Musings on the Suspension of Onnoghen

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Walter Onnoghen
Ring true

By Yemi Adebowale;yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 SMS ONLY

President Muhammadu Buhari has simply been heating up the polity in the ongoing war against the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen. His suspension yesterday and swearing in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as the acting CJN, is an assault on the constitution. The reasons adduced by Buhari are preposterous.

The Attorney General and Minister of justice, Abubakar Malami should end this shenanigan and dangerous precedent by withdrawing the criminal charges bordering on alleged refusal to declare assets and operating foreign bank accounts, against the CJN. As for our President, he should show courage by accepting his error and reversing his actions.

My position is not based on the merit or demerit of the charges against the CJN. It is not based on whether Onnoghen committed the infractions or not. My submission is based on respect for our constitution and the rule of law. We must be careful not to deliberately create a state of anarchy.

The lawyers who filed the charges against Onnoghen are aware of the requisite constitutional provisions and the Court of Appeal judgment in Nganjiwa’s case. It is evidently a politically-tainted case. The charges against the CJN should have been sent to the National Judicial Council and not the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

To further bolster my point, let’s critically look at the subsisting decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa vs FRN (2017). Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa had appealed the decision of the High Court of Lagos State in 2017, challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain and determine the case against her. She was charged for offences ranging from unlawful enrichment by a public officer to giving false information. The appeal court concurred with Nganjiwa, ruling unequivocally that a serving judicial officer cannot be arraigned or tried in any court for a criminal offence; not until such officer has been investigated, dismissed or recommended for trial by the National Judicial Council. This judgement was never appealed. So, it remains the law.

Yes, the CCT has the power to try all public officers for asset declaration infractions, but in the case of judges, the jurisdiction of the tribunal has to be effectively activated, by first complying with lawful conditions as properly explained in the Appeal Court decision on Nganjiwa.

The truth that must be told is that there is a binding and subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal, stating unambiguously that a serving judicial officer cannot be arraigned or tried in any court for a criminal offence. This applies to the case of Onnoghen. The CJN cannot be arraigned at the CCT, until he has been investigated, dismissed or recommended for trial by the National Judicial Council. This is the position of our law. Those under the influence of excessive Tramadol and Codeine are now trying to turn the law upside down. What a country!

I also need to remind all those behind the case against the CJN and all those clapping for them that sections 153 (1), 271 (1), 292 (1) (a) (ii) and Paragraph 21 (Part 1) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution are to the effect that any judicial officer accused of an offence must first be subjected to investigation and disciplinary action by the National Judicial Council prior to any trial.

Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), was apt when he declared that a dangerous precedent was being set in the charges filed against the CJN.

He remarked: “Some of the legal issues already settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Saraki vs Federal Government are being reopened in Onnoghen’s case. The most dangerous aspect of what is going on now is that our laws are in trouble.

“When I said that the proper procedure has not been followed and that the government should withdraw the frivolous charge, I wasn’t talking about the substance of the case, because for me, if you catch an armed robber red-handed and you decide to chop off his hand, you have lost your case; you still have to take him to court and that is what should happen in this case. We must go through the proper channel for dealing with complaints against judges.”

What more should I add? Buhari should spare this country this unnecessary tension.

Bishop Mamza on ‘Hungry Clerics’

For those who don’t know him, Most Rev. Stephen Mamza is the Bishop of Catholic Dioceses of Yola, Adamawa State. This fearless cleric made my day last Sunday, when he took on those he described as hungry clerics. For Mamza, many religious leaders in our dear country have lost their credibility by dabbling into politics for pecuniary gains.

He said, “The problem we have is that we have hungry religious leaders; those that are not there for the service of God but because of their pockets. If not, why should a religious leader allow a politician to control him? The cleric is supposed to be the leader of the politician and not the other way around, as we can see.

“We clerics are supposed to form the conscience of the politicians. But in a situation where due to material things, we cede this position to them, then we’ll lose our credibility. 

The problem that we have today with religious leaders is that many of them have lost their credibility because they dabbled into politics.”

Mamza also took on the notorious Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka, accusing him of being an embarrassment to the Catholic Church, saying, “I wonder why Mbaka is yet to be sanctioned by the bishop of his diocese. This cannot happen in other dioceses. There is no reason why he should not be sanctioned.

“Every priest is under the jurisdiction of his bishop. If a priest commits a crime or does something wrong anywhere in the world, the person that acts on that priest is the bishop. Even Rome will not act just like that; it is your own bishop that will do that. I think we can say that his bishop should make sure he cautions Mbaka because he has really crossed his bounds.”

