I wonder if you know him. Or even remember him, or his name. If you have forgotten him, don’t blame yourself. It is life.
It comes with all sorts of ironies. And throws all sorts at one. The good. The bad. The ugly. The most embarrassing.
The subject of this write-up has seen all the above. He is Honourable Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, a Justice of the Supreme Court. An enviable position, when one gets to that level, one is made for life.
The respect one commands stretches from mother-earth to high heavens. And even though, at that level, they live a kind of secluded life, it is worth it.They rarely attend social events.
I don’t know Ngwuta. But, I have ran into him a couple of times. I am not sure we exchanged more than the casual, usual, courtesies.
The first time I met him was at the National Assembly, Abuja. I had accompanied a friend of mine whose close family member was appearing before a Senate Committee to be screened for a high profile office. And, there, was Hon. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta who had also come for screening in order to be elevated to the position of a Supreme court.
I was excited. I hadn’t met him before, but I was happy that an Igbo brother of mine would soon be a Supreme Court Judge.
From my side of the country, they are not many. It, therefore, gives some joy to see one. So in the spirit of the Igbo, I quickly claimed him as ‘my brother’ and, bent almost double to greet him.
I forget what now happened, but it turned out he was not screened that day. I guess there was a document that had not been received by the screening committee. A man of average height, let me not say short, he sat there, dignified, a smile plastered on his cherubic face.
He was eventually screened a couple of days later. And was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
The day he was sworn-in was my second time of meeting him. I just whispered ‘Congratulations, my lord’
He remembered my face, clutched my hand and smiled broadly.
I cannot confirm his lifestyle, but I hear he is a recluse, almost. Like most of his colleagues, he has a zero social life. But his, I understand, borders on the extreme. On the day he was sworn-in as a Justice of the Supreme Court he held no reception to celebrate it. He, instead, went to the reception held in honour of a colleague of his. I now don’t know whether he went with his guests, but that’s the Ngwuta his colleagues know. And that was where I met him for the third time.
With his high profile, dignified, respectable job, Ngwuta should be happy. Not a few would struggle to be his friend. His state and zone would look out for him. They would celebrate and protect him with their skin. And so would his professional colleagues, and the associations he belongs to.
But this man has no such luck. He seems rejected. Forgotten. Nobody seems to care about him, his state of mind , or what he is going through. He is lonely. And has become an orphan.
He walks a lonely path. Even in his office at the Supreme Court, he is lonely. He stays on his own. Probably reads some books and newspapers and magazines. No case file, or any, that members of the public know about, is passed to him. No case is assigned to him. He is not on any Supreme Court panel.
Every morning, Monday through Friday, he wakes up, takes his bath, is chauffeur-driven to his office, and that’s it. He just sits down, and leaves at the end of the day. Month end, he gets an alert for his salary.
Some people will chorus: lucky fellow. At least, he gets his salary and allowances every month, something which is no longer common in our clime, they would say. But for a brilliant mind, used to being busy, nothing can be more frustrating.
And Justice Ngwuta is a brilliant mind. Deep. And, good at his job, those who know him say.
But, he has been reduced to a pitiable state. He is frustrated.
Ngwuta, from Ebonyi state, is the fourth in the hierarchy at the Supreme Court. Well regarded, His Lordship’s journey in the wilderness started in October, 2016.
Ngwuta was one of the two Supreme Court Justices, whose residences, operatives of the Department of the State Security Services, DSS, raided in the uncivilized hours of October 7 and 8. His other colleague is Justice John Okoro. But that’s where their fate is separated.
While Okoro resumed work after the raid, Ngwuta was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, by the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF. His offence: Alleged corruption. He was also dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
His offence: Alleged failure to declare a number of his assets. Ngwuta challenged the charges. And, on March, 23, 2018, Hon. Justice Tosho of the Federal High Court set him free.
Again, on May 15, 2018, the CCT set him free.
Both the Court and the CCT insisted Ngwuta ought to have been hauled before the National Judicial Commission, NJC, first, a body, constitutionally empowered to discipline Judicial officers.
So, hurray for Ngwuta?
Not at all. If anything, his situation worsened. He is neither sitting, nor standing.
The NJC has said not a word on him, or the case. He has not been invited by the body. Nobody has said anything to him. He is not retired. He is not suspended. And, one cannot say he is serving. He is just there. Nobody is saying anything to him. No case files are passed to him. Nothing. Worse: Nobody is asking questions. And nobody is making a case for him.
And, please, excuse this, but, Justice Ngwuta is an unlucky man. He comes from the wrong part of the country. His people don’t care. They shout persecution, but that’s where it ends. They just shout. How come the Igbo are not asking questions on the fate of one of their most accomplished sons? Where is the Nnia Nwodo-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
Ngwuta comes from Ebonyi state where Governor Dave Umahi is the lord, and stands like a colossus. I have neither heard, nor read Umahi ask questions about his high profile subject. I have never heard the South-east Governors’ Forum raise questions on Ngwuta’s fate. Umahi is the Chairman of the Forum.
They seem not to care. Or they don’t think it is important. They are unlike their South-South counterparts.
A clear example:
When Walter Onnoghen, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, got into trouble, the South-south Governors’ Forum, which Chairman Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state is, rose in anger. They all rushed to Abuja, met at Dickson’s, and issued a strongly worded communique, alleging persecution of their son on the part of the Federal Government and, asking it to thread with care.
His state Governor, Udom Emmanuel, dragged the FG to court on behalf of the government of Cross Rivers state. He got a split judgement. And even though Onnoghen was still retired, his people gave him a sense of belonging. Perhaps, but for his people, it could have been worse.
Poor Ngwuta. He doesn’t have such luck. Or, such support. He has been abandoned to his fate. He is an orphan, abandoned by everybody, including his people.
The questions are: Why has he been left in the lurch? Is there something Nigerians don’t know? Is there a hidden agenda behind his situation? Is he deliberately being kept out of the way? Not a few Nigerians are beginning to think so. Only the NJC can stop these speculations by quickly bringing Ngwuta’s case to the table. The old saying, justice delayed, is justice denied, still holds true.