The Prism Called Onnoghengate

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Walter Onnoghen
Walter Onnoghen

The case against Walter Onnoghen has exposed the level of distrust in the land, argues Anthony A. Kila

This newspaper, like most dailies in the country, has so far given a very comprehensive account of the sad and embarrassing event of asset declaration charges against Justice Walter Onnoghen, yet notwithstanding these across-the-board accounts and the thousands of comments from them generated across the land, almost everything regarding this very publicised and debated case is still subject to controversy and uncertainty.

Only two things seem to be certain so far about the ongoing Onnoghengate: One is that more people can now pronounce the noun Onnoghen; two is that more people now know more about the role and status some positions, offices and acronyms such as CJN, CCT, AGF, CCB, etc. The rest, as said, is still subject to controversy and uncertainty that generate sentiments of anger, bemusement, concern and wonder, depending on who you are talking to.

Above and beyond the obvious and understandable sentiments of frustrations and vexations most Nigerians are going through on this saga, the crisis and manners in which many are dealing with the event have also thrown up some traits and points about us as a people worthy of serious considerations, if we really want to move the country forward.
Onnoghengate is a personal, professional and political case that forces us to look at ourselves as a people and to ponder upon how to coexist and what matters to us individually and collectively.

A major trait that has reared its head very forcefully since the news about the CJN broke has been distrust. Most people that heard about the news did so because someone else wanted to confirm from them if the news was true. Editors, publishers, reporters and all those leading media operations need to seriously think of their profession because as it currently stands, there are too many people who don’t trust the news they get anymore. They also need to ponder upon the fact that news from unorthodox and non-mainstream sources are one hand making rounds faster than theirs, on the other, reaching more people than mainstream media. This is a dangerous drift and a worrisome challenge that can be overcome only through fair, bold, accurate and authoritative reporting.

Onnoghengate also forces us to note that the colossal level of distrust has not spared the government and institutions of the land. Truly or falsely, as the case maybe, it is clearly a very sad state that in which so many people can readily view and suspect the action of the government and its agents as motivated not by justice but for sectional or partisan interest. A state or government that does not enjoy the trust of an overwhelming majority of its citizens during the use of its legitimate monopoly of force and in the exercise of justice is a failed or certainly a failing state or government.

In situations like this, it will be foolhardy to limit our thoughts and actions to finger pointing or scoring partisan points. Those who have the privilege of thought and the burden of leadership need to find the clarity of mind and courage of action to stand up to warn the rest that no partisan or interest of today is worth the trading or destruction of institutions, we all need to remember that without trusted institutions there will soon be neither parties nor interests.
A competent and responsible government of the day needs to proceed in all its acts with a reminder that in politics, perception most times matter as much, if not, more than reality and consequently, every pronunciation, nomination, and all actions taken by any arm or extension of government must be done bearing in mind what the opposition or those that will bear the brunt of such actions might say, feel or see.

This same rule applies to the opposition of the day but it cannot really be held responsible for much since it has no real power but its mouth and the promises it emits.
The key to building and maintaining trustworthy institutions that in turn are crucial to the peaceful survival of a country and coexistence of its people is made of care, common sense, commitment to fairness and respect of the rule of law even when such rules and procedures are cumbersome. Once we try to take shortcuts in democracy, the most likely arrival point tends to be dictatorship or anarchy.

Viewing ourselves through the prism of Onnoghengate also shows us how much we have become a land of sophists and partisan lovers of relativism. Our conversations and commentaries are filled with opinions and suspicions, with little space or desire for facts, values and competence. The sad part of all these is that too many of those certified as erudite and learned now spew opinions that are neither heartfelt nor personal talk less of being original. More often than not, they seem to be delivering just talking points in defence of a part or a leader.

It is becoming more and more difficult to get simple answers to simple questions, everything is becoming dependent on who said or who did it. Those who hate or suspect the government cannot ask themselves if it is acceptable for a public officer not to declare his assets or to check if he can account for the source of such assets. Those who love the government cannot ask themselves if it makes sense for the government to open itself to such barrage of criticism of not following the rule of law in prosecuting a suspect. They do not care to test the competence and performance of those charged to lead high profile cases and events on behalf and in the name of all of us.
If we take time to view ourselves through the prism ofOnnoghengate, we shall soon see that too much is wrong in the land and that those who can, really need to start doing a lot about it and that we all need to keep vigil.
––Prof. Kila is Centre Director, Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies