Powerplay over Onnoghen’s suspension

By Sunmola Olowookere
In recent times, the nation is going through another episodic drama. It is the controversial trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. In this instance, the hunter has become the hunted.

The farmer’s leg is caught in his own trap. The Chief Interpreter of the law has erred in law. The long arms of the law has caught the most senior adjudicator in the Nigerian judicial sector. It is like a nightmare for the judiciary as they usually had a running battle with the executive. The current fight would probably be the most fierce of their run-ins.

The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen is currently in deep waters. He is facing what would appear to be the most turbulent period in his career.

The President had taken the bull by the horns and suspended the embattled CJN. As his colleagues and subordinates fight almost blindly for his restoration, observers both in the country and the outside world are watching keenly to see who will win in what appears to be a tug of war between the judiciary and the executive.

On Monday, the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA) directed its members to embark on a two-day boycott of the courts to protest the suspension of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen.

The NBA adopted the resolution at its emergency National Executive Council meeting.

The two-day boycott which commenced on Tuesday January 29th, 2019, according to the association, was to serve as a warning to the federal government. The NBA is demanding for a reverse of the Federal Government’s decision

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Onnoghen is facing trial on an alleged non-declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, among other emerging offences. The suspended CJN throughout the whole sittings failed to show up at the tribunal.

President Buhari last Friday complied with the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, directing the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen, pending the determination of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and several fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.

Lending credence to the claim by some notable Nigerians and particularly, the APC that the PDP intends to use the CJN in achieving her aim of reclaiming the presidential seat, the opposition has latched on to it, threatening fire and brimstone.

 In the dramatic frenzy, PDP even suspended its electioneering campaign for 72 hours. In response to all the hints and allegations, the Federal Government has come out to say that contrary to the popular belief, this is not about the forthcoming elections; neither does the suspension of the CJN signal the beginning of dictatorship. It further claimed that President Buhari is an avowed democrat, and his administration stands on the rule of law.

The judiciary would have done well if they would keep in mind that the whole issue is about the country’s highest judicial officer, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who is being accused of a breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, and the legal and moral conundrum surrounding that.

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 It is also about the alleged suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the suspended CJN’s personal attacks, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law. It is about the Hon. Justice Onnoghen himself admitting to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, calling it a ‘mistake’.

In spite of the glaring truth, the CJN had refused to take responsibility of the offense. It is disappointing and a shortcoming which should have silenced the judiciary. Whatever happened to “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands”?

The current scenario and the indignation of the judiciary smacks of a group of people who believe that they are above the law and being interpreters of the law, they have no need to be forced to answer to any legal shortcomings observed around them.

In saner climes,  instead of opting to put the entire judiciary on tenterhooks, heating the polity and generally constitution a clog in the wheels of justice, the suspended CJN ought to have done the needful by stepping aside just as the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun did when she was in the NYSC certificate imbroglio. His tenacity in holding on to his post in spite of the emerging charges, Justice Onnoghen never feels the urge to relinquish his post if only to safeguard his integrity.

Justice Onnoghen was given the opportunity of fair hearing, but he had gotten bigwig lawyers to fight his cause.

It is almost intimidating to behold the almost 50 lawyers besieged the tribunal sitting in support of their principal.

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The Judiciary is playing up its indignation rather than pay attention to the crux of the matter. Lord Denning, then the Lord Justice of the British Court of Appeal, once said that a judge should in his own character be beyond reproach, or at any rate should have so disciplined himself that he is not himself a breaker of the law.

 Lord Denning, also quoting the words of Sydney Smith, said: ”Nations fall when judges are unjust…”

There have been important issues that have threatened the unity of the nation and our budding democracy, yet these lawyers never saw the need to storm the court to demand that those wrongs be put right. Indeed, Nigeria no longer has statemen.

 However, the judiciary is now on an ego trip. It is as if they have forgotten that the CJN had erred in law.

His refusal to do the right thing has forced the hand of the presidency to address the issue which is currently heating up the polity. The judiciary should let Justice Walter Onnoghen answer to his case.

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