Shock and disbelief reigned supreme across the land over the weekend when news filtered out to the effect that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, would be dragged to court early this week over issues pertaining to his asset declaration. Coming barely a few weeks to the start of this year’s general elections, the move against the nation’s chief law officer is as curious as it is ill-timed and, we dare say, pig-headed.
Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with the prosecution of any public official, including members of the judicial arm of government. After all, no Nigerian, no matter how highly placed he or she may be, is above the law. To that extent, DAILY ASSET has no issue with the prosecution of Justice Onnoghen or any other public office holder for that matter. Three factors however stand out like sore thumbs in the legal move against this legal luminary.
First, there is the little matter of cases against members of the Bench, to which Justice Onnoghen belong, being charged to the National Judicial Council (NJC)for adjudication. The NJC would, depending on the merit or otherwise of the case, decide whether to wield the big stick. To the best of our knowledge no such process has been followed in this particular case. Hence the pertinent poser: Is someone somewhere desperate to deal with the gentleman by hook or crook at all costs?
Second, it is on record that the incumbent APC-led Federal Government has been less than enthusiastic when obliged to take legal action against members of the Executive branch of government against who sundry weighty allegations were made. Consider, for instance, the case of the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the incumbent governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. Neither the weighty, evidence-backed allegations made against them nor the universal clamour for their prosecution could make officialdom stir, let alone wake, from its slumber.
Last but certainly not the least, is the timing of this decidedly curious action. Given that the Chief Justice has been in office since 2016, it beggars belief that the federal government has apparently just woken up to the “fact’’ that there is some issue with his asset declaration and, pronto, it waltzed to court with the speed of a supersonic jet. Coming on the eve of the forthcoming national poll, it is no wonder this hare-brained move has ran into a hailstorm of outrage from Abia and Anambra through Bauchi and Benue to Taraba and Zamfara States.
As pointed out earlier, we have no issue with any move to prosecute any public official who is adjudged to have indulged in graft of whatever hue. Having said that, we must hasten to emphasis that a government that has become infamous for vacillating whenever its officials are found wanting one way or the other, should not resort to indecent haste and/or impunity whenever it comes to the case of the opposition and another arm of government – in this case, the Judiciary.
Against this backdrop, it is our considered opinion that the government should beat a hasty retreat. Whatever case it might have against the CJN should be forwarded to the NJC for necessary action. For too long, the impression has been created that the current occupant of Aso Rock is so desperate to cling to power by all means, including blatant persecution of real and perceived political opponents. Except and until it extricates itself from the Justice Onnoghen fiasco, that impression would not only gain traction, but cling to it ever more tightly like a second skin.