By Stephen Ubanna
President Muhammadu Buhari may not have been that lucky in ruling Nigeria despite his good intentions to make the country a corrupt-free society. Political watchers believe he has been the most misunderstood Nigerian political leader.
Recall that when Ibrahim Babangida, a retired Army General and former military President, mobilised his military loyalists to overthrow his government in 1985 , there was jubilations in all nooks and corners of the country as Nigerians trooped out to the streets. This is because , Nigerians did not see anything good in him because of hardship . They accepted the populist government of Babangida and were ready to support him to succeed.
The return of Buhari in 2015, as an elected President , may have galvanised all the forces against the Katsina born Nigerian President to return to the trenches. Paul Nathaniel, a Lagos based political analyst noted that ”never had the country and the international Community been so united against one man than now.
Buhari may have created the problem for himself by going ahead to suspend Walter Kanu Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria on Friday, January 25, 2019, over alleged undeclared Assets. He had replaced him with Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, as the acting CJN.
At present , he may appear to be alone as many notable members of the All Progressive Congress, APC, including political appointees who are not happy with the suspension of the CJN but could not confront him to reverse the decision may have tactically withdrawn from advising him. They feared he may not accept their advise because of the strong believe in his superior arguments.
It was therefore , not surprising why they may have allowed him to take the unpopular decision of suspending Onnoghen,a southerner, and replacing him with Mohammed, a northerner. As a prelude to show the anger of Nigerians over the suspension of the embattled CJN, without following due process, 25 aggrieved Constitutional Lawyers, were said to have dragged him to Court to challenge what they described as ”illegal suspension of the CJN”.
The Bukola Saraki led Senate which was supposed to have reconvened on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, to deliberate on the Onnoghen suspension was said to have filed a suit before the Supreme Court, presided over by Mohammed , the acting CJN. The Senate suit , among others is ” asking the Court for an order to reinstate the suspended CJN.
The Lawmakers may have agreed to reschedule plenary session to February 19, 2019, after the February 16, 2019, Presidential election because of the backlash effect. Yusuf Olaniyonu, the Special Adviser Media to Saraki, the Senate President who responded to enquiries on why the Senate cancelled the initial scheduled plenary disclosed that ”it was due to the last minute decision by the leadership to seek judicial interpretation to the CJN suspension by Buhari.
According to Oloniyanu, the Senate is asking the apex Court to ”declare the suspension of Onnoghen, the CJN, without the support of two-third majority of the upper legislative chamber as a violation of the Constitution”. The suit, he further stated is asking the Court to issue an order restraining Buhari and Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General and minister of Justice, from continuing or repeating the violation of the Constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect to suspension of the CJN.
Many Nigerians and the international Community are awaiting to see how Mohammed would handle the case. This is because if it is decided in favour of the Senate, it means he would lose his exalted position which he may not be willing to do, an indication that he has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The question on the lips of most people is : will he be dancing to the beating of the drum of the Presidency or stand and the part of Justice and damn the Consequences by not allowing the country to be thrown into Constitutional crisis?. A Presidency source told the Value News that the Senate suit was a masterstroke to the government. The Cabal in the presidency, according the source, were surprised that Saraki, could influence the Senators to file a suit at the apex Court over the suspension of the CJN. This may have distablised the calculation of the cabal and the Buhari Presidential Campaign Council.
Onnoghen, the CJN, who is not ready to allow his 50-year meritorious records of being in the Bench to be unceremoniously removed from office was said to have appealed against the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, challenging his suspension. According to the Appeal, the Cross river state born suspended CJN, pleaded with the Court to declare that Danladi Umar, Chairman, CCT, and Julie Anabor, a member of the Tribunal, ”erred in law and violated the Constitution when they ordered his suspension”.
He was said to have also claimed that ”they violated his right to fair hearing by not giving him opportunity to defend himself”. Convinced that he was wrongfully suspended by the President on the recommendation of the CCT, he was said to have asked the Court to ”set aside the Judgment of the Tribunal asking him to step aside as CJN and Chairman of National Judicial Council, NJC. The Presidency may have given Onnoghen a soft landing to run to the Court and argue out his case, since the President had people to believe that it was a legal and not a political matter.
