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Our judiciary’s civil war and law of silence


Scale of Justice. Photo/Sealchambers

The time shall come when our present time shall be recorded as a time out of mind. And the recorder who is recording and recollecting the time shall call it Justice Walter Onnoghen’s time as the Chief Justice of our country – that is, our CJN’s very enjoyable or memorable period of time as our apex court’s supreme justice, the primus interpares in our Supreme Court of pre-eminent justices. And the memorable time of Justice Onnoghen’s chief justiceship is this time of the civil war in our judiciary, this time of the tragedy that so often besets mankind and its history when love of power or of dominance over others, as being displayed by President Buhari, domineers over the land of true lovers of freedom and of rule of law. And oh what tragedy indeed is befalling, or has befallen our Supreme Court and judiciary! What civil war is the unhidden pursuit and love of self unleashing on our judiciary!

It is or it ought to be clear to us by now that Justice Onnoghen should not be blamed after all for the judicial hullabaloo we are witnessing in the land today. His disputable suspension from his post of our country’s chief justiceship by the mighty and almighty man of power who has encroached upon Justice Onnoghen’s boundary of rights and freedom confirms my remark as just stated. In any case, I knew that our Chief Justice would be so treated by the almighty encroacher upon his judicial rights and the spiteful desecrator of our law and justice system.

In my last Friday’s essay here I said, among other things, that because President Buhari’s “presidency is too far gone in what it believes in, rational arguments cannot but be lost on our president and his cronies and cabal of intriguers.” Furthermore, I also said that “it was crystal clear that the presidency would not find a South-South chief justiceship of our country a matter for rejoicing as our presidential and other elections approach. Something somehow should or must be done to make sure that a Chief Justice of Nigeria (even in an acting capacity) who would articulate the kind of patriotism which our presidential government finds delightful is installed before the elections hold. Rightly or wrongly, this is the current picture or perception the people of the South-South and South Eastern Nigeria have of Buhari and his presidency.”

When I wrote the essay that I have just quoted from I never knew that the president and his hawks would act as they have done on the exact day, that is, the very Friday (last Friday) this column appeared. (Rightly or wrongly, one suspects that Justice Onnoghen’s ostensibly illegal suspension, and the swearing-in of an acting Chief Justice whose demeanor was an un-joyful one as he was being sworn-in, was the presidency’s urgent reaction to the column later that day to disprove my “a horse that won’t run” prophecy). After I wrote the essay I promised myself that I would henceforth maintain the law of silence on the Justice Onnoghen story which has turned into a memorable drama of this controversially interesting time in the annals of our country’s judiciary. In fact, after my animadversion of President Buhari and his presidency in the afore-said essay, I did not foresee that our president of disputable propensity and determination for divisive regionalism would with the swiftness of a hollow man of power discredit our judiciary the way he has done with Justice Onnoghen’s ugly suspension from the glory throne of our greatest temple of justice.

Clearly, I did not in my moment of contemplation see Buhari doing what he has done in the urge to perpetuate himself in power which he has been using to dominate us even as he denies us a living wage, food and shelter, maximum security, good education and efficient health centres. By the time all is said and done, this year will enter our judicial record book(s) as our judiciary’s annus mirabilis, a year, that is, of our judiciary’s catastrophes. The joust(s) between our lawyers, our learned men, who are pro- and anti-Justice Onnoghen, and who by extension are for and against Buhari in his tilting of Justice Onnoghen, underscore(s) the point.

As I am writing this in the afternoon of Tuesday, 29 January, 2019 in one of my moments of contemplation, I can say it loudly and clearly that I know perfectly how Justice Onnoghen’s memorable chief justiceship will evolve this year, this momentously trying anno regni of our CJN. I say this regardless of the outcome of the NJC’s meeting or the current myriad of court cases pertaining to the matter of his alleged false information contained in his assets declaration form; and that of Buhari’s annexation of his judicial territory or boundary in an ostensible manner that defies our constitution and the spirit of due process. But I must be silent. Mum’s the word, as the masters of contemplation have enjoined me to do. I must avoid glossectomy. And therefore not even a mumble shall or should or ought to come from me. This is an aspect of the mysterious beauty of the present time that shall at the appropriate time, as already indicated, be recorded as a time out of mind.

But I am allowed to say some words relating to the respective legal positions posited by our learned gentlemen who have constantly given us troubles and are not even fully at ease in the regions of their learned utterances. For example, several of them on television – on TVC News and Channels – in some grammatically infelicitous sentences I have ever heard uttered by learned men have told those who listened to them that Justice Onnoghen cannot but have a case to answer for “pleading” the “failure” of memory at the time he filled his assets declaration form.

What learned men who disbelieved Justice Onnoghen for his excuse of memory-lapse or memory-slip! Yet they would not query our president who went to my city of Warri to blunder three times when he consecutively declared Great Ogboru as APC’s “presidential candidate,” “senatorial candidate” and “govornotorial candidate.” He botched his party’s campaign despite every effort to manage the situation. By Jove, what is good for the goose must be good for the gander! We must give both President Buhari and Justice Onnoghen the go-by. We must do so for the sake of fairness. Believe it or not, memory can fail one in one’s moment of great or greatest need. What was Justice Onnoghen’s psychological state when he was filling his assets declaration form? What was President Buhari’s psychological state when he went to Warri to campaign for himself and Delta State candidates of his party?

Let me give one more example. There has also been the tendentious postulation that the offences for which Justice Onnoghen has been charged are not charges relating to his performance as our CJN. This, according to the posturing postulators, is one big reason why his case should not be taken (and was not taken) to the NJC. This cannot but be the balderdash of bad lawyers. It also explains why President Buhari dimmed the light of due process in our supreme temple of justice; of a political and judicial truth he will sooner or later extinguish the shining light of justice in that temple unless he is resisted by all lovers of judicial freedom and all freedoms. If he is not resisted the current civil war in our judiciary shall be prolonged, prolonged and prolonged.

What I am trying to say is that even if Justice Onnoghen is going to be hanged now or eventually, the sublime spirit of justice must be followed and obeyed in our altitude of justice where are justices, who are our one God on earth, converge and dispense justice without doubt and dismay. There are things to say – but the rest is silence. Yes, the rest is silence, but I must end with the following lines of Kabir, one of India’s greatest mystic poets, also remembered as one of the most outstanding spiritual geniuses of medieval India:
“The jewel is lost in the mud and all are seeking for it; some look for it in the east, and some in the west; some in the water and some amongst stones But the servant Kabir has appraised it at its true value, and wrapped it with care In a corner of the mantle of his own heart.”

In this article:
Walter Onnoghen
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