By Jide Oluwajuyitan

Because of their judicial temperament, professional ethics, courage and integrity, Supreme Court judges ‘lead lives of probity, free from scandal, drama, rebellion and colour’. They hardly have friends. Unarguably, CJN Walter Onnoghen fitted very well the picture of a good judge in our heads. He is never afraid to walk alone. It will be recalled he along with justices Maryam Aloma Muktar and Adesola Oguntade once wrote a powerful dissenting opinions in the controversial case of Muhammadu Buhari vs. Independent National Electoral Commission. But as Ken Saro-Wiwa once said, Africa kills its own ‘sun’. Onnoghen is probably the latest victim of the Nigerian system.

The Nigerian ruling classes populated by senior lawyers are hardly known for their altruism. It is therefore not too much of a coincidence to see unanimity among PDP nation-wreckers and those who aided them in their war against Nigeria either as mandate snatchers or wreckers of the banking sector. The struggle to demonstrate who loves Onnoghen best started even before he was arraigned by before the CCT over non-declaration of assets which allegedly include some 55 houses and some $3m in five different bank accounts with 94 lawyers including 40 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) led by Chief Oluwole Olanipekun. His admission of guilt “I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009…Following my appointment as acting CJN in November, 2016, the need to declare my assets anew made me to realize the mistake” – seemed to have galvanized support of additional legal warriors. In the forefront of fair-weather friends from outside the CJN’s constituency was PDP supported by Atiku Abubakar, its flagbearer in 2019 election, Uche Secundus, the party chairman and senate president, Bukola Saraki.

But because PDP thinks Nigerians have short memories, they probably believe Nigerians have forgotten the state of the judiciary during their 16 years reign. Under Obasanjo (1999-2007), PDP had no faith in the judiciary. They settled disputes usually over sharing of seized assets by eliminating themselves. The party was described by Wole Soyinka as ‘a nest of killers’. Obasanjo, the chief security officer of state, was organizing a kangaroo panel of abducted five or half a dozen state lawmakers locked up in a hotel room and blackmailed to impeach governors of Bayelsa, Plateau and, Ekiti states and Oyo states. The judiciary looked the other way. Corruption stank to the high heavens.

The following was the picture painted by Audu Ogbeh, one time chairman of PDP: “We are trying to battle with the rule of law; it is not working too well. There are jokes now that you shouldn’t pay a lawyer. It is better to pay a judge which the current Chief Justice (Maryam Aloma Murktar) is fighting because the judiciary got destroyed by politicians. I have been warning that if we carry on like this, the politicians will destroy the judiciary irreparably. The bribes are just too large and in foreign exchange, too attractive. People pack huge volumes of cash and go around at night, corrupting judges and making it impossible for them to give justice”.

The judiciary under Umaru Yar’Adua was reduced to an arm of PDP with James Ibori using the police to hunt down or drive EFCC members that probed him and his friend, Bukola Saraki, out of the police force and the country. Ibori was freed by an Asaba High Court judge for the same offences that earned him 14 years imprisonment at a London court. Peter Odili, a Nigerian high court ruled, must not be probed for his alleged mismanagement of his state resources. Ex-governor Lucky Igbinedion got a pat on the arm for looting Edo State.

Under President Jonathan, Ayo Fayose led a gang of thugs to beat up a judge inside his court room while the judiciary looked the other way. Justice Isa Salami of the Appeal court was suspended for retrieving a stolen mandate from Segun Oni of Ekiti and Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun and for averring in a suit in court that Chief Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu had asked that the governorship election petition in Sokoto State be decided in favour of the candidate of the ruling party.

Jonathan during the swearing-in-ceremony of the Justice Dahiru Musdapher, as CJN on September 27, 2011, spoke of the “widespread perception of a growing crisis of integrity in the judiciary”, while pointing out that “A partisan judge compromises his or her oath of office and acts unfairly. A corrupt judge disgraces the Bench on which he or she sits and the title that he or she wears”.

But that was yesterday. Today PDP says “the attempt to drag the CJN to the CCT is a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of state including the National Assembly and judiciary”. Atiku, Obasanjo’s accomplice in his illegal seizure of Lagos State LGA now says “Nigerians will resist any attempt by the Buhari presidency to intimidate the judiciary”. The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, some of whose members are in court over alleged bribing of judges, is “urging respect for the constitution, the rule of law, separation of powers, due process and the proper administration of justice”.

The president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Paul Usoro who is in court for alleged N1. 5b money laundering sees the Onnoghen case as a “continuing attack on the justice sector”.

It is obvious that the concern of Onnoghen’s fair-weather friends is about jurisdiction, a technical method some senior lawyers often use to delay cases. Citing the Court of Appeal’s Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa case, Chief Mike Ozekhome asserted that: “The Federal prosecutors are also aware of extant decisions of the Court of Appeal, to the effect that unless and until the NJC pronounces a judicial officer guilty, he cannot be arraigned in court. But Professor Itse Sagay, trying to put the record straight has told Nigerians that “Those hiding behind jurisdiction are trying to cover up iniquities of some sort”. The NJC according to him has only power to determine administrative misconduct of judicial officers whereas what is before the CCT is a criminal allegation.

For him, only a grossly ignorant man or an extremely mischievous one could seriously suggest that the CJN, who is not only the chairman of the NJC, but also the appointer of 20 out of the NJC’s 23 members adjudicate in his own case. Such will be, a clear violation, not only of the constitution but also of a long standing common law principle coming all the way from Magna Carta 1215.

Just as the NJC betrayed the nation during PDP 16 years, “It has also by its recent actions, according to the Special Adviser to the President on Prosecutions, Okoi Obono-Obla, “betrayed the nation when the body recalled Hon. Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Uwani Abba Aji of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Hydiazira A. Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, Hon. Justice A. F. A. Ademola of the Federal High Court, who has been discharged and acquitted, Hon. Justice Musa H. Kurya of the Federal High Court, and Hon. Justice Agbadu James Fishim of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.” without any consultation with the anti-corruption agencies and the DSS, that arrested them in the first place.

Finally, those who probably pay money to Onnoghen’s account claim the case is all about politics. Tragically, Buhari and Osinbajo are no politicians or students of Machiavelli. Lawyers who pay and the judge who’s account was credited would have become government hostages without unnecessary dissipation of energy in the courts where bribes in foreign exchange, according to Audu Ogbeh, makes it impossible for judges to give justice.

Culled from Thenation

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