Nigeria is blessed with great men and women who can catch hold of people’s minds and feelings and inspire them to do things bigger than themselves. The country has men entrusted with the gavel and authority of government who will not rake in for themselves inheritances meant for their children’s children. These are men who have not joined a legion of others who hanker daily to run the country aground for selfish gains. Men in this category may be few; but they exist.
On the flip side, however, self-seeking, egomaniacal men are also lodged in the crevices of all arms of our government. My expression in this treatise focuses on the Nigerian judiciary.
Not too long ago, Nigeria’s security agency raided homes of seven judges who were believed to have been larded up with funny money. Steel doors were pulled down and glass windows broken. The judges were said to be recipients of blood money splurged on them by those who sought subversion of justice and implant of injustice. The raid was in response to petitions sent by civil society groups to the National Judicial Council. The seven judges were arrested including two Justices of the Supreme Court. Large sums of money in local and foreign currencies were reportedly recovered from three of the arrested judges during the operation. One of the judges had $2m stashed away in his house. When the team requested a search in his palatial abode, he beckoned to a sitting governor for rescue from the long arms of law. The governor responded with a trailer-load of thugs, so the story went. What is the relationship of this governor and the judge? Did the money come from the state governor’s mansion? Another judge was found with N54m, another with N35m, and another with N4.3m. There was also a list of dollar and pound denominated currencies in the names of the judges. Is the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, one of Nigeria’s jackleg judges?
I stumbled on these words spoken by Lord Denning in 1955, then Lord Justice of Court of Appeal of England: “A judge should in his own character be beyond reproach…he has to pronounce judgment on those who have offended against the law. He has to rebuke the evil and support the good. He cannot well do this-he cannot without hypocrisy do it-if he himself has been found guilty of an offence against the law”. The ongoing drama between Onnoghen and the Nigerian government is disturbing. For weeks, the National Intelligence Agency, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit and the Department of State Services were on the trail of the suspended CJN. His phone was allegedly bugged, and with help of the BVN, multiple illegal accounts were traced to the Chief. Walter found himself in hot water. He did not declare these assets in compliance with the provisions of the Code of Conduct law. In a written confession to the amnesiac manoeuvre; Onnoghen wrote, “My asset declaration form numbers SCN 00014 and SCN 00005 were declared on the same day, 14/12/2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009… I did not include my Standard Charted Bank account in SCN 000014 because I believed they were not opened”
If Onnoghen sincerely forgot to make known these accounts, where did the huge sums of money slumbering off in his undeclared bank accounts come from? We don’t have an answer. Not yet, and probably never. Recently, Onnoghen approached a higher court for reprieve. A few days ago, Nigeria’s Court of Appeal dismissed the suit challenging the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal hearing his case. Even in the aftermath of his self-confession, the Chief is still fighting. For what? For his job that is gone and likely forever?
In Nigeria today, and even in holy places, everything is politics and politics is everything. In an election year, we cannot rule out some politicking. When you hear cries from those who oppose President Muhammadu Buhari that his party is only test-running its election rigging plans with the suspension of the CJN, don’t be shocked. Onnoghen was made acting Chief Justice in 2016 about a year after Buhari was sworn in as President. He was one of the three Supreme Court justices who in 2008, gave minority judgments in favour of Buhari in his Supreme Court appeal against the 2007 election of President Umaru Yar’Adua in a narrow 4 to 3 judgment. In election seasons, you hear gossips everywhere. Some are facts; and many more are fables. On the ruling party side, it is believed that Onnoghen has pitched his tents with opposition Peoples Democratic Party, we heard that the judge has sworn to a surreal covenant that if Buhari wins in next month’s election, a judicial trap will be laid for him in Onnoghen’s courtroom to torpedo the voice of the people. Who knows the veracity of that assumption? I don’t. The fact we have today is that the suspended CJN erred by not disclosing he has accounts with deposits running into millions of dollars that may be funny money. Did Onnoghen truly forget he has millions of dollars saved somewhere? Unfortunately, the claim of ignorance is not an escape parachute from the pangs of the law.
In nations with respect for the rule of law, this drama will never drag this long. If Chief Justice Roberts of the US Supreme Court is found with stacks of money in his account, he must explain the source. If not, he will be asked to resign, and be disrobed, disbarred, disgraced, and sent reeling for breath in the calaboose. Not in Nigeria where thieves are chiefs with sheaves in their hands. If Onnoghen has broken the law, there must be comeuppance. He who cheats another man will pay for his misdeed. The deeds of every man, sooner than later, will be appropriately rewarded. For every crime committed, there will be a punishment. For every wrongdoing, there will be a consequence. The Law of Retribution exempts no one. Not a President, not a lordly and looting lawmaker, and not a jackleg judge who is determined to misjudge and then attempt to dodge.
A corrupt judge is an unjust judge, and an unjust judge cannot mete out justice to citizens who deserve it. Where there is no justice, there can be no peace. Where there is no peace, an expectation of progress is a daydream that will eventually become a nagging nightmare. “Nations fall when judges are unjust”, said Lord Denning over 60 years ago. The court of a man’s conscience is higher than the Supreme Court. The former CJN should do the needful and appeal to the court of his conscience if he has one. He can end it today or wait until it is ended for him by law. There is the belief in and outside Nigeria that for the greedy and gluttonous in the Nigerian public service, the court of conscience does not sit or convene. Onnoghen should prove us all wrong. He should resign today!