Propriety or Otherwise of Citing Lyrics of Songs in Judgements And its Impacts on Legal Profession in Nigeria
Recent judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Oshogbo, Osun State that overturned the election of Ademola Adeleke, was greeted with mixed feelings. Those whom the judgment favoured, viewed the verdict as akin to ‘Daniel come to justice’, but to those affected by the judgment; hopes are green that the Apex Courts may provide an Oxygen that will resuscitate the purported ‘fainted justice’ experienced by the split verdict of the Osun Tribunal. However, the most interesting part of this judgment is the reflection of the lyrics of buga, a song by Kizz Daniel in the judgment delivered by the tribunal. This became more interesting as of recent. Nigerian Judges have become fond of quoting the lyrics of Nigerian musicians in their Obiter. One of such instances was when a judge quoted Timaya’s Song, “I can’t kill myself’. If one notices the suffering and plight of Nigerian Judges, one is tempted to rationalize with the judge, but is this an excuse to permit citing lyrics of songs in judicial proceedings? This further propelled a question; whether judges are allowed to cite lyrics of song lyrics in their judgments. It is the response to this question that inspired the writing of this article. This article has established that in some climes while judges are at liberty to quote lyrics of songs in their judgments, the Nigerian justice system appears to frown at this. This article further examines the negative implications of citing lyrics of songs on legal profession in Nigeria. This article relied on case laws, statutes and other related legal sources to buttress the position canvassed in this work. It is the position of the author that this work will be of immense contribution to learning.
This work is structured into 4 parts. The first part deals with instances where judges in other climes are permitted to quote lyrics of songs. The second part examines the position of Nigerian law regarding citing lyrics in songs as well as the impacts on the Nigerian legal system. The third part discusses the effects of citing lyrics of song in a judgment on legal profession in Nigeria. The fourth part concludes with the way forward.
ARE JUDGES PERMITTED TO CITE LYRICS OF SONGS IN THEIR RULINGS AND JUDGMENTS?
The reflection of Buga in the Judgment of Osun Election Tribunal raised a lot of eye brows in social media and other conventional media. This prompts the question on whether a judge is allowed by law to cite lyrics of songs in his judgment. The answer to this question is in the affirmative. Judges are allowed to cite lyrics of songs in some jurisdictions. A Judge is allowed in some jurisdictions to cite lyrics of songs to buttress their judgments or elucidate some points. For example, in 2019, a Delhi High court Judge quoted Bill Joel’s song, “We didn’t Start the Fire” in his judgement involving the case of electricity theft.
America is another jurisdiction where judges are in love with musical lyrics. In America, Judges have been quoting songs in their judgments and rulings. One of the examples is, Judge Mark W. Klingensmith of the Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, who was adjudged to be a fan of Rock and Roll. In his book, “Lyrics in the Law: Music Influence in America’s Court”, Mark W. Klingensmith, noted that in America, when judges are unsure of a particular legal position in which they do not need to consult an expert, they commonly quote, Bob Dylan’s lyrics, “ you don’t need a Weatherman to Know which way the wind Blows”. Thus, to the American jurist, it is permissible for a judge to quote lyrics in songs in order to resolve certain judicial dilemma. As such, they can resort to lyrics of songs as a moral or philosophical compass.
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Again, in the American case of Fox V Sunset Waverunner Tours, Inc., when the Defendant wanted to delay a trial in his favour (a situation akin to that of frivolous applications by lawyers aim at delaying trials in Nigeria), the judge denied the application by quoting Willie Nelson’s “Two Side of the Story” saying, “There must be two sides of every story and who is to say who is right and who is wrong.”
From the above discussions, it is clear that America is so liberal that there is nothing wrong with judges citing or quoting musical lyrics in their judgments/rulings. But can this be true of Nigeria? The answer to this question is in the negative. Let’s leave ‘Americans [with] Their America’ (Apology to J.P Clarke). It appears Nigerian law does not allow judges to cite or quote lyrics of songs or musicians in their judgments. Let’s explore some of the laws that are probably against judges citing songs in Nigeria.
