Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, a former Deputy-Governor of Lagos State, in this interview, defends the suspension of CJN Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.
By Chris Onuoha
What is your reaction to the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged undeclared assets?
The suspension is a right step in the right direction. Buhari’s action is commendable. Considering the fact that Onnoghen has not denied the allegations against him, he should have stepped aside instead of waiting to be suspended. His trial has become embarrassing to the judiciary and Nigeria as a nation.
Has Onnoghen denied the allegations of running foreign accounts? What he is doing now by dragging the nation through his trial is not right.
For those who are coming to Onnoghen side, some of them perhaps also have skeletons in their cupboards and they believe that if this can happen to Onnoghen it can also happen to them.
If it had been in a saner clime, Onnoghen would not have waited to be asked to step aside before he would have done the needful by quitting his position.
The right step has been taken by taking the CJN to court.
Onnoghen should face trial, he has questions to answer. For those defending him, they should hide their face in shame. It is a pity that Nigeria has become a place where people don’t know what is right from what is wrong anymore. It is like anything goes now as long as you can bamboozle your way through, and that is what apologists of Onnoghen are doing.
But some Nigerians are saying that Onnoghen is being persecuted …
There is no persecution in this. That some people could come to Onnoghen’s side shows the level of the rot in our system. It shows how bad the situation in Nigeria has become.
How do you think the issue should be resolved?
There should be no emotion on this case. Onnoghen should fac trial. Government should not look back, government has taken the right step by arraigning Onnoghen. He should face trial, he has questions to answer.
For those who are defending Onnoghen, they should hide their faces in shame. It is a pity that Nigeria has become a place where people don’t know what is right from what is wrong anymore. I’m also surprised by the action of those defending Onnoghen, especially the lawyers. Are they afraid that if proper investigations are carried out that it may lead to some of them being indicted? Do they have something to hide?
What’s your take on the letter recently written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Buhari accusing him of behaving like the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha?
Maybe Obasanjo is one of those who believe that we can’t have a revolution in this country. There are some things that require hard handling. Our system has become so bastardised that there are some things that have to be corrected; so if Obasanjo says Buhari is behaving like Abacha, the question we should then ask is this, is Buhari behaving like Abacha in a negative or positive way?
Abacha was not doing things to correct a bad situation, he was spoiling the system but Buhari is laying a foundation to correct the anomalies in the system. Buhari is trying to correct things that have gone wrong.
If Obasanjo had explained more elaborately things that Buhari is doing which are not meant to correct an already bad situation, I would agree with him, but Nigeria is ripe for a revolution. Everywhere you turn to in Nigeria, you see corruption, it was when Buhari took over that things started changing, and where corruption is identified in the system, Buhari has been taking action. Do they expect him to handle a bad system or situation with kid gloves?
I believe Buhari has even been lenient or soft in handling some of these bad situations; if it has been during the military era that some of these crimes were perpetrated, things would have been handled in a tougher way. But since we are in a democracy, due process has to be followed and, until proven guilty by the court of law, some of these corrupt elements can’t be punished.
So from my own observations and from what I have analysed here, it is unfair to compare Buhari with Abacha. Buhari is not a dictator.
Critics of President Buhari have accused him of being selective in his anti-corruption campaign, citing some cases particularly that of the sacked former SGF Babachir Lawal who has not been brought to trial almost two years after he was removed over corruption allegations. What’s your reaction to that?
Babachir Lawal’s case is not as clear as Onnoghen’s case. However, Babachir Lawal should be arraigned if investigation is concluded and it is discovered that he has a case to answer. If he can’t provide satisfactory explanation about how he disbursed IDPs funds which led to the N200million fraud allegation against him, then he should also be arraigned. But Onnoghen’s case is clear and direct. We should not call what is bad another name. Onnoghen as the current CJN is a symbol. He symbolizes the judiciary and somebody in his position is supposed to live above board.
There is no basis for comparison at all. Moreover, Babachir Lawal has been removed from office, so what stops Onnoghen from being removed or being asked to step aside if there is any honour left in him?
The issue of whether President Buhari deserves second term or not has become controversial with opponents of the President describing Buhari as a failure as a result of growing insecurity, increase in Boko Haram attacks, poverty, and a host of others while supporters of the President have given him a pass mark saying that he has performed creditably to earn second term in office. What’s your take on this?
What Nigerians need to know is that Buhari should be given kudos for the efforts he has been making to turn Nigeria’s fortunes around.
On the issue of insecurity, people should realize that it is not easy to tackle insurgency. Even United States is still battling terrorism. It is only if there is total inaction by the Federal Government to combat that you can now say Buhari has failed.
The Presidency has ordered our armed forces to tackle the menace and today soldiers are fighting in the North-East to battle insurgents. Buhari is taking action against terrorism. We should be fair to him. I don’t see anywhere Buhari has neglected to do the needful on the issue of security and insurgency. He is doing everything he is supposed to do including seeking foreign support to tackle insurgency.
During the recent presidential debate, where both President Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (PDP candidate) were supposed to join other presidential candidates to tell Nigerians about their plans and programmes if elected, the two of them stayed away. Atiku showed up but he later went back saying that he would not take part in the debate since Buhari failed to turn up. How do you see the failure of the two men to join others for the debate?
I have a different view about debates. It doesn’t mean that the person that can debate very well is the best candidate for the job.
Some people are loquacious, they can talk and have oratorical skills but they won’t be able to perform if given a particular task to do.
To me, judging people’s competence through debate is wrong. If you ask me about the indices to judge how a man would perform, debate will come maybe fourth in the order of ranking. What matters most is people’s pedigree. What has each candidate done before? What has he achieved in the past when holding positions? Experience counts a lot. How efficient and how competent has such a candidate been in the office he occupied before? How did he perform when he occupied that office?
The debate should not be a criterion to judge candidates.
How do you see the action of Atiku who insisted on not joining other presidential candidates who were already at the venue of the programme unless he saw President Buhari, that his desire was to face Buhari in the debate?
It is even an insult to ask Buhari to debate with Atiku.
Atiku has nothing to offer. Nigeria is in trouble if Atiku is allowed to rule this country. He has many questions to answer on how he handled the sale of many viable and thriving companies which are now moribund when he presided over the privatization of public enterprises when he was the Vice-President under former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Imagine Atiku saying that he will privatise NNPC if he get there, but we should ask him this question, which of the public entities that he privatized when he was in charge of privatization programme is working again. Atiku is a failure.