News Analysis: Awaiting Buhari's Anti-graft Fight vs the Convicted CJN at Appeal Court

By Emeka Nwankpa on April 21, 2019

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Abubakar Malami, SAN. Attorney General of the Federation. Minister of Justice.

The riveting drama that culminated in the guilty verdict by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen for violation of the code of conduct for public officers may have just started.

This is even so as the nation eagerly awaits fresh fireworks when the embattled highest national judicial officer takes his defence to the Court of Appeal where he has opted to singhis next redemption song to salvage what remains of his battered career.

In one fell swoop, the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar, ruled that Onnoghen should vacate office, forfeit his five confiscated accounts and barred from holding any public office for 10 years, even brushing aside the former CJN’s resignation offer plus dismissing spirited arguments that the CCT lacked jurisdiction to try the case.

He concurred that the prosecution team had effectively proved the ex-jurist’s guilt in what may have opened a floodgate of public commentaries on the way and manner the Federal Ministry of Justice has employed cutting-edge professional skills to boost the anti-corruption fight of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration.

Not a few are actually swayed by arguments in partisan quarters that because the CCT is statutorily domiciled in the Presidency, the CCT guilty verdict on the ex-CJN was a verdict long foretold. 

They contended that notwithstanding the prosecution team’s water-tight case against Onnoghen, there was little that could have been done at the tribunal to stop the hammer from dropping on the accused jurist especially where he admitted that he forgot to make the necessary adjustments in his asset declaration.

Keen observers believe that his disclosure by the former CJN’s self-admission offered the prosecution team a rock-solid chance to hit the final nail on the coffin of Onnoghen’s career.

The case has raised the nation’s political temperature, triggering conversations across the ethnic, regional, religious and political divide, prompting renowned attorneys to even ask the ex-jurist to quit and save what they felt was left of the integrity of the bench in the face of deafening political noise over the matter.

Before the CCT’s verdict, opinions were divided but lawyers maintained that the law, beingblind, made it a test case. But to the average Nigerian who daily desires to see a nation of institutions stronger than persons, where rules reign over might.    

To be sure, these are interesting times. With less than a month to the start of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second four-year tenure, it is becoming clear that the Onneghen test case suggests where the nation’s justice administration system is headed. Or so it seems. 

When President Muhammadu Buhari picked Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, it has become clear that he had no illusionabout the quality of his choice. The President knew he chose a trusted professional and anadvocate of justice, order and the rule of law. 

From Malami’s desk has emanated brilliant legal counsel and advice on critical issues of statevindicating the president’s choice. Even in clearly partisan matters where critics of Buhari’s government had expected the minister to buckle, he has refused to be swayed by parochial and partisan interest.

Under his watch, the heads of two arms of government, Senate President Bukola Saraki for the legislature, and ex-Chief Justice Onneghen for the Judiciary, have been docked, sending the signals that the nation is truly going through a transformational charge. 

The moral message here is that the rich, the mighty and the powerful also cry. The era of sacred cows is going, to give true meaning, effect and essence to the Buhari government’s signature of ‘I belong to everybody, I do not belong to anybody’. And this is all that the masses of this country have been demanding for years. It is epochal in the march towards a nation where rules reign. I can hear the people saying please let the beat go on. 

To get the beat go on, it is imperative that the foundation for justice delivery system in the country continue to be placed on firm footing as Malami’s team is doing in the Federal Ministry of Justice. 

While Onnoghen’s case lasted at the CCT, it was even clear to the casual observer where and how hard the hammer was going to fall because of the factors of diligent investigation and prosecution which the Malami team in the ministry had become reputed for. 

Take for example the comments by the justice ministry on the police interim report on the Offa robbery case against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, while it did not dismiss the case off-handedly, it however advised the police to do a neater, cleaner and tidier investigation to merit court conviction. Nothing could be more professional and profound.

Mr. Mohammed Umar Etsu, the erudite and seasoned Director of Public Prosecution in the ministry, in a letter to the police had maintained that the evidence by the police linking the Senate President and Governor Abdul-Fatah Ahmed of Kwara State to the robbery was not sufficiently strong to nail them and the robbery gang. 

‘’For the senate president and the Kwara State governor, this office is unable to establish from the evidence in the interim report a nexus between the alleged offence and the suspects. Hence, it is our advice that further and thorough investigations in this regard be carried out’’, the letter said. 

As the letter leaked to further serve public interest, it meant big kudos to the ministry for courageously puncturing police claims that Saraki and Gov. Ahmed were directly linked to the Offa robbery on the simple basis that the principal suspects and the gang leaders of the robbery operation confessed that the duo supplied them with arms and the vehicles for the operation.   

This professional and moral courage demonstrated by the excellent legal minds such as the efficient Etsu Umar Mohammed and his senior prosecution counsels answerable to the indomitable Solicitor-General of the Federation, Mr. Dayo Akpata remains an asset to the Buhari dispensation and the nation’s justice delivery system. 

Without doubt, the journey is still far but it is now clear to all and sundry that the train has left the station since President Buhari emerged four years ago and selected a crack team of brilliant reform-minded people in the nation’s justice ministry. 

The simple moral in the Onnoghen saga which must not be lost in the frenzy of the moment is that diligent investigation and prosecution remains the fundamental basis for diligent prosecution without which justice, order and the rule of law are achievable.

The office of the Attorney- General and Minister of Justice is the only ministerial office particularly mentioned in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) to underscore its centrality.

Mr. Malami has severally pursued rule of law as an officer in the temple of justice. Recall his response to an EFCC investigation report on Adoke and others in the Halliburton saga where he argued that the agency’s evidence on charges were paper weight to secure court conviction. 

As the nation’s diligence-driven chief law officer, he recommended further investigations andsuggested areas of further inquiry to drive the justice sector as the most potent weapon to stabilize the country for growth and development.

Under him, justice knows no race, region and religion. The coming months and years as we enter President Buhari’s second and final four-year tenure will be particularly testy. 

 

 

Source Soundbite NEWS

Posted on April, 21 2019

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