ARE NIGERIAN JUDGES PERMITTED TO CITE LYRICS OF SONGS IN THEIR JUDGMENTS?
The answer to this question can best be appraised by examining the laws governing judicial conducts as well the judicial yardsticks on what constitutes a good judgment. The principal laws governing judges in exercise of their duties include statutes establishing the various courts and the rules of courts. Another law that regulates the conduct of judges while in the course of discoursing their duties and off duties Judicial Code of Conduct, 2016 and case laws.
Flowing from the above legal authorities, one can further interrogate, is there any legal provision that permits a judge to cite a musician in a judgement? Rule 3 of the Code of Conduct For Judicial Officers, 2016 States that:
….A Judicial Officer should regulate the risk of his Extra-Judicial activities to minimize the risks of conflicts of his judicial duties.
A Vocational Activity:-A Judicial Officer May engage in the Arts, Sports and other social and recreational activities if such vocational activities does not adversely affect the dignity of his office or interfere with the performance of his judicial duties.
The import of the above rule is that, while a judge is recognized as a social being, he should exercise such freedom in a way that it will not affect his duty as impartial minister in the temple of justice. He is expected to exercise utmost self-restrain that his social prejudices should not in any way affect his impartiality as a judge. Thus, even where a judge is in love with a particular song, as an art or recreational activity, he should be wary of the reflection of the lyrics of such songs in his judgment. This could be more harmful especially when the judge alludes to any of the litigants or counsel involved in a matter he is presiding. Such allusion could be akin to an innuendo on the litigant.
Based on the above premises, can it be said that quoting lyrics of ‘buga’ will affect the integrity of a Court? The answer to this is yes, it will affect the integrity of the court, especially, where the judge uses the lyrics of music to allude to a party involved in a case. As such reference by tribunal to the lyrics of ‘buga’ could affect the impartiality of the tribunal in the eyes of a common man. This becomes apposite considering the fact that the judge made reference to buga to describe how Governor Adeleke was celebrating when he won the Osun Election. This could be a clear indication (in the eyes of common man) that a judge has descended into the arena.
Also, to know whether or not a judge is allowed to cite a lyric in his judgement, it is necessary to look into what constitutes a feature of a good judgment. There are a plethora of case laws on features of a good judgement. It is trite law that a good judgement must exhibit the following attributes:
Introduction of the issues between the parties,
The case of either side to the litigation as set out in their pleadings,
Evidence adduced by either side to the litigation as set out in their pleadings,
Resolutions to the issues of facts and law, and The Court’s reason and decision for arriving at the decision.
From the above judicial praxis, it is clear that what constitutes a good judgement is very serious business. None of these criteria include musical lyrics as requirements. Delivering judgment should be a serious business devoid of any pomp and style, because it is business that determines the life and destiny of parties involved. It is not an opportunity for a judge to jest or mock counsel or parties involved in a case; for such act is infra dig of a judge.
Also, in delivering a serious judicial business like judgment, the language of a judge must not only be in English language, but it must be succinct, clear, urbane and respectful. On the purity and decency of language while delivering a judgement, Umezulike J. has this to say:
The language of our courts should not be employed merely for grandstanding effect or to display to the gallery or to deal with erring counsel or lower courts. It is a bad manner to employ foul and ill tempered language in the judgement of court.
From the above remarks by Umezulike J, one is at a liberty to further ask, is the word ‘Buga’ an English Word? Is the use of ‘buga’ Foul and an ill-tempered language? At this juncture, recourse to English Dictionary is essential. The dictionary meaning of ‘buga’ should not encourage its reflections in our society. The word ‘buga’ has the following meanings:
Happily to show off or be proud of your achievements; …it is derived from the Yoruba words ‘buga’.  buga further means ‘flouting your wealth openly’.
