As Nigerians watch the unfolding drama surrounding the imminent arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged failure to comply fully with the law pertaining to Assets Declaration by public officials, involving undisclosed possession of various amounts of local and foreign money, it is necessary to recall that, Lord Denning, the most popular British judge whose frank comments are regularly quoted by lawyers long after his death, once declared “be you ever so high, yet the law is above you.”
This statement of a renown legal luminary gains more relevance in today’s Nigeria where virtually all the local lawyers, especially those who are supposed to have been distinguished as senior advocates, are reacting in a manner that creates the impression that it is an abomination to subject the Chief Justice of Nigeria to laws of the land. Nothing could be more hypocritical and misleading.
It would definitely be an abomination to shield the dispenser of justice from the law because, apart from the peculiar paraphernalia of judges and their presumed superior knowledge of the law, they are human beings like everyone else and therefore subject to the same weaknesses and influences as the rest of humanity. Excluding them from compliance with the laws of the land and yet giving them exclusive responsibility to determine the legality of the actions of other citizens would create a cult of privileges and discretion where fear and favour will replace equity and justice.
Nigerians should be appreciating the unprecedented exposure of the Nigerian judiciary as being composed of the same Nigerians as in other arms of government in terms of good and bad tendencies which is another significant outcome of the Buhari administration’s bold and innovative war against corruption. This is the first administration to allow the searchlight of corrupt practices to penetrate the hitherto untouchable judiciary and our worst fears have come true.
In the first surprise swoop on the residences of some judges last year, Nigerians were shocked at the discovery of huge amounts of cash in local and international currencies stashed in the homes of high ranking judges. From just three of the arrested judges, the DSS revealed that its operatives recovered N93,558,000, $530,087, £25,970 and €5,680 and also seized banking as well as real estate documents from several judges. Now we are told that the Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen allegedly had $164,804.82 and 55,154.56 Euros in his accounts apart from N9,536,407, N11,456,311 and N3,221,807.05 which were said to be proceeds of estacodes, salaries and allowances but not declared as required by the Assets Declaration regulations applicable, according to charges by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
If truth be told, ordinary Nigerians are not surprised at these revelations because the Buhari war against corruption has earlier exposed similar possession of unbelievable amounts of cash in local and foreign currencies by top officials in the executive, the legislature, the army, navy, airforce and civil service from investigations into activities of the previous administration, several of which are undergoing trial. Nigerians would have been wondering whether the judges and lawyers running the judiciary are a special breed of Nigerians until now when the entire body of lawyers are protesting the legal process applied to other classes of Nigerians who have been investigated and are being tried.
President Muhammadu Buhari is already expanding the frontiers of his popularly commended anti-corruption policies and in the process he is flushing out many corrupt Nigerians and their collaborators for trials in courts. Without including the judiciary and indeed the community of so-called learned profession, there would have been an avenue for corruption to fight back hiding under technicalities, incessant adjournments and several other tactics of the judicial process. This is another welcome indication of the next level that Buhari administration is committed to pursuing in moving Nigeria forward.
– Ukut wrote from Port Harcourt