I just read a quote ascribed to Sam Omatseye of the Nation newspaper, a respectable journalist of a respectable newspaper, in which he stated that =N=1bn was found in the CJN Onnoghen’s custody, a bank account (-s) presumably. Mr. Omatseye seems to believe that such a discovery, assuming it is true, by itself, proved the CJN somehow guilty of whatever he is charged with.
So, as a matter of fact, when was =N=1bn found in the CJN’s accounts? Never. What we have seen, which is a very different thing, are various sums of foreign currency, possibly equivalent to =N=1bn or more PASSING THROUGH the CJN’s accounts over a specific period. No one has established that ANY OF THIS MONEY, even 1 kobo, found in the said accounts, were the proceeds of illegality or were not disclosed BEFORE the CCT stepped in.
Is it now a crime in Nigeria for a public officer to have foreign currencies in a Nigerian bank domiciliary account? No. Has anyone proved that the CJN can not explain the legitimate source of this money? No.
The efforts to paint Onnoghen as somehow guilty of a crime or even misconduct merely for filing his asset declaration forms late and for having money in various currencies to his name are becoming embarrassingly desperate. However, I don’t think there is the need any longer for anyone to prove anything against him; because the game is truly over.
What has happened here is as cunning, amoral and devious as it is deeply tragic. Any discussion of the CJN’s actual culpability, a discussion of the FACTS of what he may or may not have done wrong, the need to proceed via even a semblance of due process and legality have been completely avoided by the simple expedient of his “suspension”.
The objective all along was to get Onnoghen out of the way during the prelude and aftermath of the elections. When this plot was hatched we can’t tell but it has succeeded. Simple. We can talk from now till Armageddon comes…the reality on the ground is that Chief Justice Onnoghen will not constitute any electoral panel and neither will he preside over the Supreme Court’s hearing of any pre-or post-election matter concerning President Buhari in this 2019 election season. He never will because he is due to retire, in any event, within the next 12 months or so.
The Aso Rock courtiers have got President Buhari to exercise the awesome coercive power of suspending another Head of a Branch of the Federal Government and that is that. The arguments about presence or absence of historical precedents constitutional foundation are irrelevant except for the academics. The fact is that a precedent has been laid and it has grave implications for the future. If this can happen to the Chief Justice on the most dubious of factual and constitutional foundations, all in the name of “national security” and “anti-corruption”, it’s anybody’s guest who’s next. For now, the deed is done.
I guarantee you, however: there will be more to come. Soon, we may see a State Governor also suspending a Chief Judge. The President may also find it necessary to suspend a State Governor. All in the name of anti-corruption and/or state or national security.
Back to the present, whatever anyone says or does, Justice Onnoghen’s career as a jurist is dead and will not be resurrected. The purpose of this plot – destroy his name and render him incapable of continuing in office as Nigeria’s Chief Justice – has been achieved. It remains to see whether there will be an end that will justify the means.
Meanwhile, life goes on doesn’t it?
▶EYO EKPO is a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Cross River State.
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