Friday, April 30, 2010
Law .. then Sometimes, Justice
I have always liked the idea of playing Voltron (the defender of the universe) or a female Zoro (I like the idea of a sword). So when I finally got past the fact that studying law offered a rather narrow career path; I warmed up to it and took the second best option – saving the world. After all, government backed by law would ensure justice and save us all from the Hobbes’ world where life was brutish and short and who better to do the saving than my perfectly deluded self? I even took human rights classes and looked forward to rubbing shoulders with Gani, Ayo Obe or Shirin Ebadi (*hint hint*a Nobel prize). After a few ASUU strikes and mounting realisation that my friends in privately funded schools were going to be in Law School two years earlier and would inevitably become my ‘seniors’; I started seriously considering tax advisory or something pretentious enough to pay me to send my kids to private schools.
Still, I loved the idea of being a ‘minister in the temple of justice’ and convinced myself that my world saving ideals would work in corporate law where I would protect the poor defenceless tax-avoiding companies from the claws of the monstrous Federal Inland Revenue Service.
After two years in law practice and many more observing the courts and law makers, I think I have finally ‘gotten it’. Justice has as much to do with law as voting with the names on INEC’s certificates of return. Here is my analogy – as voting gives the ‘elected’ some semblance of legitimacy but has little to do with who is elected, so does law have little with being just. I think elections are held merely to allow governments spend money, wax poetic about the rule of law at international conferences and other things they like since everyone knows that the electoral body, rather than our measly votes has accounted for a large percentage of political offices in the past decade. Yet, life goes on and we live with an electoral body whose supporters are scorned as turncoats.
So, justice and law: law (in the general sense of judicial rightness) and laws (in the particular sense of rules in books) exist because they offer us some path to (what we assume to be) justice. Law tries to play the part and keeps Lady Justice’s company (hence the phrase ‘law and justice’). It seems to work since people keep paying taxes to fund legislators’ expenses and salaries of officers of a judicial system copied from a colonial system.
For most of the world, the connection between law and justice is like that between PHCN and electricity supply. Sometimes, it succeeds - like the time a big shot politician was convicted for fraud the same way yahoo yahoo boys get jailed for 419 and everyone sniggered about how the mighty had fallen. Law was also justice when electoral returns were upturned by the courts and the publicly perceived winner was made governor. People also loved the law when the Navy was told to pay up for doing what was perfectly acceptable ten years ago. Other times, law and the laws fail to catch up – like selective prosecution or the way no one catches political officers when they dip their hands in tax funded cookie jars.
Perhaps, the problem with justice is law. Law is pretentious. The rule against hearsay, for instance, means we cannot do anything about the ‘cabal’ with bad intentions even though the Minister of Information told us so; and the reasonable doubt rule in a world where we have been told to believe that our president is well enough to drink tea but not a five minute speech to the nation.
I have come to live with the fact that justice sometimes depends on the more expensive lawyer or one who can drum up the most technicalities. I take what I can of what law offers. Like the biblical solicitous rich man who was content to keep all the non-fiscal commandments but reluctant to sell his possessions, I live with justice coated law. This coat allows the luxury of being goody two shoes while we turn a blind eye to justice that has nothing to do with us. We hold on to a bunch of rules for predictability in commercial transactions and save ourselves from the fuss the late Gani would surely have made about their constitutionality.
Thinking through it, law offers a preferable second best. Justice is messy and complicated in the ‘an eye for an eye’ way that assumes the eye-remover has an eye or cares about it. Then again, who needs justice when lawyers get paid for law?
Posted by Funlayo at 9:39 AM