In the Greek city states, the oldest known democracy in the world, there was a group of people known as the Sophists. The Sophists were itinerant teachers, great intellectuals, scholarly, very intelligent and articulate, knowledgeable in grammar and rhetoric.
The Sophists were skilled in argument and in the presentation of cases, in making bad cases look good, in making unjust causes appear just. The Sophists charged fees for their teaching and they usually sought out those who could pay for their high charges.
But the Sophists were relativists, sceptics, who never believed in anything. They would argue about everything under the sun. One of them, Protagoras, maintained that “man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not”. In other words, everything, for Protagoras, is relative, depends on how one perceives it, according to circumstance.
Another Sophist, Gorgias, even denied that truth exists. Gorgias had presented his argument in three ways: that nothing exists; that if anything exists, that it is incomprehensible; and that even if it is comprehensible, that it cannot be communicated.
It was this relativism, the denial of epistemology, and the existence of ethical values or moral principles by the Sophists, that led to the collapse of democracy in Greece, and Athens, in particular. Socrates, one of the finest ethical personalities that ever lived, was executed because he stood against injustice, which one of the Sophists, Thrysmachus, eulogized, and said that “might is right”, that “justice belongs to the strong”. Aristotle would have suffered the same fate with Socrates, but he fled to exile, “else Athens sins twice against philosophy”.
Since the advent of the present political dispensation, we have had our democracy threatened by the activities of some of our lawyers. For instance, in 1999, when we started the current journey on democracy, the system allowed only three political parties: the Peoples Democratic Party, the All Peoples Party, later changed to All Nigeria Peoples Party, and the Alliance for Democracy. Everything worked well. Then, it was easy for both the electoral umpire to manage the electoral process, and for the electorate to participate in the system.
Later, some of our lawyers went to court to argue that everybody had right of freedom of association, that the existing system was injurious to that freedom. The court agreed with them, and the result was bedlam, a floodgate of political parties, which neared up to one hundred, most of which existed only on paper. This then became very difficult for the electoral umpire to manage, and for the ordinary voter to know who to vote for.
Again, in Nigeria, nobody loses election. He must have been rigged out, or due to one reason or the other, and our lawyers will be there to pinpoint the flaws that made the contestant not to have been declared winner. They will encourage him to go to court or to the tribunal, to seek redress and reclaim his mandate.
That is why, at the end of every election in Nigeria, thousands of petitions will be filed before the election tribunals, which will be argued up to the highest court in the land. Sometimes, some of the petitions will linger till the next election, with the ultimate beneficiaries being our lawyers, who will always convince the politicians that victory is theirs, once they pay the necessary bill.
Invariably, this had not only caused instability in our electoral system, but had also brought our judiciary to disrepute and ridicule, due to suspicions of wrong delivery of judgements. Almost every month, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), will be conducting supplementary elections, arising from various judicial pronouncements.
When the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria decided to impose heavy fines on two senior lawyers seeking the reversal of judgement earlier delivered by the apex court on the Bayelsa Governorship election, it was to express their disgust about the way our lawyers have been messing up the judicial process, and by extension, our current democracy. With their bagful of money from corrupt politicians, our lawyers always believe that everything is possible in Nigeria, that a dog can easily go back to its vomit, once there is a deal!
Since Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State petitioned the Supreme Court asking it to review its earlier judgement that sacked him as Governor of the State, other petitioners, at the instigation of our lawyers, have started asking the apex court to review their own cases. If care is not taken, before you know it, the Supreme Court would have been flooded with review petitions, and the entire system would be messed up.
Some of our senior lawyers freely air their views on issues that lie before the courts, believing that by so doing they could intimidate the judges handling these cases in order to force them to toe their line of thought or argument.
Today, our Constitution is no longer worth more than the paper on which it is written, because our lawyers have messed it up. They were the people who wrote that Constitution and made it vague. Then, they turn round to give it different treats, different interpretations. Later, they will go to the court to ask for correct interpretation!
Nobody is against freedom in democracy: freedom of expression, freedom of association, etc. In fact, freedom is the hallmarks of democracy. But freedom has restraint, freedom has responsibility. Freedom without restraint, freedom without responsibility, is licentiousness, madness!
If, in the past, the military had truncated our democracy, we pray that our lawyers will, this time around, not be the albatross of our democratic enterprise.