The array of Senior Advocates of Nigeria that lined up behind the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to defend him the other day in court was a clear indication that those who sought to arraign him have touched a rather sore nerve.
The senior lawyers, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, certainly gave their services free of charge, perhaps to defend the evident attack on the judiciary. The strategists of government got this one wrong, irrespective of whatever altruistic reasons they may adduce for it. The allegation is that the Chief Justice of Nigeria did not declare his domiciliary accounts, within three months after he was sworn into office. He allegedly failed to declare one such account he maintained in Chattered Bank. It should raise no eyebrows if the President says he knows nothing about the process leading to the possible arraignment of the head of an arm of government in the government. It would only fall on the back of past incidents when the President did not know that his order to the Inspector-General of Police to proceed to Benue, in the heat of incessant killings in the state, was not carried out; that his order to the army top brass to relocate to the North East was carried out, but not with the ‘immediate effect’ befitting an order from the Commander-in-Chief. If that be the case, I pray it is not, then those who have consistently held that President Muhammadu Buhari has no full grasp of what happens in his government may well be right. The question is this: why did Onnoghen’s traducers wait till the presidential election was days away before they struck? Why did they strike days after the Supreme Court threw the ruling party’s nomination squabble in Rivers State back to the Appeal Court, which has now cancelled all the primaries in the state, rendering the party an orphan in that state? Did they see the CJN as a stumbling block in their way? Several such questions have become pertinent in the wake of this sudden discovery of the alleged maleficence of the CJN.
We shall do well to recall that it took public outcry for the man to be sworn into office. It was becoming clear that the President probably did not want him, but the President was stuck with him. When the President was on medical leave, the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, did the right thing. He submitted Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for clearance as CJN. No one knows if he sought the consent of his boss or if he simply used the powers vested in his office to nominate the current CJN.
Unfolding events show that those who call the shots at the Presidency seem to have laid in wait for the man whose occupation of that office must have been considered an anathema to them. The Chief Justice has landed in their net, and they are hell-bent on easing him out of office. If the allegations are true, then the man has handed them a rope with which to hang him. My intervention is not really to intrude, by way of comment on a matter before the court of law. I am worried that this matter waited in the wings until elections were weeks away. High-profile politicians, including the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, have faced charges of such non-declaration of assets, and the heavens did not fall. In fact, the same Olanipekun also led Tinubu’s defence at that time. There was a large dose of hypocrisy in those who hailed Olanipekun for defending Tinubu now wanting to hang him for defending Onnoghen. There is certainly something political about this matter. For me, the problem is timing, not really the veracity or otherwise of the allegations.
There seems to be a concerted move to get Onnoghen out of the way. That desperation must have more reasons than meets the eye, which is why the timing is suspicious. Those prosecuting Buhari’s re-election bid must not try to cow the judiciary. Such action, as it seems to be the case, would reverberate such that the judiciary may fight back like someone whose back is on the wall, whose only choice is to fight for survival. Senior lawyers know that any threat to the judiciary is the shortest route to dictatorship and, thus, a treat to their careers and livelihood.
The ruling party ought to be conscious of its pending election matters in Ekiti, Osun and the plethora coming with the elections. It bears repeating that this intervention interrogates the timing of these charges against the CJN, not their veracity. Observers are left with little option than to impute political motives to the move. The Chief Justice has sat on the seat for about two years or so, which is why curious eyebrows, like mine, are raised. People are left little option than to impute political motives to the move. The Chief Justice has sat on the seat for about two years or so, which is why curious eyebrows like mine can only be raised at the timing of these charges. Going by the brazen lopsidedness in appointments, which seem to be based on how the people voted, not national spread, and the next judicial officer in line to Onnoghen, the story of the witch crying in the night and the baby dying in the morning comes into play.
If Onnoghen goes, who would step in as the most senior officer? Just as the ink on this article was drying, a new Inspector-General of Police was appointed. The appointment went the way of others before it. Senior officers from the ‘wrong’ side of the nation were sacrificed for the right person. If Onnoghen goes, who will step into his shoes? This is not to condone evil, if there is one, but to point out that the attack on him at this time is patently ill timed. There seems to be an attempt to prevent him from presiding over the petitions expected from the coming polls.