Opinion: On the CJN arrest and its implications by Orji A. Uka


Editor's note: An attorney, Orji A. Uka, in this opinion, writes on the impeding trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, by the Muhammadu Buhari administration and it's implications.

Yesterday when the news broke that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was going to be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (stills feels surreal typing this) on allegations of non and under declaration of assets, I resisted the temptation to jump on the bandwagon.

I have reflected for the past 24 hours (and have gone through the full circle of grief) and I feel it is the right time to join the legions of Nigerians who have condemned the latest antics of the Buhari administration.

This is going to be a REALLY LONG thread. I may lose friends for this, but this is no longer the time for mincing or sugar coating words. The gloves are off. You are either in favour of Nigeria’s progress or against. And for the cowardly fencists, the Lord will soon spew you out.

For some, this latest antic of President Buhari and his cohorts is another manifestation of the President disdain for the rule of law while some have argued that he is only seeking to quench his long thirst for retribution against the judiciary. I agree with both.

I also completely agree that this action of the President is not isolated, but today I join the likes of @DemolaRewaju who have argued (and rightly too IMO)that it is nothing but a desperate albeit ill-fated last kick by a drowning administration. I will just add my perspective.

In October 2016, the DSS invaded the homes of some Justices of the Supreme Court & Court of Appeal and some Judges of the Federal High Court. Some of us condemned it and some condoned and even praised it. It should have been obvious to us the monster we created.

You may recall that on the fateful night the house of Walter Onnoghen CJN was also surrounded by the DSS. For inexplicable reasons, DSS later withdrew. I was of the opinion then, and I still do, that the DSS originally planned to arrest him that night but plans later changed.

To understand President Buhari’s disdain for the rule of law you need to look back at his military antecedents and his frustration that things have not completely gone his way this time. How dare you question his decision to lock up Dasuki and El-Zakzaky and throw away the keys?

To understand his long thirst for retribution against the judiciary, you only need to look back at his experience with the judicial system on the three he contested for President and lost. In the few interviews he has conducted, he still speaks about it with so much venom.

In the same way one can’t help but feel embarrassed when he repeatedly talks about two Judges that delivered a dissenting judgment in his favour (which he cluelessly calls as minority report) and both of whom he has since ‘rewarded’ with Ambassadorship positions to the UK and US.

My only problem is that Nigerian Bar Association is speaking up now because CJN & to some extent the NBA President are now the victims. I am having none of it. I still believe the NBA leadership between 2015-2018 should burry their heads in shame. That's a story for another day.

In August 2015, PMB while addressing lawyers at the annual NBA Conf directed lawyers not to represent those charged with looting the treasury. For inexplicable reasons, no one called him out, or schooled him that Rule No 1 for lawyers is that we do not generally reject briefs.

In August 2018, he even went a notch higher by informing the same gathering that national security trumps the rule of law. This is someone surrounded by SANS (including the highly cerebral ones, the now senile one, and the one who may not even be deserving of the rank).

None of his legions of adviers or his speech writer advised him that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. No one informed him that it is unlawful to disobey lawful orders of court, even when such orders are against you.

Not long ago, I tweeted that the judiciary faced fewer instances of disobedience of court orders under President Obasanjo and the NBA organised protests and boycott of courts. Yet, under this administration, not for once has such been suggested let alone implemented.

The usual response of President Buhari’s lackeys and supporters is that no one is above the law and so the CJN should face the system and prove his innocence. I am proud of the fact that I resisted the strong urge to employ an expletive laden response. Get thee behind me.

No one is saying the CJN is above the law, but he represents a scared institution of the State, one of the few that has not been completely eroded by this scavenging administration that is hell bent of destroying all institutions of state and return us to the state of nature.

Before I proceed to the substance of this attack on the office of the CJN and the judicial arm, and predict how it would ultimately end up, let us consider the modus operandi of this administration. And you be the judge of whether they are deserving of benefit of the doubt.

The Chairman of the CCT who has shamelessly constituted himself a 'Man Friday' for this government is the subject of a criminal charge instituted by the Spokesperson of the Buhari Campaign, Festus Keyamo SAN on behalf of the EFCC. What has become of that trial?

My former governor, Orji Uzor Kalu who is currently a candidate for the Senate and a member of the Buhari Campaign Council is freely walking the streets of Umuahia and Igbere despite his bail having been revoked by the Federal High Court Lagos.

