“If the judiciary is not freed from political manipulation, the dispensation of justice in accordance with the rule of law would be a mirage” – Onnoghen.
In the dead of night sometime early in October 2016, hundreds of security operatives stormed the homes of some judges in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe, Kano, Enugu and Sokoto. It was something that had never happened before in the nation’s history. Raid a judge’s home? It was unheard of, and incredibly not only a home, but homes were raided. The operation came with much ado, with the security people going about it in their usual gragra manner.
The raid, it later emerged, was informed by the need to expose the judges, who are believed to be corrupt. Among them were two Justices of the Supreme Court (JSC), Sylvester Ngwuta, who died last month, with just three weeks left then to his retirement, and John Okoro. As a nation that loves such drama, the public lapped up the story. Immediately, people started calling for their lordships’ heads. How can such corrupt people sit in judgement over us? Many wondered. In short, the judges were convicted before they were tried.
Two other homes raided in Abuja that night belonged to Justices Adeniyi Ademola, as he then was, and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court. The homes of Justices Kabiru Auta, Muazu Pindiga and Samia as well as Chief Judge A.G.Umezulike, as he then was, were raided in Kano, Gombe, Sokoto and Enugu. In Port Harcourt, the operatives could not access the home of Justice Mohammed Liman because Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike came to his aide. Whether the raids achieved anything we can never say. What the people heard was that some incriminating pieces of evidence were recovered from the judges. These were to form the basis of their trial from which nothing has so far come out.
Unbeknownst was that the raid was the forerunner of the treatment to be given to former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen. With the 2019 elections around the corner then, the rumour mill was abuzz with his meeting with the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, in Dubai. Atiku faced President Muhammadu Buhari in that election. The implication of such meeting, if true, was not lost on the people. They wondered why the CJ would meet with a candidate in an election that may end up in the Supreme Court. Surely, if it is true, he does not deserve to remain in his exalted office a minute longer. Even, the media swallowed the story hook, line and sinker.
In discussions in newsrooms, it was a hot topic, but there was no proof. It seems there is still no proof of the allegation, as Onnoghen has come out, at last, to deny ever meeting with Atiku in Dubai or anywhere else one-on-one. Where then did the tale emanate from? Although, the government never said anything about Dubai when it suspended Onnoghen from office in January 2019, the name of that tiny, but rich country in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was never far from the surface whenever the issue was discussed. What the people were told was that Onnoghen did not declare his assets in line with the Code of Conduct for public officers before he assumed office.
The issue was raised in 2019, two years after he became CJ in 2017. Should issues like this not be raised before public officers take office? Should they be sworn in when they have not declared their assets? Who should be blamed for that lapse? Is it possible that Onnoghen became CJ without being screened? If he was given security clearance before assuming office, does that not amount to a clean bill? Questions, questions and questions. The answers should not be hard to come by, if the government is ready to take up the Onnoghen challenge. By coming out in public to speak on the rumour which many believed led to his exit from office, Onnoghen is drawing the government out to tell the world its own side of the story.
Onnoghen has given his own account, which many, who have become tired with the Buhari Presidency, may tend to believe. They cannot be blamed if they toe that line. Onnoghen laid his cards face up on the table, holding nothing back as he spoke, at a book launch in Abuja, on what could have amounted to his darkest hour in office. He spoke as a pained man and that is understandable. Who will be treated in that manner and not feel aggrieved? “Prior to my suspension, I was confronted with no allegation. There were rumours that I met with Atiku in Dubai. As I am talking here today (March 19), I have never met Atiku one-on-one in my life…”, Onnoghen said.
Hinting that his exit was politically motivated, he said: “Let me make it clear that the office of the CJN was not for Onnoghen but for all Nigerians who have sworn to guide and protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic…judicial officers must be courageous. I want to beg all judicial officers not to be discouraged by what happened to me in the hands of the executive arm of government. Emerging brand of Nigerian judges should not go the direction of injustice because without courageous judges, Nigeria is doomed. Democracy will be dead”.
Onnoghen was tried and convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in 2019, but the case was full of intrigues, raising doubts about its fairness. He gave vent to this at the book launch. He said he was not surprised when all of a sudden his trial at the CCT was arranged even when he had not been invited to defend the allegation (of non-declaration of asset) or any wrongdoing. If this can happen to the CJN, who then can be sure of justice? Onnoghen has taken his case to the court of public opinion. Will the executive which he has pointedly accused of doing him in, despite “not committing any offence” take up the gauntlet?
It is even surprising that the executive, which is quick to react to anything under the sun, has not deemed it fit to respond to Onnoghen’s weighty allegation, which he made 13 days ago. He did not stop there. He left the nation with a message: “if the judiciary is not freed from political manipulation, the dispensation of justice in accordance with the rule of law would be a mirage”. This, unfortunately, has been unfolding in our eyes and in an administration that prides itself on integrity for that matter.
Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.
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