His expectation in the Appeal Court may have been dashed as his suit seeking a stay of execution on his on-going trial at the Tribunal was said to have been dismissed on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. The Court had ruled that the ”’ nature of the charges leveled against Onnoghen warrants that proceedings at the CCT continues. This is bad news for Onnoghen, the CJN, who had expected to be reinstated by the Appeal Court. For now his hopes of regaining his lost position lies with NJC which have taken over the case. to reinstate him or be forced to retire.
Given that the Presidency has said there is no political motive to the CJN suspension but based on an order from the CCT, the NJC, which had been silent appears to have woken up to their responsibility. The Council , after a recent emergency meeting chaired by Umaru Abdullahi, a former President of the Appeal Court, has given, Onnoghen and Mohammed, the acting CJN, one week to respond to petitions written against them. This is because of the urgency of the matter, an NJC source said.
The suspended CJN is to respond to a petition by one Zikhvillahi Ibrahim, of Resource Center for Human Rights and Civil Education while Mohammed had been petitioned by the Center For Justice and Peace Initiative,Olisa Agbakoba,a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, office of the Attorney General and minister of Justice over alleged breach of NUC rules . Onnoghen and the acting CJN were said to have been absent from the all important NJC meeting which was held to decide on their fate in the Supreme Court.
Umar, the Chairman of CCT, who had recommended the suspension of Onnoghen, the CJN, to the Presidency on Wednesday, 23, January, 2019 , the NJC said also has a case to answer because of the petition written against him to the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC by the Center for Justice and Peace Initiative.The NJC, may have taken over the case to give Buhari a breather because of the rising opposition against him both locally and overseas for taking the decision to suspend Onnoghen, the CJN. Indeed, he may have hands up to allow the institutions do their work without any interference.
Even a presidency source informed that he has assured the NJC officials of non interference in their work, promising to act on their recommendations. This should gladden the heart of Onnoghen, the suspended CJN, who is optimistic of being reinstated through the legal process.
Nigerians and the international Community are waiting for the verdict of the NJC when it reconvenes on Monday, February 11, 2019, to look into the petitions against Onnoghen and Mohammed, the top judicial officers. Soji Oye, the NJC, Director of Information, reportedly said the Council would handle matter with dispatch to calm tension in the country. It could not be ascertained what the petitions against the duo were centered on as NJC, has made it a closely guided secret.
Note that it was the alleged petition from one Dennis Aghaya, Executive Secretary of an Abuja based Anti-Corruption Data Base Initiative and Research, against Onnoghen over undeclared Assets and operating different domiciliary Accounts at Standard Chartered Bank of Nigeria, Wuse , Zone 2, Abuja branch, to the CCT, that he was forced to appear before the CCT and his subsequent suspension from office.
There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the trio which had put the Judiciary where it is today may be asked to step aside for peace to reign in the country and to save Buhari’s image. This may disappoint those who may be anticipating that there would be problem after the February 16, 2019, if there was no clear winner or Buhari, the APC , Candidate wins and the closest rival in the election, over alleged cheating , and decides to take the case to the three-man Presidential election Tribunal at the Supreme Court for adjudication for the judgment to be accepted by the parties without complain.
The intervention of the NJC on the Onnoghen case, should encourage the leadership of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, to mobilise their members to return to Court. The Nation Executive of the Association led by Paul Usoro, SAN, has ordered a total shutdown of Court proceedings between Tuesday and Wednesday, January 30, 2019, to protest against the illegal suspension of the erstwhile CJN. The NBA nec directive may not have, been effective on the first as there was no total compliance. This is evident by the Court proceedings in Abuja, Jigawa and other parts of the north. There may not have been total compliance on the NBA order because of the insistence of Ibrahim Husani, the Chairman of the Association in the state that they need to support the government anti-corruption war, fueling that the presidency may have penetrated the ranks of NBA, to cause division and to ensure that the plot to abandon Court proceedings for two days would not totally effective.