“The few antagonistic to the suspension and trial of Justice Onnoghen are directly seeking a return to the rules of the jungle, where might and position of influence was a guaranteed license to indulge in all manner of unlawful acts unchallengeable,” David Bamidele, the CISS President, said.
he Centre for International and Strategy Studies (CISS) has condemned the calls for the reinstatement of Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
Onnoghen was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari on a directive by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), before whom the former is standing trial over allegations of fraudulent declaration of assets.
The CISS says Onnoghen’s suspension is “a right step in the right direction”, adding that the decision was to safeguard the integrity of the judiciary sector.
While addressing the media on Tuesday, David Bamidele, the CISS President, said Buhari’s decision was not only reasonable and timely, but necessary to “salvage the partly battered image of the Nigerian judiciary”.
He also said the decision was to protect democracy from the class of the few bad characters in the judicial cum political system.
His words: “In a nationwide address, the President explained that the decision to suspend Justice Onnoghen was spurred by the wisdom of the CCT, the only court which has the lawful mandate to pry into matters of alleged breach of Code of Conduct prescribed for public officers, pending final determination of the charges against him at the CCT.
“About a fortnight ago, Nigerians were assailed with the alleged breach of the Code of Conduct laws by the CJN through a petition signed by the Executive Director, Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, Mr. Dennis Aghanya. According the petitioner, the NGO painstakingly investigated the CJN, which commenced about a year ago. The details of the alleged offences against the CJN are in public domain.
“But suffice it to say, specifically, the suspended CJN allegedly operated and failed to declare or improperly declared three domiciliary accounts in Standard Chartered Bank with about $3million stashed in them among other charges. The CCT chaired by Justice Danladi Umar began inquest into the allegations by dragging Justice Onnoghen before it for trial in consonance with the stipulations of the law. However, it elicited unnecessary disquiet and judicial ambush of the case, designed to frustrate the trial.”
According to Bamidele, the “frenzied unwarranted or cynical attacks or accusations of President Buhari by ethnic champions and political shenanigans and accomplices in the judiciary”, is based on a convenient choice to “ignore the provisions of the law”.
He continued: “The critics have found it more convenient to repress the fact of the suspended CJN’s own admission of committing a breach of the Code of Conduct law, which he casually explained it as ‘mistake or forgetfulness’.
“Anywhere, the judiciary operates on the basis of law and all operators in the temple of justice ought to thrive on an unquestionable morality and integrity. Where this is lacking as revealed by the preliminary findings of the Code of Conduct on the breaches by the CJN, democracy itself is threatened and it is a path to an inglorious abuse of the rule of law.
“The few antagonistic to the suspension and trial of Justice Onnoghen are directly seeking a return to the rules of the jungle, where might and position of influence was a guaranteed license to indulge in all manner of unlawful acts unchallengeable. But just last year, the CJN had the moral strength or authority to preside over the alleged false assets declaration by the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, when the Senator appealed several aspects of his trial at the CCT. Yet, the CJN had skeletons in his cupboard. This is an act that cannot be tolerated in any country.
“The administration of President Buhari has made it clear from the outset that under his watch, such acts will not be condoned. And therefore, that the Head of the Nigerian judiciary is involved does not insulate him from the proper legal actions by virtue of his position as chorused by others. The efforts of the present government to sanitize and rid the judiciary of corrupt officers shadowed since 2016 when the DSS arrested seven judges, including two Supreme Court judges for alleged corruption during a sting operation. The case of the suspended CJN, Justice Onnoghen is therefore not exceptional.
“The ordinary Nigerian has always craved to have a dependable judiciary; a true temple of justice, where all who approach it shall be entitled to equity and fair hearing; where judgments’ would truly reflect the merits of the dispute before the court for resolution. But sadly, much of the uprightness expected from the Nigerian judiciary is a mirage, as attested in the quantum of petitions against some judges to the National Judicial Commission. In 2016, in the heat of the arrest and trial of some judges, the NJC disclosed that 808 Justices in Nigeria have been petitioned by Nigerians over allegations of corrupt practices and professional misconducts.
“It exposes the level of discontent in Nigerians over the operations of the judiciary and conduct of judicial officers. And it is unfortunate to understand the Number One Judicial officer in Nigeria is also embroiled in these sordid allegations.
“Nigeria is heading to its worse moments in drifting negatively. It is surprising that some accused persons who are arraigned in court approach other courts of even concurrent jurisdiction to obtain injunctions to halt such trials. And some presiding Judges go ahead in their wisdom to grant such frivolous injunctions.”