Some Nigerians have knocked the federal government and some of its agencies over what they call attempts to use the instrumentality of the law to blackmail dissenting voices and perceived political opponents.
A group, the Nigeria Rights Initiative (NRI) said recently that some past actions of government were a glaring political witch-hunt of its opponents.
The group said the perceived humiliation of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, was particularly worrisome.
Speaking on behalf of the group, its executive director, Mr. Femi Adeniyi, lamented that the CJN had undergone mental and psychological abuse since his ordeal began early in the year.
Said Adeniyi: “News broke out early this year that Justice Onnoghen, who has since been suspended as CJN, failed to declare his assets and maintains bank accounts in foreign currencies and equally made efforts to obstruct the course of justice. The Nigerian media space, particularly the social media, was awash with allegations that Onnoghen had 55 undeclared buildings as well as millions in local and foreign currencies.
“The quantum of opprobrium and vilifications vented on the person of Justice Onnoghen by majority of Nigerians was enough to have caused a deeply emotional trauma for any being. The man was suspended, replaced with Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad and arraigned at the Code of Conduct Tribunal with the expectations that a truckload of damning evidence would be brought before the tribunal.
“In the course of the trial, the undeclared 55 buildings and millions of dollars and pounds alleged to be in the five accounts of Justice Onnoghen suddenly disappeared into thin air. Surprisingly, the relationship manager of the bank where the five accounts of Onnoghen are domiciled told the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the man is still servicing a loan facility of $500,000, which he obtained with his investment in bonds and other investments. The witness further said that, as at December 2018, the balance in one of the naira accounts of Justice Onnoghen was N2.6 million, while the other was N12.8 million. She also revealed that the balance of his euro account as at December 2018 was €10,187, while the pound sterling accounts as at December 2018 had a balance of £13,730 and the dollar account as at January 2019 was $56,878. The banker also informed the court that Onnoghen never operated a foreign account.”
Adeniyi, a journalist, public relations expert and media consultant, regretted that someone like the CJN could be subjected to such a wicked and unpatriotic judicial witch-hunt for political expediency.
“Justice Onnoghen is not alone in this evolving judicial persecution. The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, was made to go through the same tortuous and frustrating phantom trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. At the end of the agonising trial that went up to the Supreme Court, a five-man panel of the apex court, led by Justice Dattijo Muhammad, unanimously upheld the appeal of Saraki and dismissed the remnant three-count charge preferred against him. As a matter of fact, both the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which initially dismissed all the charges against Saraki, and the Supreme Court declared that the evidence led by the prosecution was entirely hearsay.”
In his view, Dr. Patrick Adeh, a rights activist and public affairs analyst, said the case of former presidential spokesman, Dr, Doyin Okupe, was also troubling.
“This is another Nigerian that is currently being persecuted through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),” he noted. “The man had been detained for weeks by the anti-graft agency and was also subjected to a media trial in which he was accused of receiving N750 million from the then National Security Adviser, Col. Dasuki, for doing nothing.”
Adeh said the EFCC allegation against Okupe was a convenient fallacy, noting that all Okupe got on a monthly basis was an initial N10 million, which was later reduced to N5 million.
“The man has explained that the monthly subventions were used to run the newly created office of the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs. The monthly subventions were for salaries of 23 staff, newspaper publications and adverts, press conferences, research on public perception polls, sponsored weekly programmes on television and radio, and travels, among other activities. That is why many people are saying that someone like Okupe is only being harassed for belonging to the opposition party.”
Adeh also recalled the case of Deji Adeyanju, a consistent critic of the present administration who was released from jail only recently.
“The young man was made to languish in Kano Prison for an offence he allegedly committed almost a decade ago, and for which he had been acquitted and discharged by a Federal High Court. People are now saying that he was kept in prison for three months so that he would be out of circulation for the period of electioneering campaigns.”
Adeniyi noted that it was gratifying that the courts are coming out to defend the rights of Nigerians.
“Those that have resorted to judicial persecution of innocent Nigerians as a result of their political leaning and dissenting views ought to know that the beauty of democracy lies with a vibrant opposition,” he said.
He also had a word of advice for the President and top operatives of the government: “President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to patriotically rise above partisan sentiments by ensuring that those behind the humiliating and wicked persecution of innocent Nigerians are deservedly punished. President Buhari is particularly urged to make scapegoats of those that wove unconscionable lies against Justice Onnoghen. The least the innocent man deserves at this time is the immediate lifting of his suspension from office as the CJN. He should also be offered a public apology.
“It must be realised that no nation in the world that aspires to be great can ever attain greatness by resorting to unconscionable persecution of its patriotic citizens on phoney charges.”