old man and his deceased girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp; a model as the world is aware that Pistorius shot four times at Reeva whom he mistook for an intruder. Had I not understudied the country the proceedings took place, I would have forclosed the possibilities of an African country conducting a trial that attracted world media glued to the blow-by-blow proceedings thereon. A country that gained her independence a year after Nigeria gained hers, on the 31st of May, 1961, abolished the jury system of justice as at 1969 during the nasty apartheid rule, and adopted an adversarial system of justice, one akin with the Nigerias breed. The only sitting judge; Thokozile Masipa had by her side two assessors-Janette Hezen Du Tout and Themba Mazibuka. Had it been in Nigeria, we would have seen some judicial sourpussed men who rather will use age instead of seniority in the Bar to deride her position as was the case with the recent President of the Court of Appeal, Bulkachuwa (a woman) after the untold tale of Ayo Salami. The judge was blindfolded by her constitutional eyes and had no human face to acquit a man so worth a mint as Pistorius. Found guilty of culpable homicide for having used excessive force earned him a maximum sentence of 15 years. Our creepy-crawly system of justice that has allowed wasps and hornets; the oil rich Otedolas (alleged to have connived with Boniface Emenalo, a member of the committee on subsidy to sideline his company being affected ), the dark horses of our time- the Omisores’ (alleged to have masterminded the assasination of Bola Ige), the Ali Modu Sherifs’ (alleged brain behind Boko Haram’s invasion) and a host of political jargons have broken through the web of our laws as freedslaves no longer as bondsmen, temporising judicial proceedings unnecessarily, plea bargaining their way to justice, loosening the already blindfolded eyes of our judges for a mere pot of sweeteners, whilst the small flies on the street get caught everyday. The rich and mighty politicians are clandestined from the eyes of the public during trials in the court, squelching further our judicial system into the mud. Hardly are they displayed on the televisions during trials, we are only privileged as citizens to hear and read about their outcomes. But, the trial of Pistorius, by giving leeway to different news, print and social medias to broadcast live via audio and video the opening and closing arguments, the testimony of consenting state witnesses, the judgement and sentencing has helped refine South Africa’s justice system.
A murderous incident that transpired on the 14th of February, 2013 finally (though awaiting mitigation hearing in the form of an appeal) came to a peter within a year and some months. Our darling judicial system have rather preferred to spend more years rejoicingly in adjournment and shorter ones in reaching a decision. The limited gaps that spaced the far-flunged trial process harped further on the desirous attempts to notch-up a credible proceedings. Charged with murder in a Pretoria Court on the 15th of February, 2013 without the much played Nigerian game by the fuzz in uniforms. Entered bail hearing on the 19th of February 2013 under Desmond Nair (Chief Magistrate of Pretoria). Had his bail concluded under four days for the states inability to convince the Chief Magistrate that Pistorius posed a flight risk. Given a break in late June, 2013 not as a freed citizen behind the bars of an hotel room as typical of a Nigerian politician, but as an alleged principal offender yet to be proven guilty by a court of law. Formally indicted on a two count charges of murder and the illegal possession of arms on the 19th of August, 2013 in the Pretoria Magistrate’s court. Commenced his murder trial on the 3rd of March, 2014 in the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa, Pretoria sans any notorious excuse; being a rich man he could have cut corners that the judge be transferred, one symmetrical to our justice system. About 20 witnesses were called by the state prosecutor, Garry Neil out of about 107 persons just to ensure the biter bit. Pistorius testified in his own defence at his trial on the 7th of April, for 5 days his cross-examination spanned. The state prosecutor had employed the services of the state pathologists, evidence of acoustic experts to determine the screams whether it was a man or a woman’s voice, engineers were present to give evidence. Forensic psychatrists were ordered to evaluate Pistorius mental condition as an out-patient at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, one that lasted up to 30 days. The defence lawyer, Barry Roux closed its case on the 7th and 8th of August. Dear judge Masipa adjourned the trial until September 11th. Resuming the day certained after 5 weeks of intense appraisal of both the state and defence’s argument, high hopes were raised. Eventually declaring him guilty of culpable homicide blasted many to estacy that this rich and mighty did not abscond the needle’s eye of justice, like many a politician in Nigeria whose vices are mistakened for errors, not crimes even in the cold hands of justice.
Our never-landing system of justice that glimmers deep and if unchecked, deeper into the declivity of chaos and randomness, need borrow a leaf from other countries that practice the adversarial system of justice like South Africa, as to see what it takes to ensure credibility in judicial proceedings so that our laws will not end up as steel chains for the poor and weak and fishing nets in the hands of the government.