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EDITORIAL…. ONNOGHEN: Before Nigeria descends into a theatre of the absurd

EDITORIAL.... ONNOGHEN: Before Nigeria descends into a theatre of the absurd

The trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), and his subsequent suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari have thrown up several legal debates, and opinions that have now put a strain on Nigeria’s fragile democracy.

“We are worried that the political gladiators even seem to revel in the crisis, appearing not to want the matter quickly resolved in some instance. Here, we condemn the subtle resistance by a section of the caucus in the Senate to oppose the intervention of the Supreme Court in the matter of the CJN’s suspension from office by the President.”

The claims and counter-claims by contending forces have exposed the loopholes and lacuna inherent in the nation’s legal system, and also brought to the fore, the tendencies of those in charge of our democratic institutions to abuse powers bestowed on their offices.

The developments have, no doubt, challenged the very foundation of the nation’s democratic institutions, with heightened worries for the independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers.

“For Onnoghen, the number one judicial officer in the country, no argument can be made in favour of any righteous indignation as we are all equal before the law. We are dismayed at his claim of being forgetful over the subject of failing to declare all his assets as required by law.”

We are concerned that the image of the country is being battered among the committee of nations, as its ruling class makes mockery of the rule of law and judicial processes, due largely to greed and pursuit of group interest.

We are worried that the political gladiators even seem to revel in the crisis, appearing not to want the matter quickly resolved in some instance. Here, we condemn the subtle resistance by a section of the caucus in the Senate to oppose the intervention of the Supreme Court in the matter of the CJN’s suspension from office by the President. We, therefore, caution that nothing should be done to portray Nigeria as a theatre of the absurd where common sense is in short supply.

“On the part of President Buhari, the script, plot and uncommon haste deployed in the ouster of Onnoghen leave a lot of room for suspicion as to the real intentions. We support the argument that his approach to dealing with perceived corruption in the judicial arm of government did not follow constitutional provisions which require that the matter be laid, first, at the doorstep of the National Judicial Council (NJC).”

The major actors in the saga, namely the CJN and the Presidency, as well as the major political parties have taken actions, and made utterances akin to a desperate resort to self help and, in the process unnecessarily heating up the polity already heightened by an impending general elections.

For Onnoghen, the number one judicial officer in the country, no argument can be made in favour of any righteous indignation as we are all equal before the law. We are dismayed at his claim of being forgetful over the subject of failing to declare all his assets as required by law. Indeed, he made a mockery of himself and the nation’s statutes, when he all but confessed that he had run foul of the Code of Conduct set out for public office holders in the country. The admission casts a doubt on his character, competence and capacity.

“We are, therefore, convinced that both the President and the CJN erred on the side of the law by desperately resorting to self help and shopping for court orders which many stakeholders consider laughable and a mockery of our institutions.”

On the part of President Buhari, the script, plot and uncommon haste deployed in the ouster of Onnoghen leave a lot of room for suspicion as to the real intentions. We support the argument that his approach to dealing with perceived corruption in the judicial arm of government did not follow constitutional provisions which require that the matter be laid, first, at the doorstep of the National Judicial Council (NJC). If Mr President’s real intention were altruistic, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) gave him away by alleging that they had intelligence that CJN Onnoghen was working with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to rig the 2019 polls.

We are, therefore, convinced that both the President and the CJN erred on the side of the law by desperately resorting to self-help and shopping for court orders which many stakeholders consider laughable and a mockery of our institutions. We are disappointed that the custodians of the nation’s courts closed their eyes to the abuse of court processes and, therefore, call on the NJC to quickly put its house in order and save the institution which is widely regarded as the last hope of the common man.

“We urge Mr Mr President to restore the sagging confidence in the rule of law and invite him to obey with despatch the many court rulings as he was inclined to do in the case of Onnoghen at the CCT.”

