Monday, February 6, 2017 3:26 pm
By Bolanle Bolawole
“My husband once said that every time an intellectual has the chance to speak out against injustices, and yet remains silent, he contributes to the moral paralysis and intellectual barrenness that grips the affluent world” – Frida Laski in ‘Foreword to the Fifth Edition’ of Harold J. Laski’s ‘A Grammar of Politics’
What, then, do we say when the intellectual goes even a step further to defend bare-faced injustice as Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, did recently when he justified the likelihood of Justice Walter Onnoghen missing to become the substantive Chief Justice of the Federation? Onnoghen is on acting appointment, the first of its kind in our history and reading the lips – and hips, to quote former US President George Bush Jnr. – of Sagay, Onnoghen may as well forget being the CJN, except a miracle happens. An acting CJN holds office for a period of three months; Onnoghen was appointed 10th November, which means he has a few more days in office, except he is confirmed before February 10 or his acting appointment is renewed, like we witnessed during the Justice Ayo Salami saga at the Court of Appeal during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. From what we can glean from grapevine sources, added to what Sagay has spilled, the Presidency is already shopping for a substantive CJN from outside of the Bench, meaning that no one in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal has been found appoint able. The Achilles heel of their lordships, we have been told, is corruption. Thus, a gale of retirements, forced or voluntary, may soon sweep the Bench.
If Sagay is to be believed, all “Me Lords” without an exception are tainted. According to him, two former CJNs were the clearing house of bribes, which they collected and then funnelled to their colleagues. The CJNs involved, according to him, though retired, have continued in the corrupt practice. That Sagay could not muster enough courage to name them is a sad reflection of this administration’s penchant to mob-kill as well as conduct its trial of opponents on the pages of newspapers. This cavalierly and patently destructive approach also deliberately engages in group assassination for the perceived offence of a few. Now, how many ex-CJN do we have? Maybe four, five or six of them are still living; since Sagay did not separate the wheat from the chaff, and deliberately so, I guess, all the ex-CJN will carry the suspicion of the corrupt. As a legal luminary, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to boot, Sagay should know better than to casually ruin the good name that it took years of toil and effort to build for any of the ex-CJN that, by chance, may not be corrupt – even if it is only one person.
Some have suggested that the reason why Sagay stopped short of mentioning the names of the corrupt ex-CJN is that they are Muslim and are also from the North. The three justices on trial for corruption at the moment are all Christians and southerners. Sagay’s statement also technically tars Onnoghen; more so if, eventually, he is not made the substantive CJN. Without trial in a proper law court and without the opportunity to hear and defend the charges against him, Onnoghen stands condemned as charged and tried in the court of the media by Sagay! Yet, Sagay is an honourable man, quoting William Shakespeare’s Antonio in “Julius Caesar”! Sagay used to be a pro-democracy and rights’ activist. On that platform he won credibility and amassed a large followership. On this basis, I think, he landed his plum job. But that was then! Sagay now talks condescendingly to his old constituency; holding it in derision; he rails at, and threatens it. Hear the new man of power: “There has been extreme agitation and frenzy over the failure of the President to send Hon. Justice Onnoghen’s name for confirmation… These agitations have exhibited either ignorance; bad faith or down-right primordial motives… I, therefore, appeal that our notoriously loquacious and unrestrained compatriots should desist from further hysteria to allow the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria to earn his position on his own merit rather that create a frenzy and furore which can result in the very opposite of what they are loudly agitating for”
This is the metamorphosis of Sagay from a principled and fire-spitting activist to a turn-coat and renegade. When Sagay was in his right elements, no one was more loquacious and loud than him but now, he rails at others for being exactly what he himself symbolised less than two years ago. Lord Acton was right: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sagay’s sophistry and guile rankle: How will Onnoghen ‘earn his position on his own merit’ when the decision has already been taken to shop for a replacement; when he has already been tried and found guilty of corruption on the pages of newspapers? Sagay’s effort to nail the blame for Onnoghen’s eventual failure to be substantive CJN on “a frenzy and furore which can result in the very opposite of what they are loudly agitating for” fails abysmally. We knew the decision was made ever before the position of CJN became vacant; only public uproar prevented the Presidency from appointing its own preferred candidate. It is the same uproar that is still their headache – and this is the uproar that Sagay disingenuously wants to silence. He is free to call us any name he likes; I can assure him we shall not stop the frenzy, the furore, the hysteria, and extreme agitation. We shall continue to be loud, notoriously loquacious and will not be restrained for as long as we have breath in us. Whatever we exhibit on this issue, be it ignorance, bad faith or downright primordial motives is our own business, not Sagay’s.
