By Dele Sobowale
“I’ll blow the wind that profits nobody.” William Shakespeare, 1564-1616—(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, P 273.
Even now anybody with any claim for integrity, justice and fair-play must admit that the current national upheaval concerning the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen, GCON, is the sort of crisis which no nation should ever experience. It has thrown virtually everybody commenting into legal, social, political and ethical dilemmas that will test our souls for a long time. Never in our history, to the best of my knowledge have the basic truths involved been so buried under mountains of ethnic, political, personal and religious considerations as to leave a visitor from another planet, and perhaps even this one, wondering what the palaver is all about.
“Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide; in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.” J R Lowell, 1819-1891. VBQ p 254.
It has taken me longer than usual to decide what to make of this unfortunate incident and to determine which side to support on this matter for the simple reason that each and everyone of us commenting on this matter must first of all remember that if we are honest and patriotic Nigerians, then the country’s national interests must come first before any other subjective motives we might have. Each and every single one of us taking a stand on this issue is asking that a precedent be created which might come to haunt us in the future. We have had such before. We, or Nigeria, might become victims of anything we do on this matter. Let me provide an example from our history in the last century.
When late Murtala Mohammed was assassinated, military Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo promulgated a decree to try the alleged culprits. Tried and convicted in absentia was former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon – some say on flimsy evidence. Gowon would not be alive today if he had been caught. Years after, dictator Sani Abacha, with a slight amendment to Obasanjo’s decree had OBJ convicted of coup plot – again based on suspicious evidence. Only the global outcry, at the time, led by the Nigerian media saved Baba Iyabo from being shot. As usual Obasanjo later proved his ingratitude by his treatment of the press. The real story is the fact that General Obasanjo provided the rope with which Abacha would have had him hanged but for divine intervention. The moral of the story as we were taught in our school days is to be careful about the precedents we establish on this matter.
“You are entitled to your opinions; you are not entitled to your facts.”
Senator (Prof) Daniel Moynihan of New York State, USA.
On this matter, far too many commentators, especially lawyers and politicians (sometimes they are the same devils), have forsaken to start with the facts which are indisputable. As Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, once observed, “Truth is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they’ve gone to milk the bull.” What Johnson forgot to add is that they most probably will end up with bull sh*t in the pail. So, as Richard Quest of CNN would say – “the facts first”. And what do we have if we take that approach which is non-partisan and non-ethnic?
To the best of my knowledge, a petitioner had written to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, alleging that the CJN operates undisclosed private bank accounts with balances running to millions of dollars. Justice Onnoghen reportedly had confessed to being the owner of the accounts but had offered the excuse that he had forgotten to declare them. I hope there is no dispute there. If not, the first question is: what would unbiased individuals expect a CJN to do under the circumstances – having admitted a monumental error of judgement? As a corollary to that first question, we might ask how the CJN would have judged the case if brought to his court and somebody else was the accused. Would he have discharged and acquitted the defendant? These questions are pertinent because a honest judge should be able to judge his own case and pronounce the same judgement as he would on a third party. By the way, is forgetfulness an acceptable defence in such a case given how long the accounts have been maintained before the exposure? In other words, was the mistake inadvertent or deliberate? We would leave untouched queries regarding the source(s) of the colossal amounts.
“The first thing we do; let’s kill all the lawyers.” Shakespeare. VBQ p 123.
Irrespective of whether the forgetfulness was planned or accidental, the nation could have been saved the present trauma if the CJN had simply thrown in the towel after confessing to the faux pax. But, he didn’t; because, trust them, famous lawyers, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, who can smell a huge payday miles away, the way vultures do decaying bodies from kilometres, immediately descended on the scene – on both sides of the case. This, after all, is an elephant on its last legs. Once the CJN refused to follow the path honour dictated, he sent an invitation card to all those human beings dressed like penguins. And, they are having a field day at the nation’s expense.
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It is a safe bet that when fifteen super-heavy weight SANs, lead twenty five top notch non-SANs, who could pull a two million on a good day, that sort of financial muscle is assembled for one, and only, purpose – to get their client off the hook. Justice, if it served at all, is of secondary concern. The law, which they practice is an ass, at any rate good old Samuel Johnson, had told us that ‘A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the case which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice is to be decided by the judge.” VBQ p 123.
Perhaps we should wait a while before killing all the lawyers; they might just be doing what they are supposed to do.
