By Onyedika Agbedo
the Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Enugu and Bishop, Diocese of Enugu, Anglican Communion, His Grace, Most Reverend Emmanuel Chukwuma, in this no holds barred interview, speaks on the ongoing prosecution of the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged failure to declare his assets.
According to him, the trial is calculated attempt to cause confusion in the forthcoming general election, accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of seeking to truncate Nigeria’s democracy.
He, however, warned for the umpteenth time that any attempt to rig the election would be resisted by Nigerians and can result in violence and war. Excerpts:
How would you comment on the recent arraignment of the Chief Justice of the Federation at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged failure to declare his assets?
My reaction to the development is that it is embarrassing, disappointing and at the same time obnoxious, particularly the timing. Again, one is very much disappointed that there is a calculated effort, whether you like it or not, to cause confusion in the coming elections. If not, why is it at this time that they are talking about this? I am very much aware that the man had declared before and it takes about three or four years, according to law, for any declaration to expire. So, if he had declared his assets when he was acting and there was an omission somewhere and it was not detected that such omission was made till now when election is approaching, then there is an ulterior motive, which is totally condemnable. And the man has admitted that there was an omission and if that is the case, I see no reason there should be a speedy replacement or discharge of the man from the post, which is ultra vires. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, told Nigerians the other day that the president was not aware of the trial until penultimate Saturday. But the question is why should that kind of prosecution with the capacity to cause confusion in Nigeria proceed when the presidency has not given clearance. So, one is in doubt if the president has a way of checking his aides and people who are involved in doing these petitions or prosecutions. So, it is a weakness on the side of the president if he didn’t know about this type of prosecution that is capable of causing confusion in the polity. Again, it is antithetical to the sentimental state of the country now. I feel very disappointed that in 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari truncated our democracy and now that he has come again, I see all these things happening as another attempt to truncate our long-term earned democracy. This is why Nigerians must be very careful, never again to vote any military politician into power. I had said it before now that Buhari will never obey the rule of law; it was published. Otherwise why is he acting this way? Among all the Service Chiefs who ought to have retired by now, how many of them have declared their assets? Thank God that he would continue crying that the Inspector General of Police is gone. But the Service Chiefs that he has retained after they had retired, how many of them have declared their assets? How many of the people who are in Buhari’s cabinet have declared their assets? This is a very strange way of intimidating the South-south, which is capable of causing violence. We are just trying to get over the memories of the civil war, which was caused by violence and bad governance. So, it is very much disappointing that our dear president should allow this type of disorganisation to occur when we are just one month to the general election. We are not going to take any excuse from him anymore and I don’t care who he is. Buhari should henceforth know that he is not qualified to be the president of Nigeria and he should begin to withdraw. Otherwise, the attempt by them to rig election will cause violence and war in Nigeria because Nigerians are tired. You can quote me. We are fed up and we cannot continue with this kind of mess. So, Buhari is messing up the soul of Nigeria and should quit. We are tired. Even now that he is not ready to take part in the presidential debate, he should know that he has finished himself.
You talked about the timing of this case. Is there any time that is wrong in fighting crime in the society?
What you have to understand is that there is no crime in this. According to the constitution of Nigeria no civil servant should have a foreign account. What the man is having is a domiciliary account. And having a domiciliary account, therefore, is not a sin. So, I see no crime in this; that somebody again has a domiciliary account not declared probably after he has assumed that office. It is not a crime. I think there is an ulterior motive for which he wants to victimise him because Buhari is out to personalise his office and peculiar offices that are very strong in order to help him to rig election. That is what people are saying. Because, I see no reason a northerner again should take over from Onnoghen as the CJN, assuming he is ousted. So, one is wondering if this country and its governance belong to northerners alone. Where is equity and justice in this case? So, for me, as Archbishop Chukwuma, I totally condemn that action and failure to rectify it, we are looking for another war. They say the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. But I say it that with the way things are going, the unity of Nigeria is negotiable. And it is better for Buhari to go back now. I tell people that he has expired and he knows that he has expired. He has no capability of giving Nigerians good governance anymore. We don’t want this type of government again. He is ruling with a military sentiment and that will not help Nigeria’s current democracy.
But in this particular case, the government has not acted arbitrarily. They discovered an infraction and arraigned the man at the CCT as required by law?
The government has no right to arraign the man because any case like that should be taken to the National Judicial Council (NJC). Look, they are dealing with Nigerians that are intelligent, including myself. The NJC should first of all look into the case and find him guilty before the case can be taken to anywhere for prosecution. But in this case, they commenced his trial at the CCT without recourse to the NJC. It is a matter of trying to ridicule the judiciary. And I think the judiciary has been ridiculed enough under this administration. Time has come for the judicial arm of government to be given its due respect. What we are having now is autocracy and not democracy. That is what you should understand. Before this type of case can be tried by anybody or by the CCT, a petition should be written to the NJC. The NJC will now look into the case and if they find him guilty, will recommend his prosecution. So, they are acting ultra vires the way they are going. I am a learned person; I am educated. So, I am ready to face Buhari anywhere. I am also ready to face the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation anywhere because he is doing things that are ultra vires to the Constitution of Nigeria and the democracy of Nigeria.
But the CJN is the chairman of the NJC by the constitution. Can he be the judge in his own case?
No! In the NJC there is the next senior man. You can ask him to be absent or step aside and then the next senior person will take over while you look into the case. In the NJC you have other senior people who can preside while they look into the case. So, this just shows the ignorance of the Federal Government and the president on the procedure of doing things. But the fact is that this is ill motivated; it is absolutely unnecessary and a case of personal vendetta and victimisation of southerners, which I feel Buhari must stop otherwise he is calling for another war and another disintegration of this country. He had truncated our democracy in 1983 and he is about doing it again. And, of course, he knows that he has only one term; I don’t know why he is running for a second term. And for him to be able to perpetrate whatever he wants to do, he asked the Service Chiefs to wait. And I’m saying, if care is not taken, there is going to be a revolution. Nigerians are no more fools; we are ready for revolution and it will happen if care is not taken. So, Buhari should stop messing up the country; that is what I’m saying. And those who are advising him should stop giving him advice that is capable of derailing Nigeria’s democracy.
Away from the trial of the CJN, how would you assess the preparations for the 2019 general election, which will commence in about one month?
The preparation so far is very shaky in the sense that the manipulations are already going on. There is no way you can say that you are preparing for a general election and most of the regulations are being dished out by the INEC chairman without consultation with the political parties. There are certain guidelines and regulations for the conduct of the election, which ought to have been arrived at in conjunction with the political parties. But he doesn’t make any consultation and people are not happy about it. You cannot impose regulations on political parties that are not in agreement with what will bring a better democracy. That is what I’m talking. Right now, one does not know what will happen to the use of the Card Reader with the epileptic power supply in the country. There are certain places that it may not be possible to charge the Card Reader, so if Card Readers are not active in such places what happens? Again, what are they doing about the issue of underage voters in the North that also registered and have been coming out to pick their PVCs? Are they ready to arrest them or not? It’s unfortunate that in the North, you find people who are underaged coming out to vote and they keep quiet. So, I’m advising that everybody in the South who is matured should go and get his/her PVC, and go out to vote. Having said that, we should allow elections to be the will of the people and everybody should exercise his/her franchise; and let democracy be democracy for which we have government of the people, by the people and for the people. If not, there will be friction, there will be violence, there will be disagreements and Nigeria will disintegrate again.
You accused INEC of dishing out some regulations without consulting with the political parties. Do you have any instance of such regulations, which you think the parties ought to have been consulted?
