Onnoghen: Between reality and emotion
The memory of the DSS invasion of some federal judges’ home has now been brought back. The judges were accused of stashing foreign currencies in their homes, contravening the law they swore to protect. Reactions and comments from different perspectives and orientations trailed the unexpected DSS operation. The reactions and opinions varied. Some condemned in clear and unequivocal terms the activity of the operatives on the ground that such an operation was illegal and it was an affront on the judiciary, as an independent arm of government.
They held that the third arm of government should be free and its affairs should be run exclusively by the National Judicial Council. Admittedly, the judiciary should be free to discharge its constitutional duties but that independence isn’t immunity against prosecution or an avenue to engage in corrupt practices. Those who agreed that every sector should be sanitised lauded the DSS, overlooking the approach used to make the judges’ illegality public. Yet some remained indifferent thinking it was one of the government’s stunts done to show that it is really fighting corruption.
Justice Onnoghen will face a trial. The Code of Conduct Bureau has brought a six-count charge against him in a case that will upset the country, including the NJC. According to court papers, Onnoghen was accused of non and fraudulent declaration of assets. The Federal Government also alleged that he failed to declare a series of bank accounts, denominated in local and foreign currencies, linked to him at a bank in Abuja.
As expected, there have been reactions from around the country, on social media, among members of the bar and political parties. To the opposition party, the PDP, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) wants to weaken the judiciary almost a month to the general elections and it has called on international community to be on alert. Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen is the first southerner to occupy the office after thirty years. Heightening the tension is the fact that the next in rank is from north.
So, the case is quite complex with emotions beclouding the sense of judgment among Nigerians. South-south governors have summoned an emergency meeting to discuss the ordeal of one of their sons, they will do all they can to influence the trial. But in whose interest is this? The reality is being avoided and this is unhealthy for the nation.
Some facts need be stated in this matter. There is no provision in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that protects any serving or retired judge from prosecution. This means that they do not enjoy any immunity whatsoever and they can be probed and prosecuted for any crime. This is an indisputable fact and it should be one of the factors to consider rather than appealing to emotions.
There are accusations against him, but the burden of proof is on the prosecution. That he is being haunted will be proven at the tribunal. The embattled Chief Justice is neither a sacred cow nor ignorant of the provisions of the constitution and he should, therefore be made to face the full wrath of the law.