The CJN suspension case requires our loud attention – Seun Oniginde

For the record, I don't support a corruptible Chief Justice and if that's his response (I am yet to see a copy) to the allegations, he should have stepped down.

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CJN Onnoghens
CJN Onnoghens

The case of the CJN requires our loud attention for those who mean well for Nigeria’s democracy. For the record, I don’t support a corruptible Chief Justice and if that’s his response (I am yet to see a copy) to the allegations, he should have stepped down. However, if he doesn’t step down, the manner that President Buhari has removed the head of an equal arm of Government is an affront to democracy. 

I understand the legal gymnastics but why not go through the NJC and pass your final position to the National Assembly? The casualty here is time. Look at the pace of the petition, delivered on January 9 as well as the rush by the CCT to convene proceedings against the CJN. The point is simple. The current government is afraid of the judiciary in post-2019 elections and reeks that it’s not ready to play fair. It’s dangerous that this government was a beneficiary of an honest process but now tries to abuse institutions. 

A lot of hope on Buhari in his early days was that he would fight corruption. In a decadent system, a few expected him to have bent rules (including myself) but what he needed were allies in NASS and the judiciary. Lacking tact in the approach, covering himself in nepotism, the reform that should have started in the judiciary, never happened. I believed the VP would lead the effort, the judiciary agenda ended in the courts of his AGF. It went sterile that it took 3 years to write a National Anti-corruption strategy document.

When you hear Buhari defending Ganduje on TV or treating Adeosun or Babachir, with kid gloves, one can’t in all honesty say this is about corruption. This is just about quest for power through abuse of institutions. The CJN was meant to inaugurate the election petition tribunals on Saturday, the President makes moves after NASS had adjourned till after elections. The order that the President is acting upon was not even openly read by the CCT judge, who had adjourned the case till January 28. The CCT judge, who manages an agency under Executive control and financing has a case with EFCC. The Appeal court had already suspended all proceedings till January 30. So what’s the point of the haste? We are talking about next week Thursday. If the reasons are altruistic, why not be patient and put your case with hard documents in the public domain? The NJC only needs 5 members to request a meeting through a writing to the Chairman. Why not write all members of NJC on this allegation? As stated, right from leaking the documents to a partisan NGO, at first, this is about the politics. 

The loophole is clear. The President is using an Executive agency order to suspend the head of an equal arm of Government without the knowledge of NASS. Where is the constitutional basis for this? Can NASS suspend the President without an impeachment process that requires CJN? It’s democracy. It can be painfully slow but the guardrails are there to protect the system from demagogic abuse. 

The Executive has just found a way to abuse discretion. It can pick different files in CCB, since it’s not meant to be published, and continually threaten public officers. NASS has work to do in making all public declaration forms public but we know they are self-serving too.

This brings me to three things. First, the 2019 election requires immediate concerns as current moves shows that the rule of law won’t be followed. If there are concerns on the conduct of police officers and inability to concede a loss, now you have it.

Second, all those hailing this anti-democratic move should pray the game isn’t coming for them. Shiites, Deji Adeyanju, Daily Trust have all tasted their medicine. One can see how opposition figures are buying anti-prosecution insurance. Adamu Muazu, Obanikoro, Akpabio are recent examples. Those who perpetuate anti-democratic credentials don’t know where to stop. In fact, to subvert democracy requires the same institutions.

Third, please read “How Democracies Die”. It’s a lesson that those who truncate democracy or represent groups with anti-democratic credentials should not be given a chance in a democracy. A lot of us made decisions that we will constantly regret. Time will happen to everyone.

A lot of people are keeping quiet just because of what is promised to them in 2023. My prayer for you is to stand for ideas not your hollow interests. Though politics is a game of compromise, I hope they are watching their value spectrum which is being ticked away. There’s nothing that holds if they subsume our entire idealism for realism. 

I hope NASS will convene and make a statement that this is unacceptable and the acting CJN is not recognised. Once this pattern is set, we have created another 37th state at the Federal level. You know the idea that the Governor runs state like it’s his private business without accountability, this is where we are tending to. Only NASS can stand up to this and well-meaning Nigerians.

“Fellow Nigerians” ( let’s be grateful it wasn’t preceded with martial music) as the President said today, it’s clear that this is a playbook of dictators. This is democracy on trial.

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