BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, please don’t get it wrong, I’m not a Judge and I’m not about to deliver a judgment in favour of the ‘suspended’ Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen. I lack such capacity and jurisdiction. Besides, as the lawyers say, the matter is ‘sub judice’ i.e. under judicial consideration and therefore not meant for public discourse or discussion anywhere else other than the Court. What I’m doing here is to reiterate my initial reaction to the kangarooistic justice manner he was harassed, terrorised, convicted in the media, ahead of trial. My sympathy for Chief Justice Onnoghen didn’t stem out of his status as a very important personality BUT AS A MATTER OF PERSONAL PRINCIPLE that no Nigerian, regardless of tribe, gender, creed or social status, should suffer unnecessary humiliation and degradation in the hands of gods with feet of clay.
Anyone who has followed me over time would have seen the way I defend the rights of man, whether you are my friend or not, as long as the victim in question believes in, and follows, the rule of Law. A good example that readily comes into mind is that of the then Vice President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in 2010, who was disallowed by the so-called cabal from assuming power as Acting President, in the absence of his boss who was apparently incapacitated in Saudi Arabia. Some of us took the risk of protesting and demonstrating in Abuja and were confronted by some tough anti-riot police officers. I was neither a member of PDP nor a friend of Dr Jonathan at the time. No one waited for, or wanted, a thank you gratification from him. We just did what needed to be done because we believed that his was a just cause and our constitution and democracy was being trampled upon by fleeting soldiers of fortune.
When it was the turn of the Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, we raised objections to the manner he suddenly became a “demon” just because he fell out of favour with the powers that be. This act of vindictiveness has been the tragic pattern and trend since the coming of this trouble-prone Republic. There were suggestions, from those who should know better, that Dr Saraki should resign and abdicate responsibility while proving his innocence at the courts. No one considered the fact that this may have been the main strategy of his enemies in the first instance. Their usual refrain was always about “how if this was in Europe or America, the Senate President would have voluntarily resigned. The Nigerian situation is always a case of man’s inhumanity to man. Whenever it happens, there are always more than enough people ever willing to castigate, prosecute and convict the hapless victim without trial, especially in the media. The problem with such a position is that this is not Europe or America. In Europe or America investigating and prosecution authorities are careful about the kind of information they disseminate to the public. They usually refer to a man or woman being under investigation and reveal very little of the evidence against such person, preferring to leave that to the latter stages of the investigation and prosecution. In Nigeria, the investigating and prosecuting authorities immediately rush to the public domain. They hang what sometimes later turns out to be their dirty laundry in full view of the public. The public feast on it in a state of frenzy because they have been pauperised and impoverished by varying governments and they see a ready victim to blame for their woes. Little do they realise that it is all a mirage and charade and they have been fed foul meat that will result in stomach churning double somersaults. Worse still, the investigators and prosecutors may end up with egg splattered all over their faces as their gung-ho approach to maligning and impugning people without any regard to the sanctity and sacredness of the principle of fair hearing and the pursuit of justice.
What I find most disturbing is that neither investigator nor, worse still, prosecutor ever bothers to do their due diligence well. Once they pick on a scapegoat, they rush out all manner of distortions and incongruous information. They pick on the most incoherent witnesses, procured under duress, or pecuniary promises. Such was the case of Dr Saraki. The melodrama was nauseating. Yet, they had many people who acted as chorus singers and amplified the lies to all corner of the world. You sometimes wonder, why are we so mean to ourselves? Why do we want to waste and destroy all the gains of democracy many died for in the past. Had Saraki resigned, he would have fallen for the dastardly ploy of politically assailants, akin to hired assassins of character, to get rid of him. When that failed, other darts were fired in his direction. He was practically accused of being a part of an armed robbery gang that callously wasted so many lives in one fell swoop. The denouement of this whole debacle and theatre of the absurd is gradually playing out in the Courts, before our very eyes. It is taking God’s intervention to save Saraki from being totally obliterated and annihilated in the process. After that, some heavily hooded and menacing security personnel invaded the precincts of the National Assembly, like hooded outlaws reminiscent of Robin Hood and his band of merry men. The only difference was that these were not outlaws, but men sworn to protect the sanctity of the very institution that they were desecrating with their disloyal presence. The military’s oath is to defend the people, the country and its institutions and not any individual, particularly if that individual is acting against the interests of the country and its institutions. Fortunately, the Vice President in his characteristic forceful and no-nonsense manner when he has been in charge put an end to that madness and ensured that democratic institutions continued to be respected.
This was the same template that was put in place for the Chief Justice. As obvious as the act was, many still fell for the scam. The timing was patently wrong, too close to the general elections. The modus operandi was ghoulish. Someone hurriedly put together a scurrilous petition in which we were regaled with tales by moonlight of a stupendously wealthy Chief Justice of the Federation who must have been criminally guilty of ‘moonlighting’! The denial of any involvement by the administration in this hurriedly concocted travesty, suddenly turned into a wholesale approbation of the means, ways and methods used to catch the ‘thief’. All known principles of justice and morals were soon sacrificed at the altar of expediency, even though the government should have been briefed, by various arms of the security agencies, that most of the baseless allegations had not been verified or investigated.
