By Idowu Akinlotan
ON May 9, the Court of Appeal finally decided some of the cases filed before it by former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen. He was vindicated in three of the four interlocutory appeals he filed.
Probably the most significant of the appeals was the one that concerned the ex parte order the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) surreptitiously and maliciously granted the government based on which the CJN was illegally suspended. In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, the mode of securing the ex parte order raised some questions. Justice, the court averred, must not be shrouded in secrecy.
It is surprising then that the Court of Appeal merely dismissed the appeal, insisting that no reliefs could be granted because events had overtaken most of the reliefs the CJN sought. No weighty, censorious statements came from the court concerning the prosecution team which in clear view of the world perverted the course of justice, nor was anything said about a government that should know better but which chose to base its perpetration of injustice on what is now obviously a conspiracy to sack the CJN. Is this what justice is about in Nigeria? Is this not corruption on a scale that beggars belief and shames the entire country? If the Court of Appeal found the ex parte order flawed, after dithering for months over the case, should it not have ordered a redress? After all, “Ubis jus ubis remedium” (Where there is a wrong, there must be a remedy).
When the former CJN was suspended and a new one appointed in clear breach of the law, this column raised the fear that both the courts and the National Judicial Council (NJC), were embarking on a journey whose end no one could foresee. NJC, the column noted particularly, had become compromised and a shadow of itself. As predicted, a few weeks later, the august judicial body was called upon to prove that its behaviour in the Justice Onnoghen matter was nothing but an aberration. The mimic Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, affecting to behave like the presidency, desired to sack the state’s chief judge, Justice Nasir Ajanah, for no reason.
Mr Bello had taken umbrage at the Kogi State judiciary for failing to embrace the state’s civil service biometric exercise and pay-parade scheme. He then proceeded to seize the salaries of judicial workers against the provisions of the constitution and extant state laws regarding the funding of the third arm of government. Dissatisfied that the judicial workers embarked on a strike, and unable to successfully unseat Justice Ajanah whom he saw as the face of the judicial revolt, Mr Bello petitioned the NJC, alleging that the chief judge had been indicted in a state audit report. It turned out that the report had been doctored. Meanwhile, the NJC is reported to be in possession of the two reports, one real and the other forged. But instead of acting on the petition and proceeding to bring the forgers to justice, the NJC empanelled some justices to visit Kogi State. No one knew whether it was a fact-finding panel or a peacemaking panel.
In any case, this column rebuked the NJC and asked them to deal with the petition and let justice be served rather than make peace. Instead the NJC, just as it buried its head in the sand over the Onnoghen matter, has also kept the Kogi governor’s spurious petition in abeyance.
In fact, seeing that the NJC was supplicatory rather than defending constitutionality and the independence of the judiciary, and preferred to make plaintive remarks about rights and obligations rather than upholding the dignity of judicial workers, Mr Bello became remorselessly emboldened to harass the chief judge, walk him out of a state judicial function, refuse to pay the salaries of judicial workers, and continues to create a regime of fear and terror in Kogi. All because the courts are timid and the NJC is hemming and hawing.
It started with Justice Onnoghen, when the courts supinely surrendered to the judicial corruption enacted by the presidency, and has persisted with the NJC remaining conspiratorially muffled. Now the train has lumbered into Kogi. Who and where is next in the inglorious and provocative march to distort and corrupt an already weakened judicial arm?