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Onnoghen: The Morning after Resignation, By Martins Oloja

As a journalist, two stories have shaken me in the course of the inconclusive 2019 elections (elections are not conclusive in Nigeria until the courts say they are). First was the military invasion of Daily Trust and the second story was the trial of Justice Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s Chief Justice until last Friday April 6. The denouement of the trials of the embattled CJN was reported at the weekend when his lawyers confirmed that he had indeed resigned. And so the consequences of the CJN’s trials can only be chronicled the morning after the president’s response to the resignation.

Lest we forget, on the dramatic story of the military style of inviting the Daily Trust editors the other day, I had asked on another platform if most enlightened citizens actually read the stories that reportedly led to the disruptive invitation of the editors or they read only the story of the travails of the newspaper. It was actually within the context of that question that I had noted then that I was beginning to see the significance of what Abimbola Adelakun, a significant columnist, was saying the other day too that, President ‘Buhari is actually not the only problem’ with Nigeria at this moment.

Indeed, I had then added through a blog-spot created that week that there was indeed a need for some of us to be afraid of what had suddenly become of the mainstream media at such a time like this. I had then written that:
‘On the travails of ‘Daily Trust’, I am afraid most of our elders in the media are beginning to speak in tongues about issues that are so straightforward. I have read a host of them and I don’t know why some of these elders have had some suspected ‘dialectical somersault’. Whenever there is state of anomie, the elders should show the light for us the younger ones to find our way. It is disappointing that some of the elders we used to look up to are fast becoming part of the crisis of character that has pervaded the polity. We may not have any option than to look down on them. Anyway, as it is not in our character to look down on elders we look up to, the prevailing condition in the country may compel us to be ‘uncultured’ and so look some of our elders in the face and ask them to lead us well or get out of the system or cross over to public relations practice properly. They know enough to know that journalism is not synonymous with public relations.

I was shaken then that the views of many of some of our elders in the profession on Hajia Amina Zakari and her new assignment (at INEC) then spiced by the barbaric invasion of ‘Daily Trust’ made me to be reflecting on the future of democracy here without robust journalism at such a time like this. Some of our veterans at that time actually wrote to justify the retention of Hajia Zakari and military invasion of Daily Trust and that thoroughly shook me as I had then noted.

I had then hoped that we would not wake up one day to behold the anger of the vulnerable ones with placards decrying the collapse of ‘good journalism’, which the International Press Institute (IPI) reiterated to us here, ‘still matters’ in their recent convention in Nigeria.

Justice Walter Onnoghen

I was persuaded then that most of our commentators on the ‘Daily Trust’ saga did not read the contextual reports that the military authorities claimed led to the brutality visited upon the media firm in the nation’s capital, Abuja, Kaduna, Maiduguri and Lagos. I could only guess then that most of our elders only read the press statement, which stated the position of the military that resorted to self-help, at the time.

The main thrust of most of our elders’ arguments then was that, ‘in times of war – and the nation is at war, according to the best authorities – you cannot publish information on the location of movement of troops of the national Army. They argued on end that ‘doing so can put the lives at risk and their mission in danger’. Only few of the elders rebuked the brutality of the soldiers who arbitrarily invaded the offices of the newspaper, stopped press operations and carted away equipment and consumables in the last paragraphs of their columns and commentaries.

I said then that, that was curious at this time that strong men in global context are enthusiastically subverting democracy, waging war on truth and desperately desecrating even the sanctity of rule of law, especially in Africa. Not many then knew how far the state was going in pursuit of its goals at the 2019 polls.

The oracle read the minds of the gods and so knew where they were going when they went for ‘Daily Trust’. That was why at that same time, I warned with an article entitled here, ‘Curious desperation to lose Nigeria’(January 6, 2019) https://guardian.ng/opinion/curious-desperation-to-lose-nigeria/

This is an an excerpt from what I wrote then:
‘It is unfortunate that our unscrupulous politicians, our dealers who call themselves leaders have failed to read a classical warning from Henry David Thoreau who once noted that, ‘it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things’. Yes, it is crystal clear that Nigerian politicians are very desperate at the moment and their desperate situations make them do desperate things – to win election, even if they lose the country in the process. They don’t care. They are in a hurry to pull down their country, win election and then set up a bunker in which they can run the country. They want to win at all cost. The country can be lost. They want to create a Syria out of Nigeria. They don’t care anymore. They seem to have picked up a Samuel Doe’s strategy paper: win election, remain in the government house as long as you are safe until you lose everything including your country –to satanic forces….’

