The evil that men do, no longer lives after them, but with them. Perhaps, the greatest disservice that the present government has done to our national life is the total desecration of all institutions of government and of those things that we hold dear and value. Consistently, President Muhammadu Buhari has sacrificed competence and merit on the altar of primordial sentiments.
All appointments of the president have been done with little or no recognition of other component parts that make up the nation. To fulfill his desire to have his way, he has severally reached to the lowest on the hierarchy just to throw up his biased candidates for appointments. Even if it meant disrupting and threatening the very foundation of such an institution to favour his preferred candidate he would spare no thought in doing so.
When former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen (SAN), was unceremoniously removed from office in 2019, within months to the general elections scheduled for February 16, not a few believed that Onnoghen was sacked to pave the way for President Buhari’s passage to his second term in office. The sheer speed with which it was executed was such that he had to leave by hook or by crook just so that a more pliable candidate could be given the job to fit into the plot of the presidency.
While the nation was aghast at the level the presidency can go just to achieve its objective, the federal government was busy shopping for alibi to justify the sacrilege on the nation’s temple of justice.
The federal government dismissed allusions to the election as the reason for the raid on Onnoghen as illogical, alleging instead that he failed to declare his personal assets before taking office. You may want to know how many political office holders have complied appropriately with that requirement which is only thrown-up each time the government of the day wants to persecute a perceived enemy.
About two years later, Onnoghen speaking at the unveiling of a book entitled, ‘Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, Practice, Procedure, Forms and Precedents,’ authored by Chief Ogwu James Onoja (SAN), disclosed that prior to his removal, there had been rumour from the executive arm of government that he held a meeting with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, preparatory to the 2019 general elections.
The former CJN stated further that the rumour was thick and spread fast but that he decided not to react to it because he never travelled to Dubai or held any meeting with anybody, including Atiku, adding that he had never met Atiku in person, prior to that time.
Well, he had to go and he did go to give way for the president’s preferred candidate called Justice Muhammad Tanko. We must also not lose sight of the fact that Onnoghen was never the preferred candidate of President Buhari ab initio, as had refused to submit his name for confirmation as CJ even when he was mandatorily expected to do so, before his confirmation was done by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while the president was away on one of his several trips abroad for health issues.
Now, three years after President Buhari appointed Tanko based on sentiments, the nation is reaping the reward of jettisoning merits for sentimentalities as Tanko’s under par performance, has brought the once lofty reputation of the Supreme Court to public opprobrium.
For how could we have known that indeed judges were mere mortals, and that they too go to road corners to buy tokunbo cars and that they also experience pushing their cars to start or that they too could as well jump in the public buses with people whose cases are before their courts?
The 14 Supreme Court justices, who signed the petition, accused him of corruption, misconduct and neglect of personnel welfare. They also accused him of denying them access to training and legitimate entitlements, while he and his family went on junkets.
The justices also expressed concern over the handling of the finances of the court with most of their logistical needs either cut or stopped despite the increase in the budgetary allocation to the Judiciary from N100 billion in 2017 to N120 billion in 2021.
In their widely circulated letter entitled, “The State of Affairs in the Supreme Court of Nigeria by Justices of the Court,” the justices asked the CJN to act before it’s too late on their challenges of justices’ accommodation, vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, internet services to our residences and chambers, and epileptic electricity supply to the court.
“Your Lordship with all due respect, this is the peak of the degeneration of the court; it is the height of decadence, and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude.
“Your Lordship, this act alone portends imminent danger to the survival of this court and the judiciary as an institution, which is gradually drifting to extinction,” they wrote.
Rather than address the issues on their merit, Justice Tanko took to cheap blackmail and the usual route of playing the victim rather than giving account and explanations to the allegations of his colleague-judges for the sake of probity and accountability.
He had said inter alia: “Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard, and that informed why the CJN refrained from joining issues until a letter, said to be personal, is spreading across the length and breadth of the society. This was akin to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter.”
Justice Tanko knows that the reason that judges are to be seen and not heard in other climes is because everything they need to do their jobs is taken for granted. The reason they are expected to live above board is because their interests are given priority to enable them deliver justice without fear or favour. If dancing naked in public is what is required to bring to the fore the rot in the judiciary with a view to seeking a solution to them in the interest of the people, then the judges have done well in dancing naked in public. At least, it has again exposed the hypocrisy of leadership in the country, where the leader inflicts hardship on the people in the name of austerity measures while their cronies and family members are frolicking and gallivanting around the globe in cruises.
Is it not akin to the case of the accountant general of federation, Ahmed Idris, who was moralizing to ASUU leadership while he was helping himself to the common till? Meanwhile, rather than take up the case for investigation in order to save the reputation of the judiciary, President Buhari has, as he is always wont to do; applied deodorants in fighting this clear case of corruption and integrity-deficiency.
The President also conferred on Justice Tanko Muhammad the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger, GCON, which is second to the highest honour in the country. The conferment took place at the swearing-in of the Acting CJ, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Justice Muhammad is also expected to get a N2.5 billion severance package from the Federal Government. As part of the package for the retired chief justice put together by the National Judicial Council, a mansion will be built for him in Abuja or any city of his choice with a lump sum for furnishing. This is in addition to a gratuity that is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary of N3.36 million as well as a pension for life.
Just like state governors, a retired chief justice is entitled to at least four domestic staff and sundry allowances for personal upkeep. A very handsome reward for a tainted public service life.
For a government mouthing its commitment to fighting corruption, the least you would have expected was that it would allow a proper probe of some of the allegations against the former CJ, but if you realize that the circumstances under which he was appointed, one would be deceiving oneself to think anything like that would ever happen.
Similarly, the noise coming from the senate on the desire to probe the allegations, would amount to another showboating as nothing would come out of it.
If all the 14 justices working with him can all sign a petition signposting a lack of confidence on his leadership and all the allegations against him, rushing to confer the second highest honour in the land to him, only goes to confirm the fact that the deodorants are reserved for the friends and families of the president, while the insecticides, apologies to Senator Shehu Sani, are for perceived enemies and those from the ‘wrong’ side of the country, in the president’s make-believe corruption fight.