Saturday, January 26, 2019 5.30PM / By Tope Fasua
I have observed with great concern the events surrounding the eventual suspension of Mr. Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen by President Muhammad Buhari on Friday the 25th of January, 2019. This is an unprecedented action in the history of our democracy. I observe that even our military governments were extremely careful with their interference with the leadership of our judiciary. I believe this is a momentous occasion deserving of everyone’s attention and care.
It is a fact that Justice Onnoghen admitted his infraction with respect to a breach of the Code of Conduct Act to wit non-submission of an updated and accurate list of his assets as required upon assumption of office as the Chief Justice of the Federation and President of the Supreme Court. It is also true that forgetfulness or ignorance can never be an excuse in law. However only our courts can validly make a pronouncement on whether the funds found in Justice Onnoghen’s accounts are proceeds of the crime of corruption (except he expressly admits to that crime). We believe that especially in a matter concerning the principal officer in the judicial wing of our national government (which is meant to be totally independent), every step must be taken and every option explored to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done in this instance.
The timing of the suspension on the eve of our elections, the speed with which the petition against the Chief Justice was fast-tracked to culminate in his suspension within two weeks, with all the details of the case in the public space, leaves a bad taste in the mouth and plays into the hands of many people who have alleged partiality and deliberate victimization of the said Chief Justice. I personally find it hard to ignore this possibility. The optics for the government and Nigeria at large is terrible at this point. Also the decision tugs at the worn out fabrics of Nigeria’s unity, what with the fact that many have complained in the past that judicial/security leadership of Nigeria has totally ignored the principle of inclusivity. I believe strongly that anything that can be done at this moment to strengthen our unity as a nation should be considered. It is therefore difficult for millions around the world to believe that this act is a genuine tactic in the tired anti-corruption war, but rather an act of political vendetta, and a deliberate blow to the nation’s democracy which rests on the sanguine principle of separation of powers. It must be noted that the current purveyors of this act were the same people who cried blue murder when in 2011 the Chief Judge of the Appeal Court, Justice Ayo Salami was removed from office AFTER he had been duly suspended by the National Judicial Commission which is vested with that duty. In that instance, the case was not fast-tracked and determined within two weeks.
I also take note of the fact that the public had complained bitterly in the past about the tardiness of the same government in the cases involving Mr Babachir Lawal, the former Secretary to the Government, Alhaji Abubakar Maina, a former Pensions administrator, Mallam Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Usman Yusuf, the former ES of the NHIS, among others. There are also clear signs that corruption and sleaze are still very much alive at the moment, what with the arrest of the Aide-de-Camp of the Wife of the President for collecting bribes worth a whopping N2.5billion (over $8million), and other sundry cases of impersonators who have defrauded dozens of people for billions of naira in the guise of providing access to Aso Villa, the seat of government, and its powerful inhabitants. This shows nothing has changed in the way business is done in and around our seat of power. A number of people with integrity issues have also been recalled and some remain power brokers in this government. It would have been great to see speedy action in the arrest and prosecution of hundreds of people who cannot obviously explain their sources of wealth in Nigeria today, but the agencies set up for that purpose have allegedly made themselves available as willing tools in the hands of our executive.
I therefore most humbly call for a thorough review of the current case with the CJN, and that the process must reflect great caution and balance. Also, that the unity of Nigeria be strongly considered. In the interest of peace, unity and togetherness, we may consider the option of the CJN forfeiting what he has failed to declare, and also perhaps an option for him to honorably resign – not under the gun. This will save the little dignity left in our judiciary. There is no point destroying the entire system just to make a point.
I will close this by urging all Nigerians to learn from this incidence. Especially those in public service, who have access to Nigeria’s commonwealth and also the opportunity to obtain favors from contractors etc, should see the sheer folly of acquiring what you cannot be linked with, or what you will be afraid to declare. Public service is for sacrifice and charity. Anyone who wants to compete in rich lists should remain in the private sector. Even private sector people elsewhere have started to show great examples in charity. Mr. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet among other people are doing a lot more for our poor people (and I must note people like Tony Elumelu aong others here too), while our political leaders, administrators and government officials would rather impoverish the people and strip us of dignity. This is totally unacceptable.
President Buhari, please review your position and do the right thing. The Onnoghen case must not only follow every judicial process, methodically, but must be seen to be totally transparent and just. And note also, that whoever must come to equity, must continue to show that he understands the need to carry an antiseptic handwash around.
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About the Author
Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian businessman, economist and writer. He is the founder and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, an international consulting firm with its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. He is the presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), which he founded. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org