This is not the first time we are taking a position against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue of civil liberties. In a previous editorial, we spoke against the various attempts to tranquilize and kill the press. Now the administration has embarked on an unprecedented but not unimaginable action given its antics.
The FG will on Monday arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal — the court of its choice, which it had in time past deployed against the head of the other equal arm of the government. That other incompetent trial went nowhere with the acquittal of Senate President Bukola Saraki.
This dubious trial would be supervised by an equally “dubious” (not our words) Judge in the person of Danladi Umar, a character who has been arraigned a number of the times by the administration over alleged corrupt practices.
Interestingly, Festus Keyamo, the prosecutor in charge of the case is the spokesperson and strategic communications lead for the Buhari re-election campaign. A judge who is subject to blackmail is nothing but a mere tool. On this basis alone, the trial of the CJN, a person who has served the country for almost 35 years without a charge should make every Nigerian fretful, suspicious and vigilant.
This is by no means saying Justice Onnoghen is above the law. However, prosecuting the CJN, who has never been a favorite of the president under dubious circumstances, based on a petition by a discredited petitioner, and without proper procedure and investigation, before a controversial judge, gives credence to every allegation about the motives of this latest plot by the current administration. All fingers are pointing to the 2019 elections.
And this is really rich coming from a government that is selective and lethargic when it comes to dealing with buddies of the president. Someone stole from pensioners and was promoted, someone stole from IDPs and nothing happened to him, someone was caught on camera receiving bribes in his babariga and is a great political ally of the president, a senator who was accused of embezzling tens of billions from his state when he was governor is now the president’s point man in the South South. We can go on.
Justice Onnoghen should not be tried now and not in this manner. This is not advocacy but one that is backed by established statutes. A 2017 appeal court judgement threw away a case brought against an allegedly corrupt Judge Hyeladzira Nganjiwa. The judgement was backed by Section 158 of the 1999 constitution which refers such matters first to the National Judicial Council. While there might be challenges with this provision itself, it is one that could offer a stumbling block to instances of executive recklessness such as is being exhibited by the Buhari administration.
One immediate proposal is for the entire judicial branch of the government: the courts, the prisons, etcetera, to embark on a solidarity strike. The images of the CJN sitting in a dock under this circumstance is a caricature of the judiciary and the legal system. This is no time for lawyers and SANs among them to rally in defense of the CJN. He is not a powerless victim. There should be a shutdown of the entire judicial branch, if that is what it takes.
We do not intend to mince words. Our legal system has become a joke. The Nigerian Bar Association has tried to save face with a statement but it is rather too late. It was under this same government that judges were raided in their homes at night as though they were a terrorist hangout. A number of NBA members cheered the assault as a sort of cleanse of a ‘rotten judicial branch.’ Judgements have been routinely enforced by this government, yet no noise from them.
Addressing these lame duck barristers, Buhari boldly whistled that the rule of law is subservient to national interest and security. They cheered. At the event was Justice Onnoghen, the same person who would eventually become the victim. Embarrasingly, the NBA was forced to disavow the President after the event had been long concluded.
Buhari in his usual manner denies knowledge of the latest episode in his dramatic administration. The entire country knows that the Attorney-General Malami and his aide Juliet Ibeakaku (who ironically, is the Open Government Partnership boss) are the chief executors of the shambolic plot but somehow the Presidency claims to be unaware. Juliet’s political aide is the man behind the petition – but the presidency is unaware?
One question begs for answers: “Who is the Presidency?”
Insiders say “the faceless cabal” – as Aisha Buhari calls them – controlling the Presidency has been triggered by the unfavorable verdicts the administration has been getting from the courts. The most recent judgement regarding Rivers state which rendered the APC incapable of fielding a candidate sounded the final death knell, according to several sources. Remember how the presidency refused to send in Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation, a move which was only made possible after Professor Osinbajo took over office as the Acting President. Now – it appears – they are seeking to replace him with the elections around the corner.
This takes us to the second emergency option that should be triggered if due process is not followed in the CJN’s case. The courts should accelerate all the cases against President Buhari and his acolytes and rule with the same level of fierce independence it has shown of recent. It has to make a point of demonstrating that the spirit and will of the third arm cannot be broken. Not by this government, not today, not ever.
May democracy prevail.