Nigeria clearly needs more of the likes of Father Mamza, if this country wants progress.

Adamu Must Respond to Sleaze Allegation

I am still waiting for the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to respond to sleaze allegation against him. 

The allegation was made three days ago, yet, Adamu has remained mute. I need to remind him that the sacked Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TeTFund), Abdullahi Baffa, alleged that he was forced out of office owing to his refusal to provide monetary kickbacks to the minister. Baffa allegedly told BBC Hausa on Wednesday that the Minister had sent a contractor to him demanding his share of N200 billion disbursed by the agency to tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Bafa alleged:  “If they bring any evidence indicting me, I’m ready to accept death punishment. I do not regret my refusal to obey the minister’s directives because I cannot sabotage my country. Go and ask the minister. Eight months ago, Mallam Adamu Adamu sent one of his biggest contractors to tell me that the minister was angry with me for three reasons. 

The third issue was that TeTFund disbursed over N200 billion to universities without remitting the percent kickback, amounting to at least N20 billion at 10 percent rate. The fact is that since I started this job, I have never demanded a single kobo from any university. If any university shows proof of collecting kickback from them, let death sentence be passed on me.”

Mallam Adamu, Bafa has spoken. Please, respond appropriately. I know that our anti-graft agencies won’t be interested in this because fighting corruption in Nigeria is evidently a padi padi arrangement. 

Deconstructing Obasanjo’s Latest Dispatch

I am not a fan of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Over the years, I have learnt to dispassionately examine his messages rather than the messenger. His latest dispatch to President Muhammadu Buhari, largely focusing on the impending Presidential election, should be of interest to everyone that genuinely loves this country. I have also been worried about INEC’s ability to conduct a free and fair election, based on the trickeries at the Osun State gubernatorial election held last year.

That was why I was impressed with Obasanjo’s salvo to INEC. He remarked: “I personally have serious doubt about the present INEC’s integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election. And if the INEC is willing, will the ruling party and government allow it? From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorial election, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice to the contrary.

“The unnecessary rerun, if viewed as a test-run for a larger general election, would lead people to expect incidences of deliberately contrived, broken or non-working voting machines or card readers, confusion of voters as to their voting stations; inadequate supply of voting materials to designated places, long line to discourage voters and turning blind eyes to favour the blue-eye political party of INEC because the commission’s hands will be tied to enable hatchet men and women to perform their unwholesome assignment.”

I have written severally against attacks on opposition leaders by agents of the Buhari government. Few days back, the United States Congress also sent a warning note to our President about this ugly trend. So, I fully concur with Obasanjo’s observation that, “Another Abacha era is here. The security institutions are being misused to fight all critics and opponents of Buhari and to derail our fledgling democracy.

“EFCC, Police and Code of Conduct Tribunal are also being misused to deal with those Buhari sees as enemies for criticising him or as those who may not do his bidding in manipulating election results. Criticism, choice and being different are inherent trade mark of democracy; if democracy is derailed or aborted, anarchy and authoritarianism will automatically follow.”

I am on the same page with Obasanjo’s observation that Buhari’s men are desperate to rig him in for a second term. The hand writing is on the wall. Patriots must stand up against this plot. Obasanjo said: “The President and his people believe no stone should be left unturned to rig Buhari in. There seems to be a ploy to intimidate the judiciary as a whole in preparation for all election cases that will go before them. Where and how will all these stop?

“From available intelligence, we have heard of how Buhari and his party are going about his own self-succession project. They have started recruiting collation officers who are already awarding results based on their projects to actualise the perpetuation agenda in which the people will not matter and the votes will not count.”

On the sagging war against Boko Haram, Obasanjo echoed my persistent position, saying, “this administration has reached the end of its wit even in handling all security issues, but particularly Boko Haram issue, partly due to misuse of security apparatus and poor equipment, deployment, coordination and cooperation.”

Baba Iyabo’s last shots were thought-provoking: “At the end of the day, those who goad you on will leave you in the lurch. You will be left alone, naked and unheralded.

 In defeat, which must be Buhari’s fear, leading to desperation, he and his co-travellers can still maintain modicum of decency, and exhibit fear of God in their actions.’’

Well, as usual, President Buhari is uncomfortable with Obasanjo’s latest dispatch. His aides and cohorts have been pummeling Baba Iyabo. My forthright message to Buhari today is that he should reflect deeply on the points raised by Obasanjo, and make amends appropriately.