Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Dennis Aghanya, Executive Secretary of Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI), says his petition against the Chief Justice of the Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, is meant to save Nigeria from collapse. He also denies allegations that he is out to truncate democracy.
Your petition against the Chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen is generating tension in the country. How do you feel about that?
I feel very great, I feel honoured that at least, I could avail myself the opportunity to render service to humanity. What we did was to contribute our quota in our own little way to save this country from total collapse. Like President Muhammadu Buhari said, if we don’t fight and kill corruption, corruption will destroy the country.
Are you saying you are not disturbed by the reactions the petition has generated across the length and breadth of the Nigeria?
No, I’m not. Rather, I am disappointed with Nigerians who have expressed contrary opinion. Rather than address the substance of the petition, people are personalising the issues and bringing in sentiments. I don’t think that will help the society.
What informed your decision to file the petition at such critical period in the nation’s political cycle?
I didn’t just make up my mind. It is an investigation that took us close to one year. If you look at the content of our report, you will know that it is not something you get from the shelves. We turned in our report as soon as we concluded investigations. There is no timeline; there is no preferred time to send the petition. If we had delayed it, probably there could be interference from some quarters.
Are you saying that you were not influenced by the presidency as being insinuated?
The last time I saw President Muhammadu Buhari was in 2011. It is common knowledge that I am not involved in this administration. I have been on my own for a long time. The long years of corruption in this country and the citizens’ perception of life has so much affected the people that when people do the right thing, it is attributed to something else? But, I thank God that our NGO is firm and can distinguish itself. It takes courage.
So, your motive is to fight corruption?
Of course, it has always been. We have done it at different times and levels, not just on the issue of the CJN. If you go to Zone 2, Lagos State Police Command, they will tell you about ARDI. We have investigated cases to the extent that I once had reason to exchange words with the former Lagos State Commissioner of Police. I told him what we came for and that we don’t compromise on our work.
Despite your claims to being an anti-corruption champion, many people have not heard much about ARDI. How credible is your organisation?
That is it. Some people announce themselves, but it is your actions that should announce you. We have been working discreetly. The most important thing is to set out and do the right thing. We are not doing what we do to be celebrated. What we did was just to render service and I am happy, I am proud; I am fulfilled that in the history of Nigeria, at least, I will be remembered as one man who stood by his personal conviction and rendered service. I saw what was wrong and I brought it out. It is left for the society to judge.
Many Nigerians are still at a loss on what you intend to achieve with your petition. What do you say to that?
What do I intend to achieve? I intend to correct the society. The Chief Justice of Nigeria is the highest ranking judicial officer and I feel that he should live above board. If he lives above board, then everything will fall in place because the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. And if the judiciary is tainted in any form, it means the country will be doomed. So, that is all I wanted to achieve.
Are you aware that the presiding judge of the Code of conduct tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar is also on trial for alleged corruption? What do you make of that?
That does not fall within our jurisdiction. That was why as soon as we came up with our findings, we handed it over to the appropriate agency of the government to verify. Let me correct one impression though, we did not pass judgement on the Chief Justice of Nigeria. We stumbled on facts and we sent it to appropriate authorities to verify. If our findings are correct, then the law will take its course.
Many Nigerians question the timing of your petition, because it is very close to election. The feeling is that it is targeted at stopping Onnoghen from presiding over election petition cases that come to the apex court. Is there merit in this line of thinking?
I am so surprised that things like this are coming from highly respected legal officers and from political parties. I am worried because it means there could be some link between the political parties saying these things and the CJN. These political parties may have a game plan. That is just the way I am beginning to look at it. If by our action the CJN is indicted, it means their game plan will not work. Everybody should applaud what we have done. Let the trial go on. That is what it should be.
Some Nigerians are trying to draw a comparison between ARDI and the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), which contributed to truncating the Third Republic. Is the ARDI such an organisation?
That is very funny. Are the facts in our petition false? That is what Nigerians should be asking. It is when you fault the facts in our petition that you can say we are trying to play a foul game. It shows how short-sighted people can be in canvassing their opinions or view points. How can one say such a thing when the facts of our petition are there and verifiable? If anybody can fault it, then you know that may be we have a different intention. But the facts of our petition are very clear and self-explanatory.
Are you satisfied with the latest developments at the Abuja High Court?
I am not a lawyer, but I am happy that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) acted on our petition because most times, petition of this nature are suppressed. We have done our part and it ends there. It is now left for the judiciary to play their part. That is what they are doing. And we should allow the full legal process to take its course. There is no need interfering. Some people are asking what possibly we want to achieve. What you should have in mind is the outcome of the legal process. If the court finds the CJN guilty, so be it. And if the court dismisses the petition based on verifiable facts, so be it.
Does that mean you are not hopeful of justice?
What are you talking about? Justice is what is happening now, that we turned in a petition and it is being acted upon. That is our concern.