18th January, 2019
CJN ONNOGHEN MUST FACE TRIAL
More than 45 legal luminaries represented the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday, 14th January 2019. The CJN himself was not in court. Onnoghen is facing allegation of false declaration of assets. Meanwhile an Islamic human rights organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has insisted that the CJN must face trial. According to the group, the evidence is too overwhelming and the onus is on the CJN to prove whether he did it or not. MURIC stated this in a statement issued on Friday, 18th January, 2019. The statement was signed by the director of the organization, Professor Ishaq Akintola. “The question Nigerians want the CJN to answer is ‘Did you do it or not?’ He needs to clear himself. This grandstanding is not reassuring. We have lost faith in the CJN as the symbol of justice in this country. Instead of answering that simple question and defending himself at the CCT, the CJN is resorting to technical escapism. “The ordinary man in the street may not know law, but he knows about morals. He can distinguish between decency and moral debauchery. He knows the difference between integrity and immorality. The CJN should know that this is not a matter for playing around with legal entanglements. “He occupies a position of trust. The Nigerian people entrusted him with the whole judicial system. He has betrayed their trust. A million SANs defending him cannot prove otherwise unless he can convince us that those extremely scandalising lodgements were not in his bank accounts. “He must step down because this issue is not about him personally but about his hallowed office and about Nigeria. It will continue to be a stain on the judiciary as long as he insists on remaining in office. He has to save that office by stepping down or staying put and staining it forever.
“Those who argue that the CJN should first appear before the National Judicial Council (NJC) have failed to realize that the composition of the NJC where more than 60% of the members were appointed by the same CJN makes that option illogical and unacceptable to the Nigerian people. The CJN is the chairman of the NJC and it is morally wrong for him to sit in judgment over his own case.
“Should we then say that every Nigerian worker who commits a criminal offence should first appear before the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)? Should we also rule that such a worker shall not appear in court unless NLC pronounces him guilty? Should every teacher be tried first by the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT)? Should every nurse who has a criminal case be tried first by the Nursing Council? What kind of protectionism is that? This is a policy that will never earn professionals a scintilla of respect from members of the public.
“Why do you think the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) stood aside and allowed a whole professor to face a case of sex for marks and to go to jail without intervening? It is outstanding sense of decency. Your colleague is part of you as long as he observes the ethics of the profession. He must be allowed to face the music the moment he behaves unprofessionally. We must not get involved in unholy camaraderie.
“It is only in Nigeria that we insist that a known thief is being victimized because we worship in the same shrine. We threaten hell and brimstone that the country will be made ungovernable whenever our kleptomaniac kinsman is caught red-handed. We idolize the demons among us yet we expect things to work. We are suffering from massive pathological obfuscation of all sense of justice, fairness and equity.
“As far as ordinary Nigerians are concerned, 45 SANs defending the CJN is meaningless to them because they know that what those SANs are out to achieve is to use the technicalities of law to shelter the CJN, being one of them. This is one of the major problems with us in Nigeria. If a thief is one of us, did he steal for us? Did we send him to go and steal? We must allow him to defend himself if we know nothing of his crime. The law profession is a noble one. We should not allow Nigerians to impugn the integrity of highly revered SANs.
“That courtroom show of numerical strength is sheer judicial intimidation. They were not out to prove that he did not do it. It was a show of impunity. Unfortunately Nigerians are more interested in whether he did it or not. If he did it, he should quit. If he did not, we are not keen on punishing an innocent man. The honourable thing for the CJN to do therefore is to go to CCT and defend himself. We will take nothing less in the face of overwhelming evidence. Only those who have something to hide refuse to face trial.
“Neither do we have any modicum of respect for any individual, group or political party that stands up to rationalize massive stealing. It is interesting that the only political party that is showing interest in prosecuting the CJN over suspicion of judicial graft is the ruling party. It is equally interesting that the party’s main manifesto is fighting corruption.
The main opposition party appears to be on a familiar terrain in its defense of the CJN. It all boils down to one thing: Nigerians will be judged by whose interest they promote and by who they protect. It is either you stand with stealing and looting or you pitch your camp with decency and integrity
However, if it is all about restoring faith in the judiciary and returning Nigeria to the comity of sane nations, we have no choice than to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to do everything within his power to ensure that the rule of law prevails. The president must protect poor Nigerians from the looting cabal.
If indeed Nigeria is practicing democracy, then nobody, including the CJN, must be above the law. Onnoghen must face trial at the CCT.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)