Down South-West Nigeria, he who moans about ringworm at the expense of a more deadly leprosy is never taken seriously. That seems to be the lot of arch-defenders of suspended Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen for breaching Code of Conduct for public office holders in failing to declare his assets as and when due. In addition, less than a month before the 2019 general election, much is being made of negligible irrelevances, as if such are peculiar to Nigeria and especially President Muhammadu Buhari.
On a note of humour, were Nigerias not told in 2015 that, if elected, President Buhari would be nose-led by one of his party lieutenants, ex-Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu? Perhaps, inclined to that ridiculous notion, opposition leader, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, disdainfully told an international conference in faraway Indonesia that Buhari is too weak. By now, they all know better that, as former President Ibrahim Babangida told Nigerians, “in the military, officers are trained to dominate their environment.” Now that the same Buhari, a supposed weakling, is enforcing the law to expose erstwhile seeming untouchables, Nigerians must fall in line.
Nigeria either earned or had been mischievously tagged with the reputation of a country where corruption is the strongest currency. Any government at Aso Rock must, therefore, play its part in improving the notorious reputation. In that endeavour, even the government can be embarrassed by mafia in sensitive high-ranking positions under the illusion of being untouchable. It should, therefore, be understandable that any effort or indeed attempt to smash that mafia will reverberate all over, even beyond Nigeria. A former British Prime Minister David Cameron thumbed down Nigeria as a incredibly corrupt country. Yet, Britain is the major sanctuary for public funds looted in Nigeria. That observation was either genuine or most irresponsible.
Whichever it was, Britain was, therefore, morally questionable for raising eyebrows on Nigerian government’s move against a suspected source of corruption. Britain is for ever tied to the apron strings of United States. There was, therefore, no surprise that the two countries are proving jointly obstructionist in the Walter Onnoghen scandal.
Who is that Chief Justice in the United States or Britain to launder millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of pounds and scores of thousands of euros in unexplained (if at all explainable) wealth?
Rather conveniently, both United States and Britain faulted what they described as the timing of the Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen saga, almost two months to Nigeria’s 2016 general election, thereby (Britain and United States) keying into the blackmail and desperation of beneficiaries of corruption on Nigeria’s bench.
Even if the Justice Onnoghen saga broke out a fortnight to the elections, should the Nigerian government refrain from acting so that the country could get more incredibly corrupt?
More irritatingly, why should aspects of governance, and indeed timing of aspects of governance be correct and tolerable in Britain and United States but wrong and intolerable in Nigeria? A month to the 2016 presidential election in United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) claimed to have evidence that the major presidential candidate Hillary Clinton endangered national security of United States during her tenure as Secretary of State. Inevitably, Hillary Clinton’s electoral prospects sharply dropped as she became liable for criminal charge for allegedly endangering national security.
Why did the United States administration not withhold the allegation against Hillary Clinton till after the 2016 Presidential elections? Did Britain, on its part, ever raise any concern about the timing of the allegation against Hillary Clinton, virtually a month to the presidential election? For too long, Nigerian government had allowed Britain, in particular, and, lately, along with United States, unnecessary and disturbing latitude in interfering in Nigeria’s omnibus affairs. Correspondingly, how much and how often do Nigeria’s envoys in the two countries dabble in their internal affairs? Whether the timing of the security scare raised a month before 2016 American election caused Hillary Clinton’s defeat is still an on-going argument both in United States and abroad, especially as the same accuser, FBI, turned round days before the election to say all was clear for Hillary Clinton. But the fact of history was that Hillary Clinton was defeated and heavens did not fall. Neither did Britain complain.
If United States could disregard timing of a potential crime, and placed priority on the integrity of public office holders, why not the same in Nigeria? Noticeably, Walter Onnoghen is not a candidate in Nigeria’s elections and cannot be affected as much as Hillary Clinton who lost votes.
Somewhat relieving was Nigerian government’s unusual if still very mild reaction in pushing back Britain and United States from trying to influence events in Nigeria. Eventually, Nigerian government felt the reality of the political/diplomatic provocation of the United States and Britain often criticised in this column as late as the recent past. Nigerian reaction re-echoes but still falls far short of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, through his Foreign Minister Krobo Edusei. In Nigeria’s position today over the Walter Onnoghen saga, Ghana’s Foreign Minister in the 1960s, Krobo Edusei, would have given both United States and British envoys 48 hours to leave the country.
By the way, People’s Democratic Party’s presidential candidate should discard the idea of unconsciously acquiring the image of Uncle Tom of Nigerian politics. Writing letters to Britain, United States and France to come and solve political controversies in Nigeria? Lobbyists will only collect dollars for nothing these countries can do in Nigeria. If in doubt, time will tell.
