Who Does the Legal System Serve?

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We are often told that the court is the last hope of the common (wo)man. As the third arm of government, we are made to believe, the judiciary protects every citizen, against the tyranny of executive power. This conception is however a farce. Several rulings by judges shows us that the judiciary, just like the executive and legislative arms of government in capitalist society, is primarily structured to protect the interest of the ruling class.

Some people have advocated an amendment of the nation’s law, especially where it concerns criminal procedure code, others are asking for a total overhaul of the judicial system. There have been rulings in several matters by some judges, which have made genuine change-seeking people to question the position of the law in the fight against corruption and bad governance, and generally, in our struggle for system change as activists.

Some of these rulings, in our history include: Justice George Sowemimo’s “my hands are tied verdict” in the 1963 treasonable felony trial against Chief Obafemi Awolowo; the 1984 currency smuggling judgment against Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, – the judge subsequently wrote Fela a letter confessing that, “he was pressured” and begging for forgiveness; and the sentencing of Kenule Saro-Wiwa and 8 others to death by the Justice Auta-led tribunal in 1995.

The case of Omoyele Sowore vs DSS is the latest example of a contrived judicial system, which serves the powers that be. The Department of State Security (DSS) had abducted the activist and journalist, detaining him unconstitutionally, only to approach the court, seeking a 90-day period to carry out investigation that will enable the Police charge Sowore, while being held in custody. Justice Taiwo Taiwo in his ruling, granted the DSS 45 days to retain a man whose fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association have been infringed upon in the first instance.

The ruling is coming from a judge who once appeared to be on the side of liberty and rule of law, as an activist in the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). This shows that the key issues at stake go far beyond judges as individuals and deep down into how the machinery for maintaining the bosses oppression which government is all about works.

The ruling of Justice Taiwo Taiwo is better perceived as perpetuating and encouraging violation of Sowore’s right to freedom of expression and the right of the common woman and man to personal liberty. This is a clear demonstration of the role of the judiciary as a an instrument for safeguarding the political dictatorship of the ruling class.

Consequently, Omoyele Sowore challenged his unlawful detention by the DSS, but Hon. Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha specifically declared that she was unable to overturn the ruling of  ‘a learned brother’. Not even precedents in judicial history could make her rescind this decision.

There are important lessons for us to learn from all these. The ruling class cannot rule only through force. And the judiciary cannot be successful as a mechanism for upholding the rule of the bosses, if it does not in anyway allow for the right of the oppressed to be respected. But the freedoms which the courts respect as they might choose were not given on a platter of gold.

Working-class people in earlier generations fought to win, inch by inch, the freedoms we at least formally, have today such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. But just as these freedoms were won for us through struggle, we can defend them only through struggle. And ultimately, we must overhaul the whole legal system with as an essential aspect of the total revolutionary constitution of social, economic and political life. Only so can we emancipate ourselves and build a new and better world.

The legal process to win freedom for Omoyele Sowore is important. We cannot surrender to the crass pandering of some judge’s decisions to the whims of the executive. However, the struggle is primarily political. We will continue to demand system change via #RevolutionNow and be unrelenting in mobilising the masses and public opinion for Omoyele Sowore and other activists of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) who are still being incarcerated unjustly such as Olawale “Mandate” Adebayo and Agba Jalingo to be released immediately and unconditionally.

We know who the legal system serves. It is the bosses. And we know how we can emancipate ourselves and win freedom for all, it is through our political struggle for #RevolutionNow.

by Kofo BECKLEY

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