By: Abdulrasheed Ibrahim
On Friday, the 25th January 2019, I was watching a television program : JOURNALISTS’ HANGOUT when the breaking news suddenly came in that President Muhammad Buhari (PMB) had suspended Hon. Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen (GCON) as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and sworn in Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. The question I first asked myself was that : Is this not another judicial coup? As a student of history, the last time we had similar experience was under the previous PDP government under the leadership of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) when the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu, GCON recommended the suspension of the then President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami. This was immediately approved and Hon. Justice Dalhatu Adamu was sworn in as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal.
Despite all the pending suits in court before his suspension as well as the protests and condemnations that greeted the suspension, the government and the power that be looked the other way. The man was left alone to personally lick his wound. When Hon. Justice Isa Salami was eventually retiring from the bench and delivering his valedictory speech, he likened himself to the biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers.
Unlike the above two incidents that happened under the constitutional democracy, the first judicial coup in the history of the Nigeria was a coup under a military coup as when General Murtala Ramat Mohammed came in as the Head of State after the over-thrown of General Yakubu Gowon, one of the actions he took was to send the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Taslim Olawale Elias packing. Commenting on this incident, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) in a paper in honour of Hon. Justice Kayode Eso, JSC titled: THE SUPREME COURT AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF NIGERIAN NATION THROUGH THE LAW IN THE 1990s said:
“…Then came the unfortunate and damaging blow. The Chief Justice of the Federation was ‘retired’ unceremoniously for ‘old age’ but it turned out that he was young enough for the world court. The Military adopted the wait and see tactic. Instead of protesting, the other judges started to lobby for the vacant position…”
General Muhammed went ahead to appoint Hon. Justice Darnley Arthur Raymond Alexander a non-Nigerian on the Supreme Court bench then as the new Chief Justice of Nigeria. Justice Elias left behind brilliant records yet to be broken by any lawyer in this part of the world, if not in the whole world. Apart from probably being the first indigenous Professor of Law in Nigeria, he was the first lawyer to serve as Attorney General of the Federation both under the civilian and military regimes. He was the first Nigerian lawyer to the elevated from the Bar directly to the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of the Federation .It is written about Justice Elias in the LEGAL LUMINARIES that:
“It was the overthrow of the Gowon administration by the Murtala administration in 1975 that ended the tenure of Elias as the Chief Justice of the Federation. This notwithstanding, he moved on to play more global roles in the international sphere because in November of the same year he was elected by the General Assembly of the United Nations to the International Court of Justice, at the Hague where he eventually became the first African to be the President of that court”.
As if history is trying to repeat itself, so it happened under PMB as it happened under GEJ. In his speech suspending the CJN and swearing in the Acting CJN, the President said:
“…Accordingly, I hereby suspend Honourable Mr. Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen, GCON as the Chief Justice of Nigeria pending the final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal .In further compliance with the same order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal , I hereby invite Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, JSC ,being the next most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court , to come forward to take judicial oath as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in an acting capacity…”
With this, there was immediate change of guard at the Supreme Court and this has further generated more controversies as to the propriety of the President’s new action. This new development affected Hon. Justice Onnoghen’s schedule to swear in about 250 judges that have been constituted to sit on the forthcoming election petition tribunals that has now been performed by the Acting CJN.
This was the legacy left behind by the previous government of People Democratic Party (PDP). Having succeeded in removing the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) considered to be too powerful as far as constituting election tribunal is concerned, they went ahead to amend the constitution to break the monopoly of that court as far as finality of its decision on the Gubernatorial election is concerned and extended it to the already over burden Supreme Court which used to entertain only appeal on the Presidential election. Ironically, the lawmakers having succeeded in doing that also wanted to enjoy similar benefit of extension that rather than the petitions against their election finally terminating at the Court of Appeal, they also want it further to the Supreme Court. Unfortunate for them such extension was not acceded to. Since All Progressive Congress (APC) is now in power, it also wants things done in its own way. The previous action of the PDP is not without price paid for it, PDP paid dearly by losing the 2015 general election. Will APC also pay the price for this new development? This is the question that will be answered by the Nigerian electorates during the forthcoming 2019.
I must confess in the past few days ,many things have gone wrong in which those involved have been trying to outwit one another .It is more disheartening looking at the way the courts and tribunal are being used by both sides to achieve their whims and caprices. They are two wrongs that does not make a right .I will not dwell much on this now as these are issues for another day. The question for now is that, in the prevail circumstances what should be the proper thing to do? The Body of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) seemed to have made a right suggestion as it was said in a newspaper report that following its recent meeting, the Body has urged those involved to embrace settlement for the sake of the legal profession and the nation. Will the parties involved embrace settlement and what will be the terms of settlement?
