By Owei Lakemfa
I WAS at a friend’s place in Lagos in December. As I arrived, I overheard him having a discussion with a mutual friend. As I entered, he turned to me and asked: “Owei, what is the difference between the truth and what is factual. I replied off hand: “The truth can be subjective, but what is factual is objective and verifiable.” He nodded and relayed my response. As the election campaigns draw to a thin finish, hobbling to a drab February 16 date, almost all I hear are the truth, but very few factual things. Each political party assembles a set of truths as suits its purpose, and runs with it, neglecting all other truths especially those that may negate its assumed truth, or make for an objective assessment. Party chieftains, sharks and jobbers, pick half-truths and run with them, and in combats with opponents, hurl them as missiles.
Truth can be assumed or perceived wisdom; the kind we received from our forefathers. The type of truth that melts into prayers or justifies unholy actions such as ‘The faith of our fathers, brought us here’. The reality might be that it is not the faith, but the desperation, opportunism and greed of their forefathers that ruled. It is like the controversy over the attempts to try the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, not even in a High Court, but an inferior one called the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, for alleged false asset declaration. The truth, as the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, knows it, is that the CJN is in violation of the law, and as nobody is above the law, it was right to drag him before the tribunal. But the opposition stands on another truth; yes, nobody is above the law, but processes and procedures matter; in charging the head of the judiciary, the laws of the land are being violated. To the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for the opposition and many reasonable people, to so liberally violate our laws, whether deliberately or not, is an affront on the rule of law and an attempt to emasculate the judiciary. In any case, the case itself raises many red flags. The APC with so many of its chieftains from the West ought to know the truth that while all crops are crops, you do not harvest cocoa, the king of cash crops, the same cavalier way you harvest okra which grows anywhere even without being tendered. The CJN is not a street urchin or a tout at the motor park that can be hurled before the Environmental Task Force on charges of violating the environment. These are subjective truths which the Buhari government confronted as its actions and indecent haste against the CJN, mobilised the entire judiciary; from rookie lawyers to Senior Advocates; court clerks to Justices of the Supreme Court against it just five weeks before the general elections. Some of the big beneficiaries of this backlash are opposition parties especially the main People’s Democratic Party, PDP, which is presenting itself as a champion of the judiciary and separation of powers in a Presidential system.
The subjective truth is that the Judiciary which has received serious bashing for unverified charges of being a clog in the fight against corruption, has the basis to be angry. This is not just about the midnight raids on the homes of judges. First, how was it that Onnoghen was given security clearance when his records, as scrutinised by the security agencies, showed he might have been in some breach of the asset declaration law? Why is he being charged a few weeks to the general elections in which the judiciary is expected to play crucial roles especially when, not if disputes arise? Why the indecent haste to charge him within 72 hours of receiving a petition? Why bypass the statutory National Judicial Council, NJC, in charging a serving judicial officer if the intention is not to humiliate and rubbish him so much that he throws in the towel?
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of Law has had to weigh in, essentially to reveal that President Muhammadu Buhari was unaware of the charges against the CJN until it was too late. That is the truth, but it is not the eternal truth; government is not the individual, but the collective; the Executive is not the President, but a holistic arm of government. The CCT is not under the judiciary but under the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who is appointed and answerable to the President.
The truth is that the move against the CJN has injured the Buhari government which is already limping as a result of its long brawls against the Legislative Arm. So what the Vice-President has tried to do, is damage control. However, what will be more important are the subsequent actions of the Executive and the agencies it controls. For instance, the freezing of the CJN’s accounts by the government does not help the Vice-President’s claims of an innocent Presidency.
This is not about ‘Corruption fighting back’ but more of exercising discretion; being wise enough to know what battles to fight, against who, where and when. When I teach industrial relations, I tell my listeners that a good employer or trade unionist must know when to fight and when to walk away. If he must fight, he must pick the battlefield carefully; no good general would fight a war choosing his own home; no sensible employer will allow an industrial fight or a battle between his employees and the police on his factory floor.
The truth is not the truth because it is the truth or based on who is speaking the truth; the truth is in accordance with the perception of who is telling it or the perception of the listener. My former lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (Great Ife; the Greatest of the Greatest university in the country), the famous Professor Biodun Jeyifo talked about The Truthful Lie. It was the first time I reflected that the truth can be a lie. The Gospel Truth is the truth to the believer in the faith, not to the believer in a different faith. The fact is that as Nigerians are dragged to the finish line of the campaigns, the injuries inflicted on the truth are getting worse. I am not sure any surgery, including face lift or the spin doctors on the internet can restore it. If the truth survives the 2019 elections, its scars will be there for all to see. But as my friend and brother, Maximus Uzoatu, alias Borojah, the god of Poetry will say, even this, shall pass.