Onnoghen-Mantra: A One-Time Lesson for All
The month of January, 2019 was important and memorable in the life and history of Nigerians. It was memorable in the history of the Nigerian judiciary. It was memorable in the history of the Nigerian Bar Association. It was memorable in the history of the Code of Conducts Bureau and the Tribunal. It was memorable in the history of the court’s system. It was memorable in the history of the National Judicial Council of Nigeria. And it was memorable in the history of Nigerian government as a whole. Furthermore, there were several events that made the month of January, 2019, very important and memorable for the yet to come generations. The month of January, 2019 was the month in which the former (resigned) Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria-herein after referred to as the former CJN- and former (resigned) Chairman of the National Judicial Council (i.e. Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen) was alleged to have failed to declare some of his assets according to the Code of Conducts for Public Officers contained in the Constitution. It was the month in which more than 40 Seniors Advocate of Nigeria and almost a hundred of other non-Senior Advocates of Nigeria stood to defend the former CJN on the alleged breach of Code of Conducts. It was the month in which the Federal High Court of Nigeria and the National Industrial Court of Nigeria granted different Orders stopping the Code of Conducts Tribunal from its hearing of the charges against the former CJN. It was the month in which the Code of Conduct Tribunal-herein after referred to as the CCT- was reported to have granted an Order Ex-parte, suspending the former CJN. It was the month in which the President was reported to have relied on the Order of the CCT to suspend the former CJN. It was the month in which the President appointed the most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as the Acting-CJN and Acting Chairman of the National Judicial Council. It was the month in which the Nigerian Bar Association through its National Executive Committee issued a resolution for lawyers in Nigeria to boycott Courts across Nigeria for just two days as solidarity for the judiciary and to show dissatisfaction of the bar against the President (the executive) for suspending the former CJN unlawfully. It was the month in which both the former NJC and the Acting CJN were excluded from the NJC meeting at the same time. It was the month in which the NJC served the former CJN and the Acting CJN petitions filed against each of them for their response within 7 days of receiving the petitions from the NJC. It was the month in which Court of Appeal of Nigeria had to deliver judgments at different occasions but in relation to the Onnoghen’s saga, among other important and memorable events in the month. Also, several other events have developed since that month of January, 2019 till this month of April, 2019. Among the most remarkable of these events are: in the month of April, 2019, the Honourable Justice Onnoghen was recommended to the President for removal as CJN and Chairman of NJC by the NJC after its resolved deliberation on the Onnoghen-mantra. Also, the Honourable Justice Onnoghen was also reported to have resigned voluntarily. Furthermore, the CCT was also reported to have found the Honourable Justice Onnoghen guilty as charged of six-count charges and ordered him to vacate the Office of CJN, Chairman of NJC and Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission; to be banned from holding any public office for the period of 10 years and to forfeit all the money in all the alleged five bank accounts to the Federal Government of Nigeria. It was also reported in this same month of April, 2019, that the Honourable Justice Onnoghen has filed a Notice of Appeal at the Court of Appeal against the decision of the CCT. All these having been said, the question this paper is asking is whether we have learnt lessons from the saga as: Nigerians; the government; the politicians; the sentimentalists; the lawyers; the NBA; the Judiciary; and other critiques in one way or the other, considering what this Country-Nigeria- has been thrown into within the shortest time from the month of January, 2019 till this month of April, 2019?
In my humble view, if one individually or collectively as an association of concerned Nigerian should deliberate with utmost sincerity, one would discover a lot of lessons to learn for posterity and to forestall any re-occurrence of this kind of incident.
First of all, I have learnt the negative consequence of corruption or affording corrupt persons the opportunity of public office as such corruption tends to create dangerous impact in the nation in future. Nevertheless, I am not saying that the Honourable former CJN is corrupt regardless of the CCT’s decision against His Lordship (as he then was), since there is an appeal on the said judgment, rather, this situation should be a requirement for forestalling any of this occasion in the nearest future in the interest of the nation and its progress. This point being raised bothers on the integrity of any person occupying any public office including elected offices.
Also, I have learnt that every person should always do that which is the right thing at every moment and parents should always direct the affairs of their children or wards in such a way that such child will not have any problem in his future. Reports have it about some parents who would go to any length to ensure that their children or wards gain an opportunity at any cost whether by forging documents or by examination malpractices or by other corrupt means or bribery. It is a point in time for such parents to know that such corrupt act or perversion of the cause of justice can be terrible for its beneficiary soonest.
Furthermore, a point has to be noted that no one is above the law and no one is exempted from prosecution for an alleged corruption whether the executive member or legislative member or judicial member. This has to be taken note of with utmost seriousness.
Furthermore, from the whole scenarios, I am of the firm view that our laws should be strengthened to the effect that where an allegation of corruption or crime involves a person occupying a public office, such a person should rather step down from such public office until such allegation is resolved against him or in his favour. In this way, it would disallow a situation where the alleged error of such an individual person would be equated with that of the institution or the public body to which he belongs.
Also, with due respect, some of us (as Nigerians) need to understand that Nigeria should not be dealt with as if she were a banana island. We are all stakeholders in the national progress and we have to reason firmly in this way earlier before it is too late.
Finally, I am of the firm view that if we as Nigerians and the government really ponder on the entire events of this Onnoghen-mantra, we would be able to find several lessons which would be like lightness for a brighter future of Nigeria.