A whole Chief Justice of the Federation looked so dejected, rejected and pathetic. He was treated like a petty thief, a common criminal. He was unable to properly articulate his defence as he had already been convicted in the court of public opinion based on the frivolous and desperate evidence dished out by his traducers. His office was stolen from him in a brazen and total disregard for the constitution and its safeguard to check the excesses of government and abuse of power by one arm of government. The CJN was even brought before his peers and other members of the National Judicial Council (NJC) like a useless felon. Many legal giants sprang stoutly into action on his behalf. All kinds of legal and constitutional theories were propounded, and different stratagem employed. Some other lawyers rose up in support of the government, saying we need to fight corruption to standstill. Why not? But not at the expense of freedom and liberty. I have always said and maintained that we should never set fire to an entire village in order to catch rats. Even if government has incontrovertible evidence against Onnoghen, our Justice system needs to learn and imbibe some decorum. The sum total of all this drama was that the law, and its chief defender and upholder, were beginning to look like the proverbial ass!
I could therefore not believe my eyes when the climax to all of this tragic dramedy played out at the Code of Conduct Tribunal proceedings of the past week. There six prosecution witnesses, but it seems that after hearing the damaging evidence of the previous three, the prosecution could not go an any longer as their case appeared to be in tatters. Witness after witness burst the bubble that had been the prosecution’s case in the media. There were not 55 houses, but 5. I guess somebody had mistakenly typed 5 twice and it stuck. After all, as another witness stated none of the facts contained in Onnoghen’s asset declaration form had been verified. To further compound matters the Court was told that all his so-called foreign accounts were local domicillary accounts. Worse was to be exposed before the Tribunal as it was revealed that there was not $3,000,000 in the totality of his accounts, but less than $300,000 even at the most optimistic position of taking opening balances in January 2018 into account. Indeed, he had taken a loan of $500,000 which was collateralised by his investments in Federal Government Bonds and diverse stock. A patriot indeed. Recall that in the bid to shore up what must have been known to be a very bad case, investigators had rushed to Onnoghen’s farm and carted away several allegedly ‘incriminating’ documents and equipment.
The Defence on behalf of Onnoghen has applied to file a no-case submission. The Prosecution naturally has a right to reply to it. Without attempting to preempt the court and being conscious of the delicate fine balance of necessary to be observed once a matter is sub judice, I believe it is pertinent to note that in other countries both developing and developed, the prosecutor, knowing that his role is to do justice, present the facts to the court, and not merely seek a conviction, would have thrown in the towel. I wait to see what this prosecutor will do. More importantly, I wait to see whether the government will offer Onnoghen the profound and sincere apology that he deserves if he is discharged by the CCT.
We seem to be in a season of politics and litigations and it was a double whammy this week. It is with no surprise at all to me that I learnt of the victory of Senator Ademola Adeleke of the PDP at the Governorship Election Tribunal for Osun State albeit by a majority decision of two to one with the Chairman of the Tribunal Justice Ibrahim Sirajo dissenting. That election, particularly what has now been held to be the illegal rerun election, was fraught with irregularities, malpractices and voter intimidation by the ruling Party, APC and some elements of the military. When INEC chose not to call any evidence to rebut the allegations of the PDP about these matters, I knew the game was almost up. The whole pack of cards finally collapsed when the submissions of the APC lawyers was not the loud bang that we expected, but nothing more than a whimper.
Senator Adeleke’s victory appears to be a victory for democracy and a vindication for all lovers of democracy who put their faith in the judiciary as the last bastion of the common man. It is also to the credit of the government of President Buhari that it has chosen not to interfere at all in what was happening at the election Tribunal. Some people felt that the government would have used its power and influence to seek to re-write the verdict. Kudos to the government on this score.
What happens next demonstrates the fact that it is not yet Uhuru for Senator Adeleke. He cannot claim the mandate as his despite the powerful pronouncement of the Tribunal. APC has already appealed to the Court of Appeal, as it is its legitimate right to do. Whichever of the parties wins at the Court of Appeal, it is clear that the other losing party will appeal to the Supreme Court. The practice up till now is that until the Supreme Court gives its verdict the person declared to be the winner by INEC will continue in office. Senator Adeleke may therefore have a little longer to claim the mandate which he says was stolen from him.
I congratulate, my dear friend, Senator Ademola Adeleke, for his victory in the first leg of this three-legged race. I wish him the very best as he faces the next challenge of persuading the Appellate Courts to uphold his victory. Time and the Supreme Court will ultimately tell who the spoils of victory will go to.
For now, the lesson to be learnt, which is pertinent to remember, as we go into the rerun and supplementary elections today, is that there is no profit in all these anti-democratic acts that our politicians are wont to resort to because democracy and justice will ultimately triumph.