Senate President Bukunola Saraki must be very entertaining. The political base he built in the Senate some three years ago must have collapsed. Saraki, as it turned out, without consultation, recalled the Senate speculatively to officially condemn the suspension of Chief Justice Onnoghen. But media reports surprisingly indicated that the ceremony would be seized by APC senators to impeach him, which was doubtful since the party does not command two-thirds support. But in Nigerian politics, you don’t take chances in moments like this. In the alternative, Saraki abandoned the plan and headed for the courts.
On both fronts, Saraki was disowned by the APC, which claimed not to be a party to the recall of the Senate nor the suit in court. What happened to that solidarity, which won him Senate presidency only yesteryears ago? He is gradually knowing Nigerians. Saraki also described the suspension of Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice, as threat to democracy. Two members of that chamber Senator Ali Ndume and Senator Omo Agege, would instantly disagree. Both were suspended for expressing critical opposite views against Saraki.
The senators had to seek relief in law courts, which nullified the suspension one after the other on the ground that the Senate lacked the authority to suspend any member. There was also long litigation for the paymat of accumulated arrears of salaries and allowances for the period of the unlawful suspension, as ordered by the court.
On his part, in his sober moments, Justice Onnoghen might find it inevitable to blame those prodding him for their own purposes. Within himself, does Justice Onnoghen think he can ever return to that post? It must be noted he is on suspension. Even if he returns – which is doubtful – what moral authority can he command in view of the damage done to the judiciary, all triggered by his reputation of publicly admitting he did not comply with Code of Conduct for public office holders? As the crisis continues, his agony engulfs him, all because he remains in controversial circulation. One theory is that he should fight it out rather than make it easy for those who ignored necessary procedure to get him out.
The other side was that he helped in roasting himself in refusing to show up for trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, he was suspended, more allegations made against him and submitted to National Judicial Council, the Appeal Court refused to stay his trial at Code of Conduct Tribunal, National Judicial Council probed the fresh allegations and ordered him to explain himself within seven days, etc. Justice Onnoghen, a man hitherto probing judges, recommending them for trial, retirement, dismissal, ordering them to refund fraudulently earned salaries and allowances, etc. Justice Onnoghen now faces uncertain fate, including tasting of the same potion. Even, champions of Justice Onnoghen’s cause are not denying the staggering allegations against him. It is most unlikely that, in the end, Justice Onnoghen will thank his champions.
Also, as the elections draw nearer, we are witnessing series of fuss. The first is the debate issue, which is an American idea to enhance the country’s reputation for fun and sensation. Even before Independence, Nigerians had been deep-seated in cleavages as sole determinants of our federal or regional elections. The main factors were ethnicity and religion. Only lately had cult followership emerged as another determinant. In short, before any elections, including 2019, Nigerians already made up their mind, debate or no debate.
Neither should Nigeria be ignorantly assumed as the only country without a debate before elections. General elections were held in Britain in 2016 but Prime Minister Theresa May refused to participate in any debate. She still won. Even lately, Sky News collected about 250 signatures from the public supporting debates before elections. For all the seeming enthusiasm, it took many months to collect the signatures in such an educated and enlightened society. But nobody could be bothered. A similar effort to collect signatures in Nigeria would attract millions within two months. As in census or voters registration in Nigeria, the millions of signatures would have been concocted and inflated. In any case, Sky News deposited the signatures with the British government, which rejected any idea of debate for elections in Britain.
There had also been these other irrelevances, as we approach the elections. Buhari missed steps while mounting or descending the platform at a rally in Kogi. Should that be a handicap against his chances? The same Buhari mistook the governor for President while handing his party’s flag to Delta APC’s governorship candidate in Delta. So what? Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, missed his steps while mounting a platform during campaigns for 1996 presidential election. He was 72 years, younger than Buhari, though disabled during his (Dole’s) military service. But there was also Barack Obama, still under 70 after eight years as President of United States. He too missed his steps walking to a podium at a public function. Obama is far younger than Buhari.
Then, wait for this. During his tenure as American President, Obama claimed to have visited all the fifty-seven (yes 57) American States. That was Obama, a law graduate of Yale University. The clip was transmitted on CNN. Nobody bothered his head since America has only fifty (50) states. Yet, Obama claimed to have visited fifty-seven states. Imagine Buhari claiming to have visited all the 46 (forty-six) or any number higher than the statutory 36 states in Nigeria. Sponsored editorials, insinuations and denigration in the social media would have chocked us.
Postscript: EFCC now prosecuting ex-SGF Babachir Lawal?
Some kind of monofiki.