We admonish the leadership of both the Executive and Judicial arms of government to put the nation first even as we caution that the risks of a constitutional crisis may be too grievous to deal with in an environment where politicians have consistently pursued ethnic and religious agenda in their quest for relevance and dominance. It should worry all patriots that some sections of the country are already alluding to the travails of Onnoghen as a case of marginalization of the minorities.

Read also: In 14-paragraph essay, Lai Mohammed explains why Buhari is right on Onnoghen suspension

We urge Mr Mr President to restore the sagging confidence in the rule of law and invite him to obey with despatch the many court rulings as he was inclined to do in the case of Onnoghen at the CCT.

We draw attention at this point, to orders of competent courts of jurisdiction that have granted bail to detained leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and a former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki.

“It is our submission, however, seeing that the CJN is not above the law, and the fact that his integrity, and character have been called to question, that he recuses himself from office to allow for an impartial enquiry, and prosecution of the matter.”

The Onnoghen saga, having exposed a gap in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which deals with the procedure for removal of some public and judicial officials including the CJN, now requires a revisitation.

We are encouraged by, and fully support the move by the Senate, which has approached the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, seeking its interpretation on whether President Buhari acted within the provision of the constitution in his suspension of Justice Onnoghen, or whether the action of the President does amount to usurpation of the powers of the Senate as provided for in Section 292 of the constitution.

“To seek a political resolution to the impasse, and reduce the tension created, we also call on President Buhari to reverse the suspension of Onnoghen, and approach the NJC with facts of the CJN’s misdeeds for eventual investigation, prosecution and trial.”

It is our submission, however, seeing that the CJN is not above the law, and the fact that his integrity, and character have been called to question, that he recuses himself from office to allow for an impartial enquiry, and prosecution of the matter.

To seek a political resolution to the impasse, and reduce the tension created, we also call on President Buhari to reverse the suspension of Onnoghen, and approach the NJC with facts of the CJN’s misdeeds for eventual investigation, prosecution and trial.

Emanating from reports that security personnel on Monday sealed the office of Onnoghen, preventing his staff from gaining access to their offices, we caution the Presidency to desist from taking actions that tend to escalate the matter.

To avoid similar confusions in the future, we remind government of the position that has been canvassed by many Nigerians, that asset declaration forms of public officials, should be made public, and easily accessible. If this is the case, it will help in the fight against corruption, as Nigerians can monitor, and raise observations, if need be, when there are discrepancies.

“In this regard, we are reminded that the chairman of CCT, Danladi Umar, still has a pending case… This calls to question, any action, or utterances he makes in the discharge of his duties. We, therefore, call on Justice Danladi Umar to step aside, until the case is logically concluded, or his name is cleared.”

In recent times, the CCT has been perceived, as an institution used to settle scores, or persecute those regarded as political opponents of the government in power. The body needs to weed itself of this perception, and assure the citizenry of its neutrality, and impartiality in matters brought before it.

In this regard, we are reminded that the chairman of CCT, Danladi Umar, still has a pending case, which has not been totally resolved, as he is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an allegation of receiving N10million from one Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo. This calls to question, any action, or utterances he makes in the discharge of his duties.

We, therefore, call on Justice Danladi Umar to step aside, until the case is logically concluded, or his name is cleared.

Finally, we also caution politicians, especially members of the two major parties in the country to desist from taking advantage of the Onnoghen saga, and the emanating issues, to heat the polity by throwing cheap shots that only help in ultimately creating doubts in the minds of Nigerian voters, as to the fairness, freeness and credibility of the forthcoming polls.

Given the apathy the electorate usually display towards elections in the country, such utterances, devoid of concrete prove only help to fuel arguments, and feelings that results of elections in Nigeria are determined well before actual voting takes place. Politicians should therefore mind their utterances, and refrain from throwing allegations that cannot be substantiated.

Ripples Nigeria

We are an online newspaper, very passionate about Nigerian politics, business and their leaders. We dig deeper, without borders and without fears.
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Ripples Nigeria

We are an online newspaper, very passionate about Nigerian politics, business and their leaders. We dig deeper, without borders and without fears.
www.ripplesnigeria.com

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