The recent controversy that witnessed the sacred Temple of the nation’s Legal system and the manner at which it is being handled is a threat to Democracy. This is because the judiciary is the last hope of a common man and the last mediator to constitutional crisis among the other arms of government.
This suggests that any issue with this particular arms of government must be handled with care and based on due process in order to prevent the organ from being politicized or disintegrated to the extent that people will no more have trust in the Nation’s legal system.
Based on this, the section 6 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended 2011, states, the judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation.
Subsection (2) stipulates the judicial powers of a State shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as provided by this Constitution, for a State.
By interpretation, the judiciary is one of the arms of government which has the constitutional power to interpret laws and make sure that issues that might result to a crisis are quickly nailed on the altar of rule of law and Justice.
For this purpose, the constitution tries to insulate the judiciary from the control of other arms of government by establishing the National Judicial Council (NJC) and empowered it to be in charge of the appointment and employment of the judicial officers.
The constitution also vested in the council the power to sanction errant judicial officers and empowered the council to dismiss any judicial officer if needed. This is because it is widely believed that the only way to ensure the independence of the judiciary is to separate it from the other arms of government and prevent it from the interference of external forces.
However, the recent development on the issue of Hon. Justice Walter Onneghen and the speed at which the matter is being handled calls to question the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria and arouses people’s interest on the probing and re-probing exercises at the judicial arms.
Sometimes last year, it was reported by the dailies that some DSS officers invaded and raided the house of some judges and recovered a huge amount of money both in local and foreign currency. This to many Nigerians is encouraging because it is believed that a war against corruption is a war against poverty and other anti-developmental forces battling the nation. But the speed at which this recent wave of anti-corruption crusade engulfs the temple of justice seems to be political.
In a document dated to the 7th January, 2019, a civil society group, the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI), petitioned the CCB, and accused Onnoghen of owning “sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as 10th August 2016 which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials”.
And on the 25th January, 2019, the President of Nigeria, president Mohammadu Buhari suspended Hon. Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and sworn in Justice Muhammad as the acting CJN who later constituted election tribunal the following day.
The President claimed to sworn in Hon. Mohammed based on an ex parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal where Onnoghen is facing six counts of false asset declaration.
This action to many analysts both at home and abroad is illegal and should not be encouraged especially in a time like this when the Nation is approaching her general election.
For instance, the United States, United Kingdom and many countries of the world have condemned this action and demanded a quick reverse from the president.
While at the local level the Nigerian Bar Association and some other human right lawyers have also condemned the action and urged the president to respect the rule of laws and give primacy to the principle of separation of power in handling issues like this.
Equally the Senate has described it a slap on the nation’ democracy and asked the president to respect the Constitution by giving room for due process in handling matters.
In response to this, the president Mohammadu Buhari through his media aid, Garba Shebu has declared that nobody can derail him from his mission to rebuild Nigeria and exterminate the seed of corruption from the country.
However, can there be a successful war against corruption in the absence of rule of law and respect for the constitution?
The answer is no because insensitivity to the rule of law and the letter in the constitution is another form of corruption on its own.
So, for the war against corruption to succeed there is a need for the arms of government to respect the rule of laws and try to avoid unnecessary flexing of muscle with each other. At the same time, they must not hide under the separation of power to perpetuate evil and make sure they work together to make Nigeria work again and not to be plotting coups against each other.