Justice Walter Onnoghen is in the news. But it is not the judge himself. Rather, it is the Nigerian elite. Let’s take a tour of this elite, starting with its handling of Onnoghen’s case.
In 2015, the Code of Conduct Bureau advanced grounds why it could not declassify the assets declaration forms submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. But, in 2019, it is all very enthusiastic to oblige a private citizen the same information in respect of the Chief Justice of Nigeria at a speed that is too fast to be ignored by many. The assumption here is that no such asset declaration forms of the CJN can come from any other source beyond the bureau. So, what might have happened?
Well, forget about the CCB and the CJN and move to other joints. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the king of Nigerian politics, has attributed a quote to Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, (BAT), another aspirant to kingship of Nigerian politics, a better job than being the President itself because, as king of Nigerian politics, one can make up to three or four presidents in his life time. Tinubu has replied Obasanjo in a very sarcastic tone on the latest of Obasanjo’s letter but without denying the quotation attributed to him, suggesting that the quote must exist. It goes as follows:
“Buhari is an agent of destabilisation, ethnic bigot and religious fanatic who, if given the chance, would ensure the disintegration of the country. His ethnocentrism would jeopardise national unity”.
On August 14, 2018, the same rugged BAT was reported by PMNews saying:
Our president, President Muhammadu Buhari has done well, he deserves another term, and we will support him to win because he is our man. Forget about Obasanjo’s letter and his frequent attacks on our president, he cannot stop the president because Nigerians would re-elect him. Obasanjo has spent his own time; he should leave Buhari alone and face his business because he cannot tell us who to vote for. He is part of some of the challenges we are facing in the country today, because he did not lay the right foundation when he was president”.
Then wait for this. In his latest letter to President Buhari in which he raised serious observations befitting a statesman that he certainly is, Obasanjo said, inter alia:
I personally have serious doubt about the present INEC’s integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election. And if the INEC is willing, will the ruling party and government allow it? From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorial election, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice to the contrary. The unnecessary rerun, if viewed as a test-run for a larger general election, would lead people to expect incidences of deliberately contrived, broken or non-working voting machines or card readers, confusion of voters as to their voting stations, inadequate supply of voting materials to designated places, long line to discourage voters and turning blind eyes to favour the blue-eye political party of INEC because the Commission’s hands will be tied to enable hatchet men and women to perform their unwholesome assignment.
Chief Obasanjo also made the absolutely vital point about guaranteeing the future of Nigeria in a language that must also be quoted in extension. It goes like this:
While Nigerians must not allow such a disaster to happen nor take such an affront lying low, the international community who played an admirable role in warning INEC, of course, to no avail on the Osun State gubernatorial election and who have been warning all political parties must on this occasion give more serious warning, send more people to the field to observe and work out punitive measures against INEC and security officials especially the Police and politicians who stand to gain from INEC’s misconduct,which is obviously encouraged by the Executive Arm of Government and who must be held responsible for the violence that will follow. Such measures can vary from denial and withdrawal of visas from the people concerned and from their families to other more stringent measures including their accounts being frozen and taking them to International Criminal Court, ICC, if violence emanates from their action or inaction. Nigeria must not be allowed to slip off the democratic path nor go into anarchy and ruin. No individual nor group has monopoly of violence or gangsterism. And we must not forget that in human interaction, reactions are normally greater than action, though opposite.
What many would see to be very unfortunate is that Obasanjo is making this statement at a time the Commander-in-Chief is President Buhari who sold the image of someone who lived above politics and is only out for the nation. Whatever anyone says about Obasanjo, he is an informed right winger and a patriot too. Tragically, it was basically the same statement General Buhari made when Obasanjo was also the Commander-in-Chief. This is what General Buhari said in his June 16th, 2006 interview by Modibbo Kawu, a current appointee of his in Weekly Trust:
I have already said it. If Chief Obasanjo wants security, if he wants his name to be inscribed in gold as I am sure he wants, he has the capacity as president to make elections free and fair, especially now that he knows he cannot contest. That is why I brought the example of the Brazilian president. Let him do what he and Lyndon Johnson did. He is the Commander-in-Chief. But I don’t think this time around the Nigerian people will accept what INEC officials, the police and the military did to them in 2003. I don’t think Nigerians will accept that because if there is no free and fair election, there is no democracy, any criminal can come and occupy the seat of power”
In other words, Obasanjo is saying in 2019 almost exactly what Buhari was saying in 2006 when he, (Buhari) was on the other side of power. What has changed, if any, is that there is a role reversal. The implication is that both Buhari and Obasanjo need to search their souls and quickly too . The stalemate in Nigeria today is social. It is beyond any individual although some such as Buhari have a large role to play because he is the C-in-C. But, in every crisis, there are signifiers. It is only such signifiers, people with such symbolic accord with the majority who can use their agency to calm a nation at a make or mar point like this. It is time for Obasanjo and his colleagues, including Buhari to leave the media headlines and go behind the scene. The atmosphere in Nigeria today is that anything can happen. Patience have been overstretched. Poverty stalks the land. A million theories are out there explaining the crisis in manners that are provocative of mass violence in which the poor and the numerous will bear the most brunt.
In this circumstance, victory and defeat might have no different meanings for anyone as everyone else would, in some ways, be a loser. The international community has its hands full. In any case, why should Nigeria drive itself to a point of seeking for some people’s merciful intervention. Isn’t this joke of a disastrous elite failure in Nigeria being taken too far?