We have people like Prof. Wole Soyinka to thank for a ‘born again’ democrat like Buhari as democratically elected president of Nigeria. Wole was the man who said people familiar with the man’s conversion told him that Buhari the Despot had repented and was now a born again democrat. You can re-read Soyinka’s Challenge of Change, Burden of Choice, it’s everywhere on the internet.
Now we have the measure of Buhari’s conversion. But more to the point, we should know to trust an avowed animist agnostic when he employs the tropes of Christianity to describe the conversion of a Muslim fundamentalist. Maybe the joke was on us. We can leave Wole to rue his fallibility every time he looks in the mirror and sees wrinkled change.
But that is a luxury the rest of us can hardly share at this moment of our nation’s history as lightweight democracy finds herself in the ring, with a heavyweight champion of despotic absolutism fighting without regard to boxing rules.
Buhari’s pregnant silence as a documented minion of his rushed allegations of corruption against the nation’s No. 1 Judge underlines the seriousness of this assault. Let no man deceive you that the President is not aware r the Vice President is unaware. Are they both sleeping on duty? They are both in on this, both feet first!
What should our Honourable Chief Justice do? First, he must realize that he is fighting for all of us; the little men who won’t even get a honourable mention if they were the direct victims of this kind of assault. Therefore, he must make no mistakes in his response to this prize fighter, a man of war from his youth.
In this regard, I would refer him to another Chief Justice who had the uncommon honour of taking on the absolutist antics of another anti-democratic prize fighter from a sister common law jurisdiction; I mean Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry of Pakhistan.
Justice Chaudry was called to the bar in 1976, he became a Judge of the Supreme Court in 2002 and was made Chief Justice of Pakhistan in 2005 by General Pervez Muharref. However, in March 2007, Pervez Musharef asked him to resign as Chief Justice of Pakhistan, an offer he rejected and was ‘suspended’ from office by the anti-democratic champion. But the legal profession took to the streets and marched against the forces opposed to democracy. In the end General Musharref caved in and accepted Chief Justice Iftikhar as head of the Pakhistani Supreme Court.
But that was not the end. In November of 2007, President Musharref declared a state of emergency and arrested Justice Iftikhar and suspended over 60 judges. Justice Iftikhar remained unbowed, even in detention. He granted several interviews which were smuggled out of his place of detention. Elections were held the next year 2008 and Musharref lost.
There are many uncanny similarities between the experiences of Justice Iftikhar and Justice Onnoghen. First, Musharraf demanded Iftikhar’s resignation based on a petition alleging corruption and interference with the executive branch. You need to read Mr. Aghanya’s petition to see that the people behind this assault on the precincts of democracy are copy typists.
Anyway, Justice Iftikhar refused to resign, he also refused to appear before the judicial body to which Musharraf referred the matter, instead he sued Musharraf before the Supreme Court and won. More, importantly, while his case was going on he boldly travelled around Pakhistan addressing bar associations.
The Pakhistani bar also organized road marches from day to day for months. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance, they say.
Alleging that judges are corrupt is not news anymore. Indeed, there are corrupt judges as there are corrupt presidents. But when a man who is supposed to file an asset declaration does so and indicates that he mistakenly omitted something in his earlier declaration which he is now openly declaring and corrects his mistake, that is not corruption. But if a president or his vice president gives his consent for the no.1 judge of his country to be removed on such flimsy grounds, that sir is the real corruption.
It appears that Justice Onnoghen has taken the first step of refusing to resign as demanded by the President’s obnoxious minions. He should openly refuse. Then he must take the next step of addressing the bar and then the nation.
He must realize that as a justice of the Supreme Court, he is now confronted with a policy situation of the court. Whatever he does or does not do has political implications, ranging from independence of the judiciary to survival of democracy.
Archibald Cox, the US Solicitor General under President Kennedy, Harvard Professor of Law and Independent Counsel in the Watergate investigation of President Nixon said in his seminal work, The Role of the Supreme Court in American Society, that the Supreme Court has both judicial and policy responsibilities. Whenever the court or a justice has to think about the impact of his decision on society it/he is undertaking a policy consideration. No justice of the court can ignore the policy considerations of the court and expect the court to remain relevant for long.
This is the moment when the Nigerian Supreme Court must determine its relevance to democracy. It is not surprising that when Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry defied President Musharraf in Pakhistan, he went on to be celebrated as an icon of democracy receiving many honours from around the world. His resistance reinvigorated the Pakhistani Supreme Court and made it truly independent.
With the Amina Zakari Saga, the Idris Kpotum Saga and now this, the ‘born again’ democrat must be taught the virtues of true conversion.
Emmanuel Jakpa, a legal practitioner wrote in from Warri, Delta State.