in ,

Onnoghen: The Wasp on The Nation’s Scrotum

Louis Odion writes on the ongoing debacle involving Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, and the subtlety required to avoid inflicting irreparable damage on both the nation and its judiciary

Nigeria's Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, has been accused of not fully declaring his assets, contrary to the provisions of the law / Photo credit: guardian.ng
Nigeria's Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, has been accused of not fully declaring his assets, contrary to the provisions of the law / Photo credit: guardian.ng

An otherwise solid moral argument against Justice Walter Onnoghen is, alas, weakened by those uninformed enough to draw a parallel with the Ayo Salami affair, to justify the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Nation (CJN) last Friday.

Nothing could be more offensive to either the spirit of natural justice or the memory of the just.
True, both fell short in the eyes of the presiding king, but for markedly disparate reasons. As President of the Court of Appeal, Salami refused to cut a deal with the devil to keep a job. Put simply, PDP had suspected him of romance with the opposition, but without a cast-iron proof or what they call “smoking gun”.

For under his lordship, that temple of law was fast becoming the cemetery of many a PDP gubernatorial usurper who had managed to beat the election tribunal. And still hovering across the national space then was the ghost of the Sokoto governorship case hurriedly buried in a shallow grave, but with the proverbial foot still sticking out.

So, anxiety - if not panic - stalked high places in Abuja. For Justice Salami’s conscientious diligence had ensured stolen mandates were retrieved in Ondo, Edo, Ekiti and Osun States, thereby altering the nation’s electoral calendar forever.

In desperation, PDP’s scheming undertakers wielded their trump card. They brought Salami a whited sepulcher in form of unsolicited promotion to the higher bench. All kind of chicanery known or strange to judicial service were brought to bear to contrive a stalemate till then embattled Salami became ripe for retirement statutorily.

We live in dangerously treacherous times in which what is known cannot be detailed in words, and what is written is clearly an understatement of reality. For instance, it is known that the legislature in Abuja is now led by Buhari’s enemies and, ipso facto, is not expected to see things his own way. So, seeking the concurrence of a partisan National Assembly to ease out the mortally injured Onnoghen seamlessly would be herculean indeed.

To finally do Salami in, Jonathan, even as notoriously tardy and nefarious as he was, still had to invoke NJC's report, induced undoubtedly. How then does the foregoing epic confrontation between a noble judge and those who believed in nothing compare to the unfolding Onnoghen sacrilege in which a man expected to be the embodiment of virtues and nobility is, instead, found to be luxuriating in moral filth and even confessed to grave misconduct?

Seeking justification by lumping together the two referenced judicial actors who actually represent both extremes of a compelling mortality tale - as Buhari supporters have done, could only be a product of faulty reasoning.

If anything, they betray their idol by giving him away as perhaps no better than his predecessor in moral judgement and lacking the gumption to know his limits in the intercourse of democracy, however altruistic his intentions.

To be sure, all genuine patriots must applaud the rigour apparent in the forensic inquiry that unearthed Onnoghen’s hidden billions in dollars and real estate. From what has been revealed thus far, one could not be accused of malice to speculate that the supposed chief priest in the temple of law had parlayed his sacred stool to judgement racketeering.

If the court has been identified as the last hope of the common man, a society is in grave danger indeed if unimpeachable evidence suggests in anyway that the chief legal officer is of doubtful character, let alone attests a long career of impropriety.

Other than deciding which colluding judge handled which "juicy" case, it would then seem the man had all along been left alone to devote the remainder of his official hours to the obviously more pleasurable - but nonetheless abominable - task of monitoring the regular beeps of bank alert to his conglomerate of bank accounts - local and offshore.

Given the sheer weight of the sleaze now excavated, a more self-respecting official would have long spared himself the shame of more indignity arising from further exposure by voluntarily throwing in the towel. Someone mindful of the integrity of the judiciary as an institution and protective of its pride would not wait till things degenerate to this sorry state that the task of defending him publicly is now being championed by a motley crowd dominated, in turn, by known shady characters.

On that ground alone, it had become clear that Onnoghen was already ethically fractured that he probably would be requiring an overdose of the moral equivalent of steroids to even make an appearance in the public, much less dare wear a wig and gown to sit in judgement over someone else.

Given the sheer weight of the sleaze now excavated, a more self-respecting official would have long spared himself the shame of more indignity arising from further exposure by voluntarily throwing in the towel.

Someone mindful of the integrity of the judiciary as an institution and protective of its pride would not wait till things degenerate to this sorry state that the task of defending him publicly is now being championed by a motley crowd dominated, in turn, by known shady characters.

Among them also may be found those who had probably paid dollars and were issued receipts for "black market" judgements in the past and so now afraid Nemesis might arrive their own doors soon.

Having said that, let it however be stressed that a shallow understanding of Montesquieu’s doctrine of separation of power is what is betrayed when the head of the executive branch takes liberty to cite an order from the relatively “inconsequential” Code of Conduct Tribunal as enough grounds to suspend the head of a “sister” branch.

Only one word best describes any attempt to short-circuit the due process in the circumstance - arbitrariness.

Until the provisions of the current law is discharged, the NJC is the only body empowered to recommend such summary action against an errant CJN. It is clear Onnoghen cannot continue. The NJC must however be allowed to assert its authority, even if it means summoning the grace to devise a more dignifying exit for its head that has fallen into infamy.

In order that things do not get too complicated and the original question lost, let us, for now, conveniently ignore the growing insinuations of official hypocrisy here by not remembering that the issuant of the very order with which Onnoghen was clobbered too is yet to fully wash himself clean of similar allegation of receiving bribes on duty.

