Onnoghen: The Coup This Time

Muhammadu Buhari has, by his action last Friday, clearly established himself as a master in the art of coup plotting. In 1983 he emerged head of state after overthrowing an elected government. Now as head of the executive branch of a civilian government, he has overthrown another arm of government.

Buhari’s announcement that he had suspended the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, was actually a declaration of war. He said he acted on an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) that had commenced a trial of the CJN at a speed not usually associated with the Nigerian judiciary. A civil society group led by a former aide of the president had petitioned the CCT, accusing Onnoghen of failure to declare some of his assets as required by law. While the competence of the CCT to try the CJN was being contested, members of a cabal in the presidency and their friends in the executive were calling on the CJN to resign “as is done in western countries”. Then, out of nowhere, Buhari “suspended” the CJN citing an order from the CCT. He ignored the provisions of the Nigerian constitution as regards the process for removing a judicial officer from office: a recommendation by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and a two-thirds majority backing in the Senate. Almost immediately after, Buhari swore in Justice Tanko Mohammed as acting CJN.  Everybody smelled a rat.

We believe, however,  it is high-wire politics playing out. The incumbent APC government probably feels that CJN Onnoghen would work for the opposition PDP by delivering favourable judgements to the latter after the general election in February and March. Allegations of corruption, apart from non-declaration of assets, have been levelled against the CJN: it is said that millions of dollars were paid into his bank accounts.

Whoever wanted to remove the CJN should have followed the due processes provided by the constitution. That is the minimum expected from a president in a democracy. Even a baby would understand that the presidency has something to hide by using underhand tactics to remove the country’s chief law officer three weeks before a general election. The international community represented by the E.U., the U. K., the U.S. and others have issued statements pointing to a disobedience to the rule of law and undermining of the electoral process.

President Buhari’s explanation that he was fighting corruption in the judiciary convinces no one. If he was fighting corruption, he would have since moved against the chairman of the CCT who has a case of corruption hanging around his neck. He wouldn’t have been in bed with many APC chieftains known to be the epitome of corruption. His election in 2015 was bankrolled with the proceeds of corruption, just as his present electioneering is driven by funds stolen from the public treasury.

In view of this major assault on the judiciary, Nigeria democracy is threatened. And this is not the Buhari that many used to associate with integrity. By appointing another northern Muslim like him to head the judiciary, he has effectively put the three arms of the Nigerian government into the pocket of one section of the country. Northern Muslims head not just the Supreme Court but also the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court.  Besides, northerners now head all the 17 security agencies, as well as the army, air force and police, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and many other key ministries, departments and agencies. Clearly, this is a violation of the Federal Character Principle provided in the constitution. Nepotism itself is a form of corruption!

While campaigning in the southeast recently, President Buhari said he made his appointments on the basis of competence. Does it mean the most competent Nigerians could be found only within his region?

Like many, we are inclined to suspect the president is no longer the one running Nigeria. He is sick and old — signs of amnesia, senile dementia and certain other disorders are visible wherever he goes and whenever he speaks off the cuff. A cabal is in the saddle, not Buhari! That his wife Aisha has sounded this warning note twice is enough proof.

Before the judiciary is thrown to the dogs – and the Nigerian state fracture permanently – all eyes are on the National Judicial Council. It is noteworthy that no Supreme Court justice witnessed their colleague Tanko Mohammed’s swearing-in by the president or his first task the next day (swearing-in of 250 election tribunal members, some of whom are presumably dead or retired). Before press time, The Oracle Today reported that the NJC, which convened an emergency meeting on Monday, has issued query letters to both the suspended CJN, Justice Onnoghen, and the acting CJN, Justice Mohammed, asking them to respond within a week. Onnoghen, we learned, was asked to respond to allegations of corruption levelled against him and why he failed to declare all his assets as stipulated by law. Mohammed was to explain why he allowed himself to be sworn in by President Buhari without the recommendation of the NJC as stipulated by the constitution.

The coup might still be foiled. Yet, it might not be correct to dismiss the president as ignorant or the cabal (which clearly calls the shot) as stupid. After all, they are achieving their aim already: to get Onnoghen out of the way before he could constitute an election petitions panel. At least, the elections would have been over by the time the Supreme Court (which the Senate has approached for interpretation) or the NJC could compel the president to reverse the illegality.


With: The Oracle Today

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