In another two weeks or so, Nigerians will be going to the polls to elect a president who will preside over the affairs of the country for the next four years. Sadly, however, the nation’s political atmosphere is so fouled up now that one cannot but wonder if the polls will actually hold and have a credible outcome.
It is like, head or tail, the Nigerian people are the losers. Last week, I had penned, halfway, a piece on the nation’s poor choices in the coming presidential election. It is like the nation has no choice but to choose between an aged and ailing President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who has, unfortunately, had the tar brush of corruption rightly or wrongly running over his white agbada, for many years now. He also has the baggage of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its lackluster 16-year administration of the country to cope with.
While the past four years of the Buhari Presidency is widely regarded as largely not producing the change that many Nigerians desire, as unemployment, poor electricity supply and dilapidated infrastructure are yet to resolved, there are genuine fears that a return to the PDP would not be the way out of the nation’s problems. This is more so as the PDP had been in power for 16 consecutive years and did not succeed in solving the problems that it is now accusing Buhari of.
Although one of the other presidential candidates, Mr. Moghalu, has recently been touting himself as a third alternative force, he really cannot make much impact as Nigeria’s politics has been so monetized and is controlled by a band of godfathers that it is virtually impossible for anyone outside of the two major political parties to make any impact in a presidential race. It is for this reason that, outside of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), only a few of the nation’s political parties are known to a majority of voters. As if the problem of poor choices in the February 16 poll is not enough, President Buhari has furthered worsened the problem with his recent suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.
The suspension of the CJN just three weeks to the election is a brazen step on the part of the Presidency. It has led to a lot of arguments on the propriety or otherwise of the action. The PDP, expectedly, has been crying to high heavens that it is a first step on the part of the Presidency towards rigging the presidential poll.
Some have interpreted it to mean that the PDP feels that its challenge of the outcome to the presidential contest may not be successful with the decision of the President to suspend Onnoghen and replace him with someone from his own part of the country.
Yet, there are those who think that corruption is corruption, no matter when it is discovered and action taken against it. To this class of people, the huge sums of money in foreign currencies and the property (50 houses?) traced to Onnoghen call for immediate sanctions, especially as the accused CJN is the head of the National Judicial Council (NJC) that is statutorily charged with the investigation of offences committed by judicial officials, including the CJN.
As I write, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the United States and United Kingdom have written to express their concern on this development. There is also controversy on the position of the constitution on this matter.
While the NJC has the mandate to investigate judicial officials and the president can only remove the CJN with the approval of the Senate, there is the other legality of the fact that Buhari only suspended, and did not sack Onnoghen. If the CJN is able to clear his name of the allegations against him, well beyond the excuse that he forgot to declare his assets, I believe the President will not be able to get the nod of the senate to permanently keep him off his seat.
What the current controversy has done, however, is to cast a pall on the 2019 elections. But for the seeming desperation and determination of both the Buharideens and the Wailing Wailers, the election would likely witness a very poor turnout. This is not only because of the poor choices, but because the shenanigans surrounding the entire exercise is enough to put off any serious-minded person.
Although a corrupt CJN is not what any nation can tolerate as it goes into an election, the speed with which the Executive arm of government moved against Onnoghen suggests that there is more to what the Presidency is fighting against than the corruption that has been in the country for decades. This is more so as the huge sums found in Onnoghen’s accounts are not recent lodgments or proven to have been made by the PDP.
While this does not absolve the CJN of corruption, the timelines of the entire suspension saga suggest that it may be part of a plan by the “cabal” to get the CJN out of office by all means, fair or foul.
The suspension has put the lie to the president’s initial denial that he was not aware of the charges against the CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). If he was not really aware of the charges, then the speed with which he acted on the so-called directive of the CCT, which now appears to have been obtained after the actual sitting of tribunal, is strange.
The suspension speaks volumes of the brazen manner in which the administration takes some of its decisions, including its decision to appoint security chiefs from only one part of the country. This latest decision suggests that the president and his advisers are not bothered about what anyone says, which is unacceptable in a democracy. But then, a CJN must always be above board. So, he should be made to have his day at the CCT, and eventually in the courts, to clear his name of all the allegations.
It is, however, doubtful that this can be done before the elections. What is required at this time is an expedited investigation and adjudication of the Onnoghen matter to ensure justice, not only for him, but the entire country.