The former Governor of Akwa Ibom who is also the subject of criminal investigations by the EFCC was sanctified by the President after he dumped the PDP and defected. Same for the current APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole and the former PDP National Chairman, Adamu Muazu.

This is not forgetting the Babachir Lawal's of this world, the Abba Kyari's, the former DSS Boss Lawal Daura, none of whom the prosecuting agencies have the balls to draft a charge and/or arraign 1 year, 2 years after being indicted. The list is endless.

It is an insult to our sensibiities that the CCT is purporting to act on a petition received by the CCB on 09/01/19. 24 hrs later the CCT drafted the charge and they are now ready to arraign the CJN on 14/01/19. If you don’t see anything wrong with this, then I can’t help you.

This is the same CCT that wasted the precious time and money of tax payers to embark on a fruitless effort to try the Senate President, Bukola Saraki only to suffer brutal losses up to the Supreme Court.

This is the same CCT and under the same Chairman that set Senator Bola Tinubu free on grounds that he was not confronted with the allegation before it was filed, one must then ask whether the CJN was confronted with the petition to respond before they rushed to file.

It has also emerged that the petition was written by a former aide to President Buhari. As livid as I am, I can still bring myself wonder why and how a Govt can be so vacuous that they cannot even execute a proper hatchet job that would not unravel in a matter of hours.

The most important question to ask is why decide to further heat up the polity with a few weeks to the general election? What does the present government benefit so much from Aso Rock that they are willing to do anything to remain in office, even if it means burning this country?

For those who will tell us that President Buhari is not aware of what is going on, not only is this disingenous, it does not speak well of a President to suggest that he does not know what is happening in the arm of govt which he heads, in any case the buck stops at his table.

Was the President not advised by his army of SANs that there is a subsisting CA judgment that any misconduct attributed to a judicial officer must first be reported to, and handled by, the NJC and it is only after then that the prosecuting agencies of the FGN can proceed?

For those suggesting the NJC is not the appropriate body to investigate since it is headed by the CJN. This is intellectual laziness or dishonesty, or both. Nothing stops the CJN from recusing himself & allowing the NJC investigate the allegation. This is how a democracy works.

I am not a lawyer in the case. And even if the CCT was to qualify as a court of competent jurisdiction in this instance, the case against the CJN has not commenced and so I am perfectly entitled my views and even predict how I expect the case to play out starting from Monday.

I expect that over this weekend, the team counsel has prepared an Objection challenging the competence of the CCT from trying the CJN by reason e.g. that a condition precedent has not been satisfied. And the failure to fulfil a condition precedent robs a court of jurisdiction.

Secondly, I expect that the defence team will object to the CJN being arraigned before the CCT on Monday because the Tribunal lacks jurisdiction. This is different from an objection of the ground of an imperfect or erroneous charge which Sec 221 of the ACJA prohibits.

It is also different from a challenge as to validity of a charge of a charge which Sec 396(2) ACJA stipulates can only be taken after arraignment and a ruling delivered at the time of the delivery of judgment.

Apart from insisting that the CJN should not enter the dock, the defence team must also insist that the preliminary objection (again different from that contemplated under Secs 221 & 396(2) of the ACJA) be taken and determined first before arraignment and trial.

In the unlikely event that the CCT Chairman is ready with a [bench] ruling, I also expect the defence team to be ready with a Notice of Appeal which must be filed on the same day. Thankfully the SC has granted a stay of proceeding of a CCT trial despite Sec 306 ACJA precedent.

There is a popular saying that where there is pervasive unlawfulness, it becomes unlawful to be lawful. We need to wake up and realise that we are dealing with a cohort that does not play by the rules and will do anything to cling to power.

Since we all want to be mad, let me see how that trial will start on Monday.

At this time we have to recall the campaign that some of us embarked on before the CJN's name was finally sent to the NJC by the then Ag Pres. Could this be a ploy to remove him through the back door and complete President Buhari’s blatant intention to install his kinsman as CJN?

Could this be another antic to deflate attention from the Inspector General of Police who President Buhari has illegally perpetrated in office beyond the stipulated retirement age, and without even an attempt to explain to Nigerians?

Or is it that it has dawned on President Buhari and his cohorts that he cannot win a free and fair election in in February and they need an amenable CJN to perfect their rigging strategy? Or is the end game to keep the current CJN on his toes to do their bidding?

In the end I agree that the actions of the Buhari administration in attacking the CJN less than two months to the pivotal general elections can compared to the actions of someone whom the gods have allowed to go mad in order to kill him.