By Our Reporters
On Monday, January 14, 2019, the Code of conduct Bureau, CCB, in keeping with its promise to dock Walter Kanu Onnoghen, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, and the Cross river state born Chief Justice of Nigeria, on account of a petition by Dennis Aghaya, Executive Secretary of an Abuja based Anti-Corruption Data Based Initiative and Research kept its word. Aghaya had petitioned the CCB over the CJN of non declaration of assets and operating domiciliary Accounts as a Civil Servant .
The CCB Court presided over by Dr. Muhammed Isah, the Chairman and supported by two other members of the Bureau was filled to capacity because of the Caliber of person involved. Isah and his two Bureau members may have expected to start the proceedings which was scheduled at about 10 am but were forced to adjourn sitting because of the superior argument of the defense Lawyers to Tuesday, January 22, 2019.
The defense team , going by Channels Television reports included over 40 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN. Given the importance attached to the trial by the Nigeria Bar Association, the video clips of the trial shows that Onnoghen, the CJN, was not present at the Isah led Court as some notable SANs in the defense team of the Onnoghen, the CJN, were already seated in the Court room awaiting the commencement of the much talked about trial.
They are Kanu Agabi, a former Attorney General of the Federation and minister of Justice, Wole Olanipekun, Chiefs Chris Uche, Adegboyega Awomolo among others. Aliyu Umar, was said to be the only SAN, on the side of the prosecution, an indication that the government may have lost the case on arrival. The adjournment may have given both the defense and prosecution Lawyers to go back to the drawing board to fine-tune their line arguments against the next sitting.
The action of the CCB against the CJN, may have been seen as part of the ethnic cleansing of President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressive Congress , APC, government. This may have forced Emmanuel Udom,Prof. Bedict Ayande, Nyesom Wike, Seriake Dickson and Ifeanyi Okowa, the People Democratic , PDP, South- South governors of Akwa Ibom, Cross river, Rivers and Bayelsa respectively and Delta states to have kicked against it.
Godwin Obaseki , governor of Edo state, who ought to have been at the meeting ,may not have attended as a governor elected under the platform of the APC for fear of been seen as working with the Opposition PDP governors to oppose the CCB planned moves to put the country’s CJN on trial.
The governors who rose from a meeting on Saturday, January 12, 2019, at Abuja, were said to have thrown their weight behind the CJN, asking him to” ignore the CCB invitation to Court for trial over the alleged abuse of office”. This may have informed the reason why the CJN was not in the CCB Isah led CCB Court on Monday, January 14, 2019, for commencement of the trial.
The South-South governors who were worried over the CCB action against the CJN, had cited the unceremonious removal of Mathew Seiyefa, a former Bayelsa state born acting Director General , Department of State Security, DSS, by the Buhari, fueling speculation that the President do not want to have officials he could not control to be in his government.
The governors who could not hide their feeling, said the CCB plot , which had the backing of the Presidency further ”reinforces the perception that the Buhari Administration has no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians, particular , the people of the Niger Delta and the Rule of Law”.
The aggrieved governors, noted the lapses in the CJN trial. They argued that the ”legal procedures for investigation allegation of abuse of office against judicial officials were not followed in the Onnoghen case”, and accused the Buhari led Executive arm of government of targeting other arms of government to render them powerless that they would not be able challenge his unpopular policies.
The governors who blasted the Katsina state born Nigerian President said the move by the CCB at the instance of the Presidency to try the CJN , a Cross riverian described the move as ”selective of the ”south-south story of endless marginalisation and intimidation”.
They were said to have had the backing of Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice president and Presidential Candidate of the PDP, which may have politicised the CJN trial as the PDP has turned the heat on the Katsina state born president and his kitchen cabinet to do a rethink and retrace their step on the trial of the country’s Chief Law interpreter and Head of the Judiciary.
Recall, that what is happening in Nigeria now may not be different from what happened in Uganda during the regime of late President Idi Amin where the Judiciary was muscled up by him and a Chief Justice allegedly killed for failing to do his biddings over a trial of an American Journalist which he had an interest.
Let us hope that the CJN trial will not degenerate to Constitutional crisis that could lead to a breakdown of Law and Order in the country. There are fears that Paul Usoro, a senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN,and President, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, may withdraw his members from going to Court in protest over the” assault , intimidation and desecration of the Judiciary by the government”.
The Association’s major worry was that” the petition that triggered the CCB action was on its face received by the Bureau on Thursday , January 10, 2019, and the charge was promptly drafted and was dated the following day, Friday, January 11, 2019”, thus giving the CCB a record 24 hours for completion of its investigation and the drafting of the said charge and ancillary processes”
The Association which had described it as a” naked show of power and force by agencies of government ” may have prepared the mind of members to prepare for war with the government until the principle of Separation of Powers as enshrined in the Constitution is respected by Buhari and the agencies of government.
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