Well, the thing there is that they know the regulations. The INEC chairman has been talking about regulations. I don’t have the thing here, but there are some regulations he has already dished out, which the political parties are not happy about because there was no consultation. This is what you should understand. The thing is that the man seems to be doing things as directed by a higher power and the presidency has no power to direct them to do anything that will favour it. This is a democracy and there should be fair play in whatever actions and appointments. The thing is that the way we are going, Nigerians will want Buhari to behave like Jonathan. Jonathan did not interfere with elections and Jonathan did not take any step to force himself on Nigerians as their leader. So, Buhari should know that if people were tired of Jonathan in 2015 and wanted change, now people are “tired, tired”. They are saying that they don’t want this “Change”. They want a change that will be change. He should allow the will of the people to prevail. That is what will make the election to go well without any element of intimidation, which is going on right now. The man has been intimidating people and opposition political parties, while anybody who joins the APC goes free even when he is a robber and a thief. None of those people in the APC are being investigated. None of them are declaring their assets. If you join the APC, you become a sacred cow. Therefore, Nigerians are asking: where is justice and equity? Where is fairness? Where are the tenets of democracy in this administration of Buhari?
You have been alleging in the course of this conversation that some of the Service Chiefs and APC chieftains have not declared their assets. Can you substantiate these allegations if called upon to do so?
Oh yes! Buratai has not declared his assets fully. Many of them have foreign accounts. Many of them have various assets that they have kept in secret places. Quote me! There are monies that have been budgeted for military wares… And in military practice, individuals are not supposed to purchase arms for a government; it is nation to nation. So, it’s unfortunate that these individuals do not even channel the money properly. I see no reason most of our military troops will be there using antiquated weapons against Boko Haram while Boko Haram will be using sophisticated weapons against them. Many Nigerian soldiers are being killed at the warfront by Boko Haram. The monies that they are supposed to use to procure military equipment and make these people to be comfortable are being diverted. So, let them declare the monies that have been budgeted for military equipment even without due process. Let us talk about that. The $400 million that was sent to the U.S. for military equipment was without due process. Nobody is talking about it. These are the things. I have evidence and if I’m called upon I will provide them.
You alleged that the presidency has been preparing the ground to rig the forthcoming general election by giving directives to INEC. But the Commission has repeatedly assured Nigerians of its readiness to conduct a free and fair election, while President Buhari has also said times without number that the votes of Nigerians will count. Why do you doubt the sincerity of both the Commission and the presidency on this issue?
My brother, that is the language you will hear. But you see, there is so much deceit; there is incredibility. Look, I’m a political spiritual mafia, so I know what is going on. They are doing many things thinking they are trying to deceive Nigerians. The incessant transfer of the GOCs and Commissioners of Police across the whole states is worrisome. And then he (INEC chairman) will tell you they will conduct a free and fair election, but he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Who put him there? How was he selected? Was there any application by Nigerians for the position and he emerged by excellence or whatever criterion? He was not put there because he is the best. The person who left there was a northerner and you put another northerner there and you tell me that they are sincere. Let them prove themselves. As far as I’m concerned, what we are practising today is deceitful democracy. And until things are addressed properly and we make sure that people who take up that office (INEC chairmanship) are properly interviewed and the best is taken on the basis of excellence, we won’t have better and sincere administrators of elections. You saw what happened in Ekiti and Osun states gubernatorial elections. In Osun State, the result was about to be announced and a telephone call changed the whole scenario. So, how can one have confidence that if the result is about to be announced anywhere, there will be no telephone call from anywhere to say ‘don’t announce’ and they will declare the election inconclusive. So, the previous elections had put fear in people that the powers that be might declare the elections inconclusive in some areas for them to be able to have their way since they think they cannot win elections in those areas. But that will be very dangerous, because if the mandate of the people is not respected, there is bound to be chaos. So, it is better that we respect peoples’ mandate and make sure that the will of God prevails in the election without anybody forcing his way into any position. Where the reverse is the case, let us expect violence.