Questions reflecting differing interpretations are greeting the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN) earlier today by President Buhari on the strength of orders of the Code of Conduct Bureau. Key questions being posed in discussion circles include the followings: Can an issue on which the country is so deeply divided as the trial of the Chief Judge be resolved extra-constitutionally or is the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal superior to the provisions of the constitution on the removal of the CJN? While awaiting the conclusive view of constitutional experts on the sustainability of the distinction between suspension and removal, it is also being asked if this decision took note of unintended consequences from differing interpretations that could greet the action at a time a charge of nepotism is already on the ground? When then President Obasanjo was to be impeached in 2002, one of the reasons put forward against it was how the Vice-President who would take over as president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives superintending the impeachment and the CJN who would swear-in the successor were all Northern Muslims and it would be difficult to explain to everyone that the impeachment was justified. The question now is whether that sort of reasoning was applied in this case before being discarded?
How would the speed with which the project has been accomplished not be a subject of questions? Is this a venture worth undertaking in a country on the eve of a potentially conflictual election, rising insecurity, serious elite fragmentation and lacking in a Mandela with a calming national voice?
Coming on the heels of threats of freezing of visa withdrawal and accounts closure against members of the power elite by powerful Western countries such as the UK and the US, against the background of resurgent Boko Haram and against the background of disturbing assessment of the state of the nation by retired Generals, would those thinking that CJN’s removal is part of something which the rest of the citizenry cannot understand yet be ruled out? Whatever one might think of people such as IBB, Obasanjo and Danjuma, the point is that Generals are more fearful or sensitive to smell of large-scale crisis situations than most ordinary citizens who cannot even press the trigger and, as such, it is not everything Generals say that can be trifled with. But, what might be such crises? Whatever it might be, shouldn’t caution be the watchword at a time of great mental stress for the president as far as ability to contain crisis is concerned? Or, could the party in power or the much talked about cabal have sensed unfavourable electoral outcome ahead and is simulating a stalemate? Otherwise, as an emerging opinion goes, the question of whether the CJN has committed an act of corruption or not and the process of disciplining him are not technical issue of law for everybody but also an issue within the rubric of the national question. Ought it not be such that everyone can see that due process and rule of law has been followed? Was the removal of the CJN discussed at the recent meeting of the National Council of States?
At this rate, the chances of adding value to the 2015 statement in leadership, power and governance is almost completely eroded. In 2015, the main actor was the president, Goodluck Jonathan. He opted not to use state power to decide the outcome of the election. Instead, he declared that his second term was not worth the blood of any Nigerians. When put in context, that statement has more significance now than when it was first made. The rest is now history. In 2019, the main actor and his party are perceived to be singing a different song, something like, we deserve to win and we ought to win. There is no consensus at all that they have done well. While Jonathan left the rating question to be decided by voters’ perception and voting, the body language and triumphalism of the incumbent points to the other direction in the eye of most observers. For many in and outside Nigeria, adding value to 2015 is an important challenge!