The way Sagay now and again garrulously drags his constituency in the mud; the unsavoury language he employed against the Bar and Bench, I am tempted to think that after his stint in power, he is not likely to return to their fold. His threats, scantily-concealed blackmail, and double standards are unfortunate indeed. Selective justice is injustice of the worst order. The investigations that nailed the judges, which Sagay, obviously, was happy with, were conducted by the DSS; there was no problem with that because someone was already out for the Judiciary. But when the same DSS investigation nailed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the EFCC boss, it became an issue that the President himself had to counter. A vox populi will confirm that Buhari lost a lot of goodwill and followership with his pig-headed decision on the SGF and Ibrahim Magu. Now, many more people will believe that the so-called anti-corruption war is opaque, selective, and arbitrary. It bears repeating that in this Buhari administration are people more corrupt than those being chased about by the EFCC. And the corruption going on right under the nose of Buhari, when eventually the books are opened, will probably surpass that under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
Rules and regulations are not evenly applied under the Buhari administration. Persons are also not uniformly treated. Can Muslim leaders not see the President? Christian leaders under the auspices of the Christian Association of Nigeria said they have not been allowed to see Buhari. Compare the royal treatment Fulani herdsmen have received with the cudgels pro-Biafra and neo-Niger Delta militants have received. Not once had Buhari spoken out against the murderous herdsmen. He had to be pushed and shoved to reluctantly do the painfully little he has done. In sharp contrast, I have lost count of the number of occasions he has railed against pro-Biafra and Niger Delta militants. Gov. Nasir el-Rufai admitted paying the murderous herdsmen. So he knows them. His claim that the payment was to dissuade (bribe?) them from their killing spree is better told to the Marines! It can be argued, on the other hand, that it was payment for a job well done! When a sitting governor threatens anyone, security agencies inclusive, that lifts a hand against the Fulani with reprisals, is it a surprise that right under the nose of security officials, the murderous herdsmen gangs and other Northern mobs have not only thrived but have also walked away free?
Yet, Christian preachers who as much as asked their members to make arrangements for their self-defence have been harassed, intimidated, and threatened by the security agencies. The murderers are free – and are paid! Those being murdered will not be defended by the law – and must not defend themselves! They must not even speak out! What kind of an administration is this? From reports, Apostle Johnson Suleman, who broke the rule recently, was “invited” by the DSS; I am not deceived by the bold and bright face the preacher displayed when he came out of the gulag and the nice words he spoke, between his teeth, about those who read the Riots Act to him.
If Suleman was invited for making statements said to have threatened the peace, how about the one made recently by the senator representing Ogun east, Kashamu Buruji? The story of Kashamu’s travails with the United States is well-known and need not detain us here. Suffice it to say that he is needed in that country by the law to explain certain issues. Kashamu is not disposed to so travel; so efforts, stalled in the courts, were on to compel him. Last week after a US appeal court renewed the order for him to travel, and the law on this side in response declared its readiness to comply, the senator threatened hails and brimstones. Blood, he swore, would flow. Coming from a distinguished senator whom I have defended in the past, I was aghast at the statement. I was more surprised that up till now, those who were eager to hunt Suleman have not looked in Kashamu’s direction. Has Nigeria under the Buhari administration metamorphosed into George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others?
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