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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)