Or the no less salacious report of a creeping power incest in that the spouse of the acting CJN is a known agent of the ruling party, aside the open secret that the spouse of the critical Court of Appeal is also seeking to represent Bauchi at the senate in the coming general elections.

That singular precipitate action of last Friday, let it be said, spoils Buhari’s argument and invariably creates a moral baggage for what should otherwise be supported as a worthy battle to combat graft and make a better society.

Everything considered, genuine patriots defensive of the inviolability of the institutions as the most sustainable recipe for the harmony and balance of society could not have failed to contemplate other scenarios to resolve the Onnoghen challenge without having to drag the entire bench out for public ridicule as currently being witnessed.

If the court has been identified as the last hope of the common man, a society is in grave danger indeed if unimpeachable evidence suggests in anyway that the chief legal officer is of doubtful character, let alone attests a long career of impropriety.

In specific terms, we are not in a position to know yet whether any sort of “soft landing” for the CJN was ever negotiated in confidence before the scandal blew open.

Were the do-gooders in the executive branch truly committed to preserving the prestige of the judiciary as they would have us believe as the basis for the current course of action, a few other options could have been pursued with a view to achieving the same outcome.

For instance, would it not have been more prudent to call the errant officer aside quietly, show him the weighty dossier and then advise him to resign voluntarily, if only to preserve what is left of his public image and also the integrity of the judiciary as an institution? Was this done? If yes, did the man refuse?

Regardless of the hell-raising at the gate by Onnoghen sympathisers, something is quite undeniable now. If we were observant, we should have since perceived the pathetic picture of an absconding man or a troubled character shutting himself in.

It explains why Onnoghen would suddenly adjourn indefinitely the sitting of the National Judicial Council statutorily headed by the CJN. And when some busybodies circulated a false report that his abode had been encircled by EFCC hounds, he quickly put out a statement debunking the story.

If we also listen carefully above the babel, we would observe that, even in their irreverence, none of his advocates thus far has an answer to the startling cash revelations which, ordinarily, would recommend Onnoghen strongly for the next issue of Forbes magazine as perhaps the richest judicial worker!

True, we live in dangerously treacherous times in which what is known cannot be detailed in words, and what is written is clearly an understatement of reality. For instance, it is known that the legislature in Abuja is now led by Buhari’s enemies and, ipso facto, is not expected to see things his own way. So, seeking the concurrence of a partisan National Assembly to ease out the mortally injured Onnoghen seamlessly would be herculean indeed.

But until the provisions of the current law is discharged, the NJC is the only body empowered to recommend such summary action against an errant CJN. It is clear Onnoghen cannot continue. The NJC must however be allowed to assert its authority, even if it means summoning the grace to devise a more dignifying exit for its head that has fallen into infamy.

Andy Uba’s ‘traders’ versus Igodomigodo

Known to be intensely shy, Andy Uba would ordinarily not utter a word if he thought silence was adequate. Which is why one’s curiosity was aroused by the outburst attributed to him recently against what was described as an attempt by “traders” and “illiterates” to hijack the political process in Anambra.

While making a passionate pitch for his constituents in Anambra South senatorial district to renew his mandate, Uba uncharacteristically took a swipe at the opposition ahead of the February 16 polls: “The Senate is a serious place... It’s not a place for traders. But what you see is that some people contesting the position with me cannot write their names... It’s disheartening that these young men... have abandoned their businesses to vie for political positions. Any illiterate trader who goes to the Senate will not be able to sponsor a single bill in four years.”

Though Senator Uba did not name names, it is easy to infer that among them must be his scruffy sibling, Chris Uba, better known as “the godfather of all godfathers” of Anambra politics. Not surprising, the latter is contesting on PDP’s platform.

Apparently tired of being “outsmarted” by those he sponsored to political office in the past (including incumbent Labour minister Chris Ngige), the younger Uba has become wiser and so decided to discard surrogacy by marketing himself directly.

Another character unlikely to find the missile by the senior Uba funny would be a fellow Anambra senator wearing the colours of the ruling party in the state. Other than his trademark mountain-high red cap and a viral media photo showing him snoozing once during plenary, the fellow already distinguished himself as a senate bench-warmer.

Apparently tired of being “outsmarted” by those he sponsored to political office in the past (including incumbent Labour minister Chris Ngige), the younger Uba has become wiser and so decided to discard surrogacy by marketing himself directly.

Against this backcloth, it is then easy to understand the alarm by the senior Uba. Consider, for instance, the prospects of the ninth assembly parading the likes of the famed “grammarian” Patrick Obahiagbon (“Igodomigodo”) from Edo State, now said to be the toast of folks in the Bini-speaking area desirous of a louder voice at the Senate.

If debates then got too grammatical, the “traders” Uba mentioned would probably be left to engage themselves by punching figures on their accustomed calculators when the likes of “Igodomigodo” begin to unpack their artillery, while the “illiterates” would either stare vacantly at the high ceiling or conveniently doze off.

Well, we have less than three weeks to establish whether the “traders” and “illiterates” will prevail in Anambra.

Written by Louis Odion

Mr. Odion has nearly three decades experience in journalism, from National Concord to ThisDay and SUN newspapers, where he held senior editorial positions. He was Managing Director/Editor in Chief of the daily National Life and also Commissioner for Information in Edo State. He's a serial award winner in punditry and a contributor to Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka's book, "Green Cards, Green Gods". He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

Managing Director, Transmission Company of Nigeria, Usman Gur Mohammed

Criminalising ‘Crazy Bills’ Won't Work – Usman Gur Mohammed

Etienying Akpanusong is the creative mind behind the Garneti Exhibit brand / Photo credit: Facebook

How I Overcame My Start-up Disappointments - Etienying Akpanusong