By Adewale Adeoye
There have been calls for the life broadcast of the on-going Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. There is the logic that this will strengthen democracy and improve public access to information.
It will also bring justice to the doorstep of Nigerians. Law and Justice should not be a privilege but a right to people on the street.
Access to legal procedures by the public is also a way to improve inclusion in democracy. These are legitimate demands but should be weighed against the context of judicial freedom, freedom of the judges and separation of powers in a democracy.
I think it will be a grave error for the Election Petition Tribunals to be broadcast life. Not that it is not imperative, but it is not necessary and it is never a key determinant of justice for the society
Open trial brings along its own peril, which overrides any other positive consideration. It may infact endanger democracy in the midst of the ceaseless strife of tongues and a sharply divided country.
The Court room is not a football field where emotions are displayed and the players are sometimes at the mercy of motivation by the ecstatic crowd.
Justice does not recognise motivation from the crowd, but motivation from facts. The courtroom is a cult of reason, a close circuit of public conscience, it is not a dance floor neither is it a beauty contest where the crowd input is necessary for who wins the trophy.
If the Tribunal is subjected to life coverage, it will in many ways affect the end result of Justice.
Open broadcast will expose the judges to distractions caused by millions of onlookers who would assume the role of referees and would have turned the social media platforms into private altas of judgment by impulse, often parochial and motivated by partisanship, hate avarice and sometimes, savage leitmotif.
Open broadcast will also compromise justice in the sense that many of the witnesses at the Tribunal excepted to provide confidential information to a smaller Bench of Jurists will be exposed to human hyenas on the prowl.
It will compromise the lives and livelihood of judges and may subject their families to unforeseen trauma and sociological torture.
It will fuel a silhouette of social media mockery and vitriol attacks on families of the Judges, including their innocent children.
Open broadcasts have the potential of subjecting constructive judicial review to unwarranted media distortion, inflaming the public into possible rage and even riots and violence
In a country where human life is almost as cheap as a coakroach on the sidewalk, the judges will be exposed to undue attacks which might affect their emotional and psychological state of mind in taking decisions to the dictate of law than to the dictate and fear of menacing public bullies. In football, every spectator understand the conception, the process and outcome of the game and will be less acrimonious towards the outcome. The same is different in the Tribunal. Over 90 percent of Nigerians are interested in the outcome but they do not understand the processes and technicalities yet would wish to pass their own harsh judgment on the outcome of the Tribunal.
Any broadcast of the trial will endanger the lives of judges, lawyers and their family members.
It appears to me that those advocating open broadcasts have a defeatist mentality driven by the need to subject the trial into chaotic public whims and the mood swing of a less intelligible and sometimes rash public.
Why I support public access to information, we must be guided by public order, safety and the need to protect the integrity of the Judiciary and the sanctity of the freedom of the Judges themselves.
Open trial undermines the freedom of the judges, subjects them to mob trial and threatens the foundation of the separation of power of which the judiciary is key.
It will also undermine professionalism in the media and put the lives of journalists at risk.
Nigeria is a country where hundreds of thousands of people report events without the skill and knowledge of media training. Alternative platforms driven by partisan political interests or motivated by party politics, with open trial, will be dangerously empowered to further misinform the public to our own collective peril.
Why the process of justice should be inclusive, it cannot be in a disorganised and mob manner.
Open broadcasts will undermine the Nigerian economy and reduce production. It will also affect public security, social and humanitarian services.
If the trial goes open, I can assure that Medical doctors, security men and women, Nigerians working in strategic spheres, will abandon their duties for the trial wasting many work hours to the detriment of the economy.
I suggest that Professional journalists should be given access to the Tribunal including leaders of credible civil society organisations.
To guarantee open trial will imperil not only the fragile democratic state of Nigeria, it will inflame it.
*Adeoye, Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, JODER writes from Lagos
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