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The Pros­e­cu­tion Of Hon­ourable Jus­tice Wal­ter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen And Pres­i­dent Buhar­i’s Fight Against Cor­rup­tion — Tanko Yaka­sai

S. A. Tanko Yaka­sai (OFR)

The out­come of the tri­al of the recent­ly retired Chief Jus­tice Of Nige­ria, Hon. Jus­tice Wal­ter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, did not come to most Nige­ri­ans, mem­bers of the diplo­mat­ic com­mu­ni­ty, and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty in gen­er­al as a sur­prise, giv­en the way and the haste with which the tri­al was pros­e­cut­ed and con­clud­ed.

It will be recalled that the mat­ter start­ed with a peti­tion writ­ten to the Code of Con­duct Bureau (CCB) by a polit­i­cal glad­i­a­tor called Den­nis Aghanya in Jan­u­ary 7, 2019. The man was a polit­i­cal asso­ciate of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari from their days in the defunct Con­gress for Pro­gres­sive Change (CPC), in which Pres­i­dent Buhari was the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the par­ty dur­ing the 2011 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, whilst Den­nis Aghanya served as Nation­al Pub­lic­i­ty Sec­re­tary of that par­ty.

After the col­lapsed of the CPC into what we now know as the All Pro­gres­sive Con­gress (APC) under which plat­form Gen­er­al Muham­madu Buhari became Nige­ri­a’s pres­i­dent, Den­nis Aghanya has been in the cor­ri­dors of pow­er in the pres­i­den­cy.

The man wrote his peti­tion on Jan­u­ary 7, which he sub­mit­ted to the CCB, after two days. It took the CCB only two days to inves­ti­gate all the alle­ga­tions the man made against Hon. Jus­tice Wal­ter Onnoghen; and con­clud­ed the inves­ti­ga­tion, and for­ward­ed the mat­ter to the Code of Con­duct Tri­bunal (CCT). It took the CCT one day to pre­pare their charges against Jus­tice Onnoghen. He was asked to appear before the Tri­bunal in a mat­ter of six days from the first day the peti­tion was writ­ten to the CCB.

Hon­ourable Jus­tice Onnoghen chal­lenged the com­pe­tence of the Tri­bunal to try him, being a judi­cial offi­cer. The mat­ter went to the Court of Appeal and even­tu­al­ly, the CCT pro­ceed­ed with the tri­al of the case with­out resolv­ing the issue of juris­dic­tion raised by Hon­ourable Onnoghen’s defence.

Dur­ing the pen­den­cy of the case, the Tri­bunal, con­trary to the known rules of tri­al, rec­om­mend­ed the sus­pen­sion of the Chief Jus­tice of the Fed­er­a­tion to Pres­i­dent Buhari, who with light­en­ing speed, sus­pend­ed Hon­ourable Jus­tice Onnoghen and appoint­ed Hon­ourable Jus­tice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as the act­ing Chief Jus­tice of the Fed­er­a­tion.

All in all, the whole mat­ter was decid­ed from the begin­ning to the end in a peri­od of three and a half months. Many peo­ple believe that the issue of the recent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the abnor­mal speed lead­ing to the unusu­al rush to get rid of the for­mer Chief Jus­tice of the Fed­er­a­tion to facil­i­tate the emer­gence of a Supreme Court lead­er­ship favourable to some offi­cials in the pres­i­den­cy.

It is true that the main slo­gan of the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion is to fight cor­rup­tion which is acclaimed by many Nige­ri­ans. The only prob­lem with the admin­is­tra­tion’s anti cor­rup­tion stance is that the fight is per­ceived to be lop­sided. Oth­er­wise, how can any­one explain the speed with which the case of Jus­tice Onnoghen was rushed, com­pared with the man­ner the cor­rup­tion charges against for­mer Sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of the Fed­er­a­tion (SGF), Babachir David Law­al is being han­dled.

What is inter­est­ing in this case is that Babachir’s mat­ter start­ed as a result of find­ings of a Sen­ate Com­mit­tee that was look­ing into the mat­ter of the plights of the Inter­nal­ly Dis­placed Per­sons (IDPs) in Yobe state who were aban­doned in a very dan­ger­ous loca­tion sur­round­ed by over­grown weeds, infest­ed with dan­ger­ous rep­tiles such as snakes and scor­pi­ons and oth­er vicious ani­mals.

Con­cerned by that ugly con­di­tion, the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee report­ed the mat­ter to the Sen­ate in a ple­nary ses­sion. Part of the find­ings of the Com­mit­tee is that con­tracts worth hun­dred of mil­lions was award­ed to a con­trac­tor who was ful­ly paid upfront and the con­trac­tor aban­doned the site with­out doing the work for which he was giv­en the job and after col­lect­ing the total con­tract sum.

The Com­mit­tee, chaired by Sen­a­tor She­hu Sani, rep­re­sent­ing Kaduna Cen­tral Sen­a­to­r­i­al Dis­trict, dis­cov­ered that the com­pa­ny to which the con­tract for the clear­ing of the weeds in that camp was award­ed to a com­pa­ny said to be owned by the then SGF, Babachir Law­al. The Sen­ate report­ed the find­ings to Pres­i­dent Buhari who, in turn, appoint­ed a Spe­cial Com­mit­tee head­ed by the Vice Prei­dent, Yomi Osin­ba­jo to look into the mat­ter and report its find­ing to the Pres­i­dent. The Attor­ney-Gen­er­al of the Fed­er­a­tion, Abubakar Mala­mi and the chair­man of the Eci­nom­ic and Finan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, were among mem­bers of that Com­mit­tee. The Com­mit­tee, after thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion, con­firmed the alle­ga­tion lev­eled against the con­trac­tors and the then SGF, Babachir, and there­fore, sub­mit­ted their report to Pres­i­dent Buhari for fur­ther action.

Con­vinced by the report of the Com­mit­tee, Pres­i­dent Buhari decid­ed to dis­miss Babachir Law­al as SGF, and appoint­ed Boss Gidahyel­da Mustapha as his replace­ment. All in all, the case of Babachir took more than two years from the time the mat­ter was sub­mit­ted to Pres­i­dent Buhari. This case has nev­er been dili­gent­ly pros­e­cut­ed. It is still pend­ing.

If Pres­i­dent Buhari is so com­mit­ted in fight­ing cor­rup­tion, why is it that the case of Babachir was han­dled dif­fer­ent­ly from that of Hon­ourable Jus­tice Onnoghen. Lawyers say jus­tice must not be done, but be seen to have been done.

By S. A. Tanko Yaka­sai (OFR)

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