Terror Comes To Supreme Court By Seyi Olu Awofeso


The wife and daughter of Supreme Court Justice Rhodes-Vivour are spending the 16th night in captivity without trace, and, with no ransom asked.
Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Aloma Maryam Mukhtar, is now fretful, after having written to the Police to more quickly uncover this kidnap, and after flying from Abuja to Lagos earlier this week to meet and give heart to Justice Rhodes Vivour, but so far, the Police have no good clue, except the plate number of the car in which both Vivours had travelled from Lagos.
Their car model and engine number are two other things to look for but without finding a car of that exact description, both clues are useless.
Till date, no one has yet come up to inform the Police of the abductors’ car itself, to help focus investigations on the likely whereabouts of both kidnapped women. The Police, in effect, rely on just one piece of apocryphal information, saying the abductors had made a phone call to Justice Rhodes Vivour asking 300 million Naira as ransom.
That un-proved phone call reportedly originated from a location between the border town of Ondo and Edo states, last week, but Justice Rhodes Vivour denies ever receiving such ransom call. At any rate, a smart Alec might have cleverly interposed himself to make a quick buck from Justice Rhodes Vivour’s anguish by pretending to be the abductor.
So, this un-usual kidnap remains as mysterious as it was 16 days ago, when the kidnappers intercepted both women on the Benin Expressway, and vanished with them, without making any monetary demand or political statement till now.
So long as the car in which both women travelled is not found, the abductors presumptively drove it alongside theirs and likely hid it in a lock-up garage or in a forest, or used it as get-away car for the kidnap and drove it to their hideout for future use as operational car after repainting it, or had possibly dismantled it, by breaking it up into parts for disposal or for sale, to scuttle any trace.
Typically, ransom for kidnap cases last a week or thereabouts in Nigeria, as happened with the mother of the Minister for Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, when 10 million Naira was reportedly paid, from the federal treasury, as ransom to the kidnappers in December last year.
By contrast, Justice Rhodes Vivour’s case has now crossed that line and crossed the typical time-frame twice over to raise genuine fear for the lives of the two captured women, as there’s growing doubt if this is a garden-variety kidnap case since it no longer looks like it. “Yes, at this point, we will need to look at some other angles”, an exasperated Police Officer told the media yesterday.
It is unclear how numerous the other angles Police will plan to ponder but Justice Rhodes Vivour was one of the five Judges who declared President Goodluck Jonathan duly elected President at the 2011 election. But that fact, standing alone, does not explain the kidnap of his wife and children, since the Supreme Court’s decision of December 28, 2011, in that case of Buhari vs. Jonathan, was unanimous.
Justice Olufunlola Adekeye had delivered the lead judgment, with Justices Musdapher, Mahmud Mohammed, Walter Onnoghen, Afolabi Fabiyi, Bode Sylvester Ngwuta, and Rhodes-Vivour himself, concurring.
For sure, many kidnap cases remain un-resolved in Nigeria but that does not automatically render those cases political anymore than it suggests Nigeria’s Police’ lack of central investigation equipment. One such un-resolved case is that of a Nigerian television broadcaster, Alhaji Rasak Aremu Gawat, who’s been missing since July 2012 after he’d parked his car at the Lagos Marina.
That Justice Rhodes Vivour declared Goodluck Jonathan duly elected in his separate court verdict of December 28, 2011, will not therefore explain the current kidnap of his wife and daughter 16 days ago, on May 10th, without further facts, but so far, no corroborative facts are available, but that’s no reason to lose sight of this slight possibility, since two militia groups had since last year announced a common intention to “kidnap the wives and children of government officials”.
If this angle becomes viable in Police investigation, the tentative conclusion would then be that for the first time in Nigeria’s history, terror has come to the Supreme Court.
Before now, Supreme Court Judges have wholly been spared agony from militia groups running amok on the streets of Nigeria, even though two lower court Judges in Delta state were last year abducted on their way to court, whilst a clutch of armed men had burst into the courtroom of a Delta state High Court last year in the middle of court proceedings, slapped the court orderly into instant un-consciousness, and gone away with all case files and exhibits placed on the bench.
As terror against Nigeria’s lower Court Judges has continued like this over the years, it has scuppered the judiciary’s already thin capacity to regulate an increasingly violent Nigerian society.
For example, no fewer than three other judges gave press interviews in the last two years, complaining of receiving threat messages on their mobile telephones. Others have kept quiet after reporting death threats to the Police. But in all of this, the Supreme Court Justices were un-scathed, even as the Prisons Department of the Interior Ministry announced last week that no fewer than 48 Prison officers in its own employ have been killed by rampaging militias, following jailbreak attacks.
If a retaliatory or political motive were to have led the capture of Justice Rhodes Vivour’s wife and daughter, then, he would become the first Supreme Court victim of terror, as Nigeria chokes in the grips of revolutionary pressures. “Nigeria now seems keener to break than unite,” an analyst said, ”and, in that gradual meltdown, no facet of public administration can survive the sheer anger shot through from south to north, because Nigeria’s fault lines of ethnic domination and religious politics have now been stoked.”
Likely true observation, and again, as further signal occurrence, Boko Haram a fortnight ago announced it has now resolved to kidnap the wives and children of government officials, with a warning added that the Police need not  look for such missing family members because those captured “shall have started new lives as domestic servants” inside Boko Haram’s camps.
However, there’s devilry in the details of that recent Boko Haram announcement. For it obscures a larger picture. Since January 26, this year, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) had itself published a public warning as follows:
“…We have details of all the family members of all government officials from 1999-2013. Our Diaspora Command will take care of that aspect. We will get them, skin them and post their remains to your door steps as compensation to the Odi people (for Obasanjo’s massacre of that town) except our resources are handed over to us without conditions. Nigerians as a whole will soon feel our presence when we decide to carry out our targets which will not be restricted to the Niger Delta Region alone”
Whilst Boko Haram operates as a militia group in northern Nigerian Nigeria, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta operates in the southern coast, and for so long as both groups had warned the public of a common intention to kidnap family members of government officials, it complicates Police investigation by rendering any of the country’s land territory as possible a place as any, where both Mrs. Rhodes Vivour and her daughter might still be found, hopefully alive.
……Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja
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