The days and possibly weeks ahead can easily be predicted to be no less than a coming war of words over what has been the now widely reported directive of the Federal Government of Nigeria to the incumbent Chief Justice, Walter Samuel Onnoghen to vacate his office as well as plan to take him to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, come Monday. For a nation where the national conversation is defined even at the best of times by accusations, brickbats, threats and recrimination, the coming war of words won’t be too far from what happens. In the context of the impending General Elections, questions are bound to be asked such as how true?, why now?, why him alone? and why at all?
In other words, many would disagree and interrogate the official storyline already cast in terms of fighting corruption by ensuring that all high state officials comply with the constitution. It will not be surprising if the development is put to a grand chess move in anticipation of post-election scenarios and how important a sitting Chief Justice could be in that.
The ‘war’ could even be said to have already commenced in the media framing of the ‘Breaking News’ as “a move to force Justice Onnoghen out of office”, a frame which is reading a strategic motive to the development. The implication is that the truth or falsehood of the allegations of failure to declare his assets according to the law is not what is at stake but the politics of it. What emerges as the truth eventually will be the narrative or counter-narrative which sounds most commonsensical and believable and, therefore, powerful. The truth will be the interpretation which gains ascendancy, making the public sphere, particularly the mass media the most important site in the coming war of words. Such a narrative of it could be the ethnic, religious, regional or intra-institutional.
PRNigeria, the online newspaper which originally broke the story asserted sighting the impending charges against the Chief Justice whom it says has already been served against the plan of hauling him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal Monday. If that happens, it means the Head of the Legislature as well as the Head of the Judicial arms of the Government would have been hauled before the tribunal within the past four years. Interestingly, it was under Justice Onnoghen’s tenure that Senator Bukola Saraki, the Senate President and Head of the National Assembly was hauled before the tribunal but only to be discharged at the Supreme Court. Again, before it becomes a judicial warfare at the tribunal, questions are bound to be asked if there are any connections between that and this round of trial of Onnoghen himself.
The chief judicial officer of the Nigerian State is being accused of operating domiciliary accounts in several national currencies, an act seen as violating the applicable codes. It is still quiet from the Chief Justice’s side yet. The media has just broken it and it may be too soon to expect such a statement at this stage. Besides that, Onnoghen as a top member of a profession that revels in conservatism might not consider a newspaper statement the most tactical thing yet. It promises to be a running story with divergent entry points.