“Are you going to hang him anyhow and try him afterward? Mark Twain, 1835-1910, VBQ, p 85. The great author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, two of our most delightful novels in secondary school was used to many self-righteous Americans delivering jungle justice. Due process to them was a waste of time – even if it meant hanging an innocent person and finding him not guilty afterward. Most Nigerians are not averse to that method providing it is applied to somebody they don’t like. For their friends, however, they insist on justice not only being done but seen to have been done. It is difficult to avoid noticing that those who want the process shortened are invariably those who stand to benefit from a change at the top of the judiciary. Their hands are not so clean. They have gone about organising the execution in a ham-handed way; they have now allowed the accused to receive the benefit of doubt and to build sympathy nationwide. Too much haste often makes waste. Now the entire country is going to waste a great deal of time, emotion and money on what should have been finished quickly. Our grandchildren will one day wonder if there was intelligent life in Nigeria years from now; or if the Dark Ages included 2019 here in the largest black nation.
First, the prosecutors knew very well what to do with a recalcitrant justice; who stubbornly refuses to do the needful. Again, to the best of my knowledge, the first port of call is the National Judicial Council, NJC. But, so anxious were they to get rid of the CJN that they forgot to get a good rope. They headed straight to the CCT where another series of mob action took place.
The CCT invited the CJN to step forward for trial, and after a skirmish regarding whether Ononghen was properly served the summons to appear (buying time obviously for the mob reaction to take effect), the accused refused to step forward pleading constitutional rights via his army of lawyers. The first time-buying device in such circumstances, as we at UniJankara know too well, is to challenge the jurisdiction of the court and not to even enter a plea – one way or the other. We smiled when Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, leading the “mechanised armoured brigade” of lawyers made that submission. Had the CCT officials known what was best for all concerned, they would have taken another step instead of walking into a well-laid trap and granting an ex parte order to the prosecution after the matter had been adjourned in open court. The obvious questions are: did the prosecutor request for the ex parte in camera and why? Why was the request granted given the precedents regarding ex parte orders granted on very important cases? Was it human error, or were the Tribunal members influenced by the Federal Government?
“A man cannot gradually enlarge his mind as he does his house.”—Alexis Comte de Tocqueville, 1805-1859.
All along the Presidency had declared that it had no hand in the CJN’s travails. Most Nigerians not in the ruling party or associated with it were sceptical. No sooner did the CCT make its unforced error than President Buhari pounced on it to suspend the Chief Justice and replace him with another Mohammed. Now with President Muhammadu, Acting CJN Mohammad, IGP Mohammed, there must be a downpour of Mohammeds in the North heading for top appointments. That immediately added fuel to the raging inferno. A President with mind large enough to discern all the possible ramifications of the suspension and appointment of an Acting CJN would have acted differently. But, Buhari is 76; never doing well from his records as well as performance as Minister, Head of State and now President. He fell into the trap with CCT and completed the job of moving us from the original fact – that the CJN forgot to declare a monumental sum.
Onnonghen now has a new lease on life. But, in my view, he can escape only for a while. As I have always maintained, “You can’t bully the truth.” Meanwhile he will send the nation on a merry-go-round, inflame the polity and embarrass his subordinates in the judiciary. A female lawyer on a morning talk show last week argued that only Onnonghen can save the country from more turmoil. I partly agree. Unfortunately, he and President Buhari failed to do what they should have done. On receipt of absolute proof of the CJN’s false declaration, the President should have asked for a meeting; present the facts and if confirmed should have asked the CJN to do the needful – perhaps with promise of a soft landing. Onnoghen’s reason for retiring could be “on health grounds” or any such concoction. The nation would have been spared the pains we now experience. Now with hardened positions and passions aflame, even a voluntary retirement will not satisfy a lot of people who have turned this simple matter into APC versus PDP, North versus South, Muslim versus Christian, Presidency versus Judiciary contest. It is none of those things. It is purely a matter of Walter Onnonghen versus the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We will all be better off if we allow due process to take its course however long. As they say in the US, “the wheels of justice grinds exceedingly slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.”
We should all allow it to work.
TRADERMONI AND ROPE A DOPE
“It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.”
- Henry, 1862-1910. VBQ p 239.
Tradermoni as organised by the All Progressives Congress, APC, now at the Federal level is a swindle. Two questions will help to expose the scam. First, if the give-away programme is the answer to joblessness why did the FG wait until now with elections only a few weeks away to start it? Second, and this is more important, will it continue after the elections end this month? If it does it would have been a monumental fraud.
LAST LINE: I strongly believe that win or lose the FG will stop Tradermoni this month. Mark my words.