OBASANJO AS A LETTER WRITER
One of the things that distinguished Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) from other Nigerian leaders, past and present is that he is very prolific. Whenever he writes, he generates a lot of reactions both positively and negatively. There are people who hold the belief till date that he was behind the failure of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s to succeed in the 1979 general election. Late Alhaji Shehu Shagari eventually carried the day at the Supreme Court where he was declared duly elected after the legal battle. When OBJ wrote his book titled MY COMMAND, his civil war memoir, he prompted many other retired military men to come up with their own memoirs where they either agreed or disagree with him. When General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) declared himself a Military President and introduced various economic programs, OBJ wrote IBB saying his economy programs lacked milk of human kindness. With the eventual annulment of the 12th June 1993 election won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola by the IBB , OBJ said Abiola was not the Nigerian Messiah.
When General Sani Abacha came and could not tolerate OBJ’s criticism, he and his former Second-in-Command, General Shehu Musa Yar’adua were framed up on allegation of hatching a coup against his government and were sent to jail .Unlike Yar’adua, OBJ came back alive to become a democratically elected President between 1999 and 2007 but never proved to be the Nigerian Messiah. With the failure of his third agenda, he handpicked Alhaji Musa Shehu Yar’dua to succeed him and in the running up to the 2007 General Election he openly declared that the election was going be do or die. With the death of Yar’adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the President, he began to receive letter from OBJ accusing him of incompetence. OBJ supported his defeat in the 2015 General Election.
Chief Obasanjo never spared President Muhammad Buhari (PMB) in his art of letter writing despite endorsing and supporting him into office in 2015. In his latest letter, OBJ accused PMB of planning to rig the 2019 General Election in his favour among other allegations. This has indeed generated overwhelming reactions both against and in support. My own take in all is that I have long learned how not to take some people serious whenever they talk. I have learned to ignore some people whenever they talk as joining issues with them will be tantamount to beating a dead horse.
OBJ wrote a book titled MY WATCH in three volumes where he said so many damaging things about his former Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku who sponsored his returned to politics in 1999. It is this same man that OBJ has now made a u-turn and appointed himself as foreign Ambassador for Atiku political campaign. I am of the view that OBJ should write another book to debunk all the negative things he had written about Turakin Adamawa and apologise to him. Simply because the man was against his third term agenda and frustrated it, OBJ made efforts to remove him as the Vice President during his tenure but the man fought back through the instrumentality of law.
Can a known rigger of elections reasonably accuse others of the plan to rig an election? Those who are familiar with the history of election rigging in Nigeria know those who are the best in the act of election rigging. Please go and ask those Governors in the South-West who won elections under the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD) 1999 what was their experiences like when trying to secure second term in 2003 General Election? Go and ask Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a very close associate of OBJ, how he managed to govern Osun State for nearly eight years before he was eventually sacked by the election petition tribunal? Ask OBJ why his party PDP eventually lost the states like Anambra, Edo, Ekiti and Ondo to some other political parties?
There is this saying that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands .A man who was once an occupant of a position can only be justified in condemning his successors only if he had done well and performed better when he was in that position. Please go and ask Tinubu what was his experience under OBJ on the release of Lagos State Allocation as ordered by the Supreme Court. When the Oyo State lawmakers loyal to Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu illegally removed Mr. Rasheed Ladoja as Governor same was endorsed by OBJ. People like Dariye, Fayose and Alamieyeseigha amongst others would not forget OBJ in hurry. Even those who threatened to go on exile if OBJ was not elected as civilian President in those days are now telling different stories today. Of all Nigerian leaders, past and present, only OBJ can boast of having private University and Presidential Library when our Federal Universities and other institutions are in complete mess. Most times I keep wondering ,why OBJ always have problems with those he deliberately endorses for one position or other to later prompt him writing series of letters condemning them when they are in offices? Please do you have any answer this ?
General Yakubu Gowon (GYG) was a boss to many Nigerian elder statesmen today including OBJ himself, but you hardly hear him developing basket mouth to condemn those who succeeded him or those who have since been ruling the country. One of the reasons why I always admire GYG is that he does not arrogate wisdom to himself and again unlike OBJ, he does not like playing to the gallery. I strongly believe this is how decent leaders or elder statesmen should always behave.
ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
“It is however, an elementary proposition that mere circumstances of suspicion are not sufficient to justify a conviction or put in another way, suspicion however strong, cannot take the place of legal proof. Before a defendant can be convicted, the fact of death should be proved by such circumstances as render the commission of the crime certain and leave no ground for reasonable doubt. Circumstantial evidence should be so cogent and compelling as to convince a jury that on no rational basis other than murder can the facts be accounted for.”
Per ALEXANDER, CJN in Igboji Abieke & Anor Vs. The State (1975) 9-11 SC 97 at 104
THE SETTLED PRINCIPLE OF LAW
On effect of declaration or statement made by a party
“It is trite law that a party’s declaration or statements, whether for or against his interest when made may always be taken to be true as against himself.”
See ARTRA IND. (NIG) LTS Vs. N.B.C 1 (1988) 3 SC. Pg. 156 Lines 34-36
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27th January 2019