Last Friday, the news broke that the embattled Chief Justice of the Federation, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen had thrown in the towel.
Onnoghen’s resignation, which was reportedly handed in a day earlier came just as the National Judicial Council, NJC, recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari that he, Onnoghen, be retired with immediate effect.
The NJC, which is vested with the authority to discipline erring judicial officers among others, had investigated the CJN over allegations of misconduct levelled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Onnoghen is also standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, over allegations of false declaration of Assets. He was suspended by the President in January on the orders of the CCT.
Since the news of the resignation, Nigerians have been reacting to the turn of event and what it portends for the nation’s judiciary and democracy.
Below are more reactions from some prominent Nigerians.
Mr. Mike Ozokhome, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, described the whole Onnoghen saga as a dictatorship.
He said: “You don’t run a country like that, in which the judiciary is subjected to the jackboot and gun butt of ruler ship of the executive; in which the National Assembly is subjected to the Jackboot and military dictatorship of the Executive. Where the media, which under section 24 of the Constitution is to hold government accountable and responsible to the people is held under the Jackboot and under dictatorship. You don’t run a system where virile opposition and different voices are silenced by rude force by sheer power of absolutism and dictatorship.
“What Onnoghen’s matter portends for this country is that once the Executive wants to have its way, it must have its way; just strike terror in the mind of the judges who are to dispense justice, they will be wondering what next. What has been done is not in accordance with the rule of law, it is not in accordance with separation of powers and I am afraid that Nigeria is being turned more and more to a sectional country.
“Can’t these people feel the heat, can’t they smell it; can’t they sense it; can’t they touch it? As at today, with the possible exit of Justice Walter Onnoghen, what it means is that the entire three arms of government are in the North. The Executive, is led by Mr. President from the North, in the Legislature, the Senate is led by Bukola Saraki from the North Central; the House of Representatives is led by Yakubu Dogara from the North; the President of Court of Appeal is led by the North, The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court is led by the North.
“Now, the Chief Justice of Nigeria is coming from the North. That is a total Northernisation of Nigeria as if we are in the Northern Republic of Nigeria. It is not done, the entire security apparati of this country, from the Inspector-General of Police to the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Air Staff to the National Security Adviser and Acting Chairman of EFCC and to the Director-General of DSS and NIA to the Chief of Staff to the President, every single available relevant position in Nigeria is being occupied by the North.
“That does not give an encouragement to the unity that has eluded Nigeria since January 1, 1914.”
For Mr. Goddy Uwazurike, ex-President of Aka Ikenga, the Igbo Think Tank and lawyer, summed it up as the worst humiliation of a judicial officer in recent times.
READ ALSO: Yes, Onnoghen Resigned Yesterday – Awomolo
“This resignation was like a thunderbolt. This man has been humiliated in the worst way possible for a judge to be treated in this country since 1984. 1984 was the year Chief Justice of Nigeria; Sowemimo was removed from office by the then Military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Ever since, the dignity of the judiciary was never trampled upon by any government, military or civilian.
“As a lawyer, I weep for the other members of the judiciary who did not understand that a new benchmark has been set for whipping any independent and courageous judge into line. Truly, the fulcrum of democracy has been damaged. Whether the 3rd Arm of Government, the Judiciary, shall recover, is a matter of conjecture. But one thing is certain; our judiciary will not be respected all over the world and in Nigeria,” Uwazurike said.
A former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Lagos State Chapter, Tunji Shelle, expressed the view that Onnoghen’s resignation had been the targeted goal of his suspension and trial. For him, the whole thing was premeditated.
His words: Well, I think it was premeditated; they planned it to ridicule the man and disgrace him out of office so that someone else who can do their bidding will take his position because they are looking for someone that can do their bidding especially as it concerns the outcome of the contentious election.
“The president did not confirm Onnoghen, his confirmation was unduly delayed. It was the Vice President that took the bull by the horn and confirmed him when the President was away. It is all politics; they wanted a judge that is not totally independent. They are looking for the person that can dance to their tune. Why was the case followed with such speed? The tribunal rushed his trial so quickly unlike what is obtainable in the system.
“Is the man who is prosecuting him qualified to do so? The person that is now deciding this case and taking this kind of swift action has other pending cases. These are some of the questions that are begging for answers. If you go through the past records of some of the public office holders today, you will find one discrepancy or the other. This is an embarrassment to the nation and its Judiciary.
“My take is that things should be done properly. So there should be checks and balances. they want everybody to be going to the same direction but that won’t help our nation. I wish that our politicians should have the fear of God.
“The judiciary has been cowed and anything could happen. It is only when God fearing leaders emerge that some of these anomalies can be corrected. The fear of God is the beginning of what can heal this country. Let us enthrone justice and fairness in this country’s affairs. In a situation where a few people will be doing whatever they like, they should not think or expect the masses not to do things that are untoward.”
Former Governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Abia State, Nyerere Anyim, however, does not believe that the trial and eventual resignation of the former CJN was politically motivated.
He said: “I don’t look at his resignation from that perspective that it is politically motivated. Onnoghen acknowledged that there were some mistakes that he made. So ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Besides, those in the temple of justice should know that the law and in his capacity as the Chief Judge of the Federation, he should live above board.
“On the insinuation that the man was stampeded out of office to pave the way for a preferred candidate, he has not said that he is being victimized. He was investigated and he listened to advice and did what is expected of him by bowing out.
“In Nigeria, anything that happens is attributed to vendetta or victimization or politics. But in this case, the Justice did not say that he was forced to resign, so we should be careful not to infer or misquote him. I don’t think that he mentioned that he was forced out by anybody so we should not infer anything in that regard.
“The independence of the judiciary remains non-negotiable in Nigeria. We are developing; all the facets of the country are going through the process including the judiciary. The office of the NJC is not replaced by a foreigner but a Nigerian. If all these things are being geared towards deepening of our democracy and offering hope to the common man, so be it.
“What has happened is an indication that no one is above the law. We must do what we are doing with the fear of God and good of the country. We should put the good of the country first in whatever we are doing. We should not use the position we occupy to work against our country. We are praying for God fearing leaders. If the person that is on the apex of the law should be going through this, then it is a lesson to all. Undemocratic rules cannot drive democracy, we are supposed to be advancing but we are still lagging behind.”
Former Lagos State deputy governor, Sen. Kofoworola Bucknor- Akerele, simply described the entire saga as a tragedy for the Judiciary
“The whole thing is very unfortunate. It is a tragedy that our judiciary is being manipulated in this way. Our leaders should have the fear of God in them. Those on the bench should also have the fear of God in them but my take on this is that our judiciary is not independent.”
The saga continues as the embattled CJN has resigned from office, his trial at the CCT continues.