Behold, the issue of 2019 election as a process, is becoming conclusive. The voters and the counters have wielded their respective powers. The voters cast the ballot but the counters decided the winners! The significant INEC national commissioner, Hajia Zakare has completed her critical assignment. Daily Trust too has been let off the military hook, thanks somehow to the majesty of democracy – without a whimper from even the national assembly.

In a good democracy, what happened to ‘Daily Trust’ then could have triggered an emergency hearing at a joint session of a bicameral legislature. The invasion of a newspaper house by armed soldiers was a rape on democracy that some of our public intellectuals too did not read well at that time. It is like our Asa’s classic in which she says, ‘there is fire on the mountain; And nobody seems to be on the run’; Oh, there is fire on the mountain top; And no one is running!

This comment is not just about ‘Daily Trust’ and what it stands for. It is about freedom and democracy. It is about democracy in an age of strongmen. It is about survival of democracy. It is about awareness of the implications of war on the press in a republic the Nigerian Army gave us again since 1999.

Then they came for Onnoghen…
I had asked on Sunday 13 Janaury, 2019 if they had indeed come for Justice Onnoghen as news broke that weekend that they had indeed concluded plan to arraignNigeria’s Chief Justice the following Monday for failure to declare his assets properly. Now the battle for the soul of the judiciary ahead of elections – and election petitions hearing has been fought, lost and won. Justice Onnoghen has fought a good fight. But the strongmen have curiously defeated all of us and diminished democracy, not Onnoghen.

His secret file at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was secretly opened to a private petitioner whose petition was treated to begin tribunal trial within 72 hours. Behold, the trials of Brother Walter dramatically entered a new phase at the weekend when the CJN reportedly tendered his letter or resignation ‘to save the judiciary’.

But the morning after the authorities in Abuja approve the notice of resignation sooner than later,questions will crop up even if answers to them will continue to blow in the wind till 2023.

The likely questions:
• Why did the authorities designate Justice Onnoghen Acting CJN in 2017?
• Why was Acting President Yemi Osinbajo unable to send Onnoghen’s name to the Senate until the last day envisaged by Section 231:5 of the constitution, which would have made it impossible to resend his name for confirmation?
• Who invented Section 231, Sub-section 5 of the constitution, a president can always use to prevent confirmation of an Acting CJN?
• Who authorised opening of Justice Onnoghen’s confidential file to an NGO head when it is illegal to do so?
• Do we have to ask for the resurrection of Gani Fawehinmi before an action can be filed against the Code of Conduct Bureau and the private citizen who unlawfully obtained the secret file of CJN and his BVN number at the CCB strong room?
• Why did the Court of Appeal keep quiet on several appeals by the CJN for six weeks while the CCT trial was in top gear?
• Who released fake documents to a newspaper, which published that Justice Onnoghen had $3 million dollars in his foreign accounts and 55 houses?

• Why did a tribunal have to order IGP and DG, DSS, to arrest Nigeria’s Chief Justice a week to election?
• What was the Chief Justice of Nigeria humiliated in the dock a day to election when international observers and others were already in the country?

• Why did the NBA and other professional bodies including the media who fought for this democracy before 1999 curiously keet quiet while the Chief Justice of Nigeria was being humiliated by the authorities in a democracy?
• Do the authorities in Abuja know that a section of this complex federation will ask questions the morning after a new CJN is sworn in that the heads of the three arms of government: the President of the country, the President of the Senate, Head of the Judiciary (Chief Justice of the country), the President of the Court of Appeal, the Head of the Federal High Court will hail from one section of the country?
• Will the above question not compound a lingering national question about why all the heads of security, intelligence agencies, the IGP, etc, are from the same section and religion?

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