In a nation where corruption is devastating the economy, Nigerians have been enjoined to discourage public display of affluence. The class of people that patronizes the philosophy of buga will be encouraged to partake in illicit acquisition of wealth. No current development has aptly described buga than the case of Hafeez Ramon (AKA hushpuppy), a Nigerian fraudster who actually promoted ‘buga’ and is now in the US Prison. So, if a judgement alludes to such negative slangs from a lyric of a song, it can give different interpretations to the society.
Perhaps, those who may critically wish to disagree with this view will hastily query it in these words, ‘what about citing lyrics in Obiter or Noticeable Pronouncements?’ It is the view of this writer that even our jurisprudence does not permit citing of lyrics in an Obiter.
This could best be appreciated by looking at what constitutes an Obiter. An Obiter dictum is judicially defined to mean “an expression of opinion made in the process of writing a judgement by a judge, which is not necessary for decision and cannot form part of a judgment.” As an expression of opinion made not in connection with the main case, sometimes, an Obiter in a judgement is deployed as a policy vehicle of the Apex courts. These are mostly reflected in the Noticeable Pronouncements reflected in our Law Reports. An Obiter could be deployed to suggest what the law ought to be, and how the parties/counsel ought to have conducted themselves at the trial court.
It is also an avenue where the Apex Court expresses its lamentation and how ‘their hands are tied’ on certain issues. An Obiter is also a sanctionable and cautionary arm of a judgement. It is from this angle that the wrong attitudes of Judges, Lawyers, litigants, communities, societies, corporation and the state are sometimes censured.
The most interesting part of an Obiter is the sophistry display in it. It is an intellectual aspect of our judgment where judges display profound wisdom and brilliance that endears and inspires many people to study law. The use of languages deployed here is intellectually stimulating, to the extent that students and scholars are fond of quoting it in their debates and writings. It is because of such sound renditions that the public gleaned from noticeable pronouncement that Oputa J.SC was described as Socrates, Niki Tobi as Aristotle, and Muhammad Uwais J.S.C as Cicero of Nigerian Supreme Courts. OTHER Apex Court jurists in the present dispensation are earning similar accolades too. The question to ask is how can the future generation describe their Lordship that continues to cite music lyrics in their judgements? What names can we ascribe to them in the future?
It is no doubt that music is alluring and charming. That is why it is termed as food for the soul. By the time judges are allowed to cite lyrics of songs in their judgments, one day we may have native songs reflected in our judgment. Take for instance, if the court is occasioned to have a Yoruba judge citing the lyric of his native songs, an Ibo and Hausa judges doing same, what effect will that have on the judiciary? When such attitudes begin to permeate our judicial precedents, we will be gradually drifting away from the age long precedent that “the official language of the court is English.”
Also, assuming a lyric in Ibo song found itself in a judgement, who is going to interprete His Lordship’s rendition at the appellate court? Or is my Lord going to translate his lingua franca to that of a court? And wouldn’t that affect the impartiality of a Judge? It is better that the court should refrain from such adventures of citing song lyrics that will likely conflict with their duties as impartial ministers in the temple of justice.
THE EFFECTS OF CITING ‘BUGA’ ON THE LEGAL PRACTICE IN NIGERIA
The reference to the lyrics of ‘buga’ in the judgment is a blow to the ethos of legal profession in Nigeria. Law is a conservative and a noble profession. No matter how dynamic or progressive we want to be, we should not deviate that far. Our Obiter should inspire learning and provoke the public to pursue virtue. Kizz Daniel is a singer who had issues with the law some days ago in and outside Nigeria. He was alleged to have broke contracts bothering on entertainment, having failed to perform and was detained in Tanzania. He should not be such a good model that his name should be reflected in our judicial precedence.
