If many Nigerians are asked to sum up the period of office of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr. Ibrahim Tanko, which recently came to a close when he resigned on grounds of ill- health, they would simply say ‘good riddance to bad rubbish,’ and no more.
But to so summarily dismiss a tenure which started in 2019 under a cloud of controversy and ended in 2022 under yet more controversy would be to indulge the haste that hatches waste.
A hatchet job hatched in the highest quarters.
Wherever former CJN Walter Onnoghen is enjoying or ruing his forced retirement from office in 2019 as the case may be, it must be with some bile. For in the circumstances which successfully forced him out of office in 2019, Nigerian could strongly feel the hands of Esau but hear the voice of Jacob.
Amidst the war an administration desperately searching for scape goats, because it was already failing, was waging against the Nigerian Judiciary, Walter Onnoghen soon found himself the victim of some ruthless political wheeling and dealing.
When what initially appeared as an elaborate circus finally acquired some gravity at the Code of Conduct tribunal whose proceedings left much to be desire, it became obvious to Mr. Onnoghen that his fate had been sealed at the highest quarters and thus, he was forced to relinquish his position as the head of Nigeria`s judiciary.
Waiting in the wings
At hand to benefit from his travails was Mr. Ibrahim Tanko who was hurriedly drafted in by a gleeful presidency to head the judiciary. He was the second most senior Justice of the Court after Mr. Onnoghen, and there were rampant suggestions that Mr. Onnoghen was only so shabbily treated not only because the other Justices of the Supreme Court largely stayed silent through his predicament, but because Mr. Tanko was waiting in the wings to take his place.
A cabinet of controversies.
If sympathy is what the ill-health of Mr. Tanko has drawn following his retirement, it was controversy that preceded it. And there are many who believe that it was controversy that pressured the former CJN to throw in the towel.
The pressure which built up from a citizenry that has increasingly grown disgruntled with its judiciary finally found expression within the Supreme Court itself when an unprecedented letter which was essentially a writ of woes by fourteen Supreme Court Justices to the CJN found its way into the press.
The letter which wailed over the difficult conditions under which the Justices have been forced to work only fell short of outrightly accusing Mr. Tanko of misappropriating the funds meant for the judiciary. More than anything, many believe that it is this letter that has precipitated the rather premature exit of Mr. Tanko.
An unenviable task.
A new Chief Justice of Nigeria may have taken over from Mr. Tanko, but if the challenges which informed the sensational letter go beyond the management capacity of Mr. Tanko as many suspect, then the task confronting the incoming CJN is indeed a difficult one. He will have a lot of house cleaning to do and fast too if he is to restore the badly shaken confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary in time to save the last vestiges of hope few Nigerians repose in the judiciary and in the country.
A systemic starvation
It would appear the case that since the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari which gratefully is in its twilight came on board in 2015 and returned in 2019, there has been a deliberate attempt to defang the judiciary and prevent it from carrying out its constitutional responsibilities to Nigerians as an arm of government.
The administration had barely settled to the onerous task of rebuilding the country when in the dead of night in 2016, armed personnel from the Department of State Services raided the homes of judges across the country on allegations of corruption. There have since been other manifest acts indicative of brazen attempts to cut the judiciary to size.
It is thus not difficult to conclude that beyond whatever may ail the judiciary from within its own ranks, there has been a high-powered attempt to make justice delivery in the country more onerous. The goal would be to preclude the accountability which necessarily comes from justice.
One chapter may have closed for the judiciary. But unless the new chapter is kept free of the circus and clowns which populated the last chapter, justice in Nigeria will remain a pipe dream.