The recent conviction of former South African President, Jacob Zuma for misconduct, is no ordinary feat. It is, indeed, an eye-opener.
Zuma was jailed by a Constitutional Court over alleged misconduct in corruption scandals that dogged his ten years in power, before standing down in 2019.
He bagged a 15-month conviction over his conduct in trial over some alleged 800 corruption charges before and after he became president.
At the Pietermaritzburg High Court where the sentence was handed down to him, Zuma said he was ‘disappointed’ by the court’s decision to jail him.
Reports over the weekend indicate that he is now seeking for a way to have the sentence quashed.
But throughout his trial, the former South African leader cut the image of a leader who tried to evade accountability for siphoning the public purse while in office.
He put up all manner of theatrics but to frustrate the trial but the judiciary was not swayed.
Delivering the majority judgment, Justice Sisi Khampepe said: “I am not in the habit of playing my cards close to my chest, let me, at this earliest opportunity, state that Mr Zuma has earned himself a punitive sanction of direct and unsuspended sentence.”
Zuma was convicted for what was termed ‘’wrongful behaviour guided by thought-out by a long-term strategy.’’
Zuma tried to extricate himself from the doctrine of equality before the law.
The judge concluded that Zuma’s conduct, if not checked, would do significant damage to the rule of law because of impunity.
During trial, he also made inflammatory and offensive statements towards judges, Zuma apparently thought that the judges were only all out to denounce him as part of a jail-at-all-cost political conspiracy.
According to reports, Zuma also made attempts to incite the public against the courts and ‘’positioned himself as a nemesis of the judiciary, which is a critical custodian of the democratic order.’’
The constitutional court said it had no option than to either bend to Zuma’s megalomania, or uphold the rule of law.
Zuma’s conviction is a lesson to other leaders in Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general; that nobody is above the law.
The former South African leader brazenly defied the law, even in the face of possible imprisonment.
Zuma was president for more than ten years in power, but that was not enough to absolve him from the disgrace that trailed his misconduct in power.
There are several lessons Nigerians can learn from the Zuma trial.
In fact, it may be an item of news to learn that a Nigerian president is convicted in court, especially for corruption or other vice. None has ever been.
We know that our presidents are not tried while in office because of the immunity clause, but it is hard to understand why none of them has been held accountable for their misdemeanours after they left.
Even at lower levels, people manage to find their way round the law here in Nigeria, and we say the time has come for that to end if we must firm up our democracy.
It is noteworthy how the corruption trial went. It shows that in a country that is on the same plane battling for leadership in Africa, there is a better consideration for due process.
The case went on without disturbing evidence of undue interference.
Had it been in Nigeria, such a high profile case of corruption would have been truncated by primordialism, ethnicity, religious consideration, and what have you.
People would simply queue behind their kinsman or woman, in the he-is-our-kinsman manner. There have been many instances of that.
In fact, the moment some powerful leaders are arraigned in our courts, the next thing you see on the streets are ‘my people’ demonstrating in support of misconduct. That should no longer be.
The same goes for the affluent and powerful here, there will do everything imaginable to frustrate trial; non-appearance in the court; faking sicknesses, among others, just to evade trial and the long arm of the law.
We can also learn from the astuteness of the judicial officers; that they were sworn on the right side of the rule of law and principle of equity.
No one is saying that there are no down sides to the judiciary in South Africa. But we stand to gain an understanding that such a precedent from a fellow African country can assist to curb a monstrous tendency back home.
The era of impunity for such corruption and vices in public offices should fast be gone, if we want to bequeath a better future for the coming generation.