Again, by the time we start quoting lyrics of songs in judgments, the impression the court is giving young lawyers is that, dressing like the artistes we are quoting is okay in the legal profession. Similarly, speaking the slangs of such musician before the court, in words such as ‘Yah My Lord’, and ‘Yes Oh Your Worship’, could be condoned by the Court. Also, by the time we begin to see court processes having words like “ yez’, ‘yep’, ‘Plz’, ‘abt’, ‘legit’, ‘info’ and informal languages, reflected in our legal drafting we will know the dangerous impacts of created by citing lyrics of songs in judgements. Today, University lecturers and those in Law School are struggling with students complying with Standard English. Endorsing songs like Buga in a judgment is not a good approach to learning in law.
Another effect of ‘Buga’ is that, whenever we see lawyers announcing appearances in tribunals and courts, dressing and making hairdo like that of Daniel Kizz, or addressing the court while chewing gum, we should know that the court has added fuel to the fire by taking ‘judicial notice’ of Kizz Daniel. So whenever younger colleagues begin to behave like Kizz Daniel in courts and tribunals, My Lords should know that there is a ‘judicial motivation’ for doing that.
Again, it is a notorious fact that Adeleke is a dancer, popularly known as the dancing senator, before he became a governor. By alluding to Buga and its lyrics and attributing it to the conducts of Adeleke when he won the election, it is respectfully submitted that the court has gone too far beyond judicial creativity. That the rendition of aligning Adeleke with Buga could be seen as a direct innuendo to the personality of Adeleke, which will in turn cast a stain on the impartiality expected of a Judge.
While the social nature of a judge is not disputed, the limited opportunity given to them to express their sociality should be threaded with caution. It should be done in such a way that it will not create any doubt in the minds of the public, that either the litigants or their lawyers are jested by the judged. It should not be done in such a way that it affects compliance with the principles of impartiality expected of them. An Obiter of a judgement should be able to instill morality, promote societal ethics, advanced frontiers of knowledge, provoke research and contribute to enrich our jurisprudence.
Lastly, a line must be drawn between judicial creativity and the use of grandstanding languages that appeals to the gallery. If not, in an attempt to feel current and trending, the court will one day see itself quoting ‘celebrated’ terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, yahoo boys and ritualists in our judgments, and this will desecrate the sanctity of the judiciary as temple of justice. May that day never come.1.The Economic Times, “Billy Joel Strikes the Right Note: When Judges get Musical”,Jan.10.2019. 2.Bulch Judicial Institute Duke Law School, ”On The Records : Lyrics Judicial Writing” VOl.104.NO.2 3. Lexington Books. 2019 4.The Song is Titled, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” 5.CASE NO.15-10055-CIV-GOODMAN (S.D FLA Aug. 9,2016) 6.The real titled of the Novel by John Pepper Clarke is ,” America, their America” 7.It is trite that there are plethora of laws in our judicial precedents satting or suggesting how judges should behave in discharging their duties. 8.Ogboru v Uduaghan (2012)pt.1311P.357(SC);Abubakar V Nasamu (NO.1) 201217NWLRPT.1330.P470(SC) 9.Hon.Jutice , I.A Umezuilike, “Understandig Judicial Ethics And Conduct For Judicial Ethics in Nigeria”, (Paper Delivered on Monday 11th July, 2016 at the National Judicial Institute) P.12 10.Abru V State(2011)17NWLRPT.1275 11.See, Omo Iya Ayo, “Buga”@www.urbandictionary..com/define.php. 12.Ibid 13.Vanguard, “Condemnation, Outcry trail get-rich syndrome of S-Eadt Youths”,vanguardngr.com>co… 14. Mobil Producing (Nig.) Unltd V Johnson (2018) 14 NWLR PT.1639.P.377.Paras-B-D See also Okeke v Lawal (2018)12 NWLR P.T1634.P.405.Paras.A-E 15.Ojegbende V Esan (2002) FWLR(PT.90) 1406 SC. 16.Victoria Edeme,”SingerDaniel Arrested in Tanzania”, Punch, August 8, 2022@https://www.vanguardngr.com>kiz…<accessedonFebruary, 2022> 17.Vanguard,”More than a dancing Governor”,Vanguard News, December 26,2023,@https://www.vanguardngr.com>mo…