Lawyers and judges should be ashamed

THE Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) judgement in the asset declaration case involving the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen has no pretext to be called a judgement, let alone one authored by anyone with a modicum of legal knowledge. CCT, as everyone now knows, and as Danladi Umar, the chairman of the tribunal, admitted in the course of the trial, is virtually a presidential department that acts unreasoningly as a rod of punishment in the wrinkled hands of the presidency. Every ground upon which the CCT panel based its conviction of Justice Onnoghen had nothing to do with law, whether it was the issue of jurisdiction or any of the planks of the substantive case itself. Instead of law, Nigerians saw politics, inane politics writ large.

It is strange that very little outcry has visited the parody of justice in the Onnoghen case. Perhaps this may be due to the fact that everyone, including legal experts themselves, expected the CCT to convict the former CJN. After all, with its notorious, unprecedented and unconstitutional use of ex parte order to suspend the CJN, why would anyone be surprised that it has taken a department of the presidency to finally sack, banish and expropriate Justice Onnoghen? The problem here is not simply that the former CJN was found guilty of false declaration of assets; of course if the evidence and legal procedures that undergird justice lead in that direction, it would be appropriate to convict him. He is not above the law. No one should be, though in this instance, the presidency has acted, portrayed and placed itself above the law, demolishing the bases upon which the law is anchored in Nigeria, while purporting to fight corruption.

Lawyers and judges have made only muted references to the case, tiptoeing around the issues raised in the trial, and petrified of the presidency’s sledgehammer. They are afraid of the binary thinking of Nigerians who accuse anyone who questions the trial or the deployment of illegal and indefensible procedures in the case as either supporting Justice Onnoghen’s malfeasance  or supporting corruption in general. The menaces of those who know little about the law have been strong enough to deter the just outcry of those who know the law. The presidency and many Nigerians accuse the judiciary of outrageous corruption; because of that, few people have been courageous enough to stand up for the third arm of government. This irrational fear of the executive has encouraged the presidency to prey upon the biases of the people, cajole vulnerable judges and lawyers, and welcome the short-sighted acquiescence of many judicial officers. In short, the judiciary is now completely subjugated. Few care. It is enough for them that they have invested the Buhari presidency with altruism. Nothing else matters.

Had the presidency foresightedly closed the Justice Onnoghen case immediately he tendered his notice of retirement, they would have spared the CCT the humiliation of contradicting and perjuring itself by its tendentious and questionable judgement, one in which it worked from the answer to the question. Now, one of the consequences of allowing the case to drag on to its despicable conclusion is that the ponderous Court of Appeal, which springs into life in political cases, will now be forced to also decide on the Onnoghen appeals before them. The appellate court has a choice between following or associating with the inane legal style and practices of the CCT or redeeming itself by letting justice be served. But the appellate judges may also feel vulnerable; and they will wish the Onnoghen cup to pass over them. However, thanks to the stubborn former CJN who insists on seeing the galling case to its logical and damning conclusion, the Court of Appeal will have to decide whether to bow to ignominious quibble or do justice. Soon, too, the Supreme Court will have to vote for law or politics, for honour or something else.

With the executive arm too far gone in their abominable ways and too steeped in conspiracies to toe the path of decency and rectitude; and the judiciary now panting for air, fooling themselves to think that with the CCT judgement they can at last begin to rebuild; and the National Assembly yet to show their hand, it is not clear what the fate of the country will be. However, the omens are not good at all. Good men, it seems all but clear, are either not enough in the country, or they have chosen to keep quiet in the face of evil. One way or the other, curses are like chickens; they always come home to roost. It may take time; but it will surely happen.

Idowu Akinlotan

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