The hottest topic in Nigeria right now is no doubt the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen.
A number of people have contributed to the discourse and I have listened and learned a lot in the process. Lawyers, Social Commentators, Wailers, Hailers, fanatics and blind followers have all contributed and I have read many of them.
The timing – happening this close to a general election – and the sheer scale of the office the man occupies, means the debate will continue this week and beyond.
As always, emotions have been flaring and people have been making all manner of statements – from the sensible to the bizarre. And if you’ve closely followed a number Nigerian Social Commentators – the ones on Social Media, at least – you would also have noticed their hypocrisy on full display again. Those that hailed Buhari for disobeying court orders and continue to keep Sambo Dasuki and Sheikh El Zakzaky in prison are the same ones saying Buhari had no choice but to obey court orders to suspend the CJN. The Jonathanians who may have supported a similar behaviour from Jonathan have now suddenly become champions of human rights.
From what I have gathered from the news, it is obvious the CJN has some serious questions to answer and probably should have done the honourable thing to either resign or step aside to allow an investigation to take place. Just the same way a number of our highly placed government officials and politicians should have no business to continue to be in office. But we all know that’s not going to happen. Not yet, at least. So, there’s no need to pretend the APC-led government are appalled, so appalled at the CJN’s corruption, that they had to suspend him. Of course, not. We all know that’s nonsense.
This is not a defence of Justice Walter Onnoghen per se, rather, it is a defence of the office he occupies. In secondary school, we memorised the three arms of government: the legislature, executive and judiciary. These three arms of government, we were taught, are separate and function independently. So, are we sure we want a country where the status quo (the government structure in this regard) is being toyed with? Are we sure we are ready for such a negative precedent?
To quote Femi Falana as reported by the Vanguard:
“Despite the gravity of the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice, the illegality of the suspension should not be allowed to stand.”
He also said in the same report:
“However, in view of President Buhari’s belated fidelity in the rule of law, the federal government should comply with all valid and subsisting orders of competent municipal and regional courts made against the federal government. President Buhari should not be permitted to choose and pick orders of courts to obey.”
Now, it doesn’t matter what side of the divide you’re on. Surely you would agree that the renowned Senor Advocate has a strong point.
Some of you have argued that the CJN is corrupt and so the constitution shouldn’t matter in this regard. That all we need is a Nigeria free of corruption and a ‘strong man’ like Buhari is needed to achieve this by any means necessary. And I am asking, where does it end? Where do we draw the line? Should someone else with a bit more violence and power overthrow the government because they don’t like the way the country is being run? Of course, we will all kick against it. We will reject it because it is not the norm in our society; because it goes against our constitution. We will ask the person to go and sit down and wait for the next election; buy a form and run for office, because that’s how we do things here.
So, no matter how much we may hate the government, we will demand that the customs of the land be followed as a thing like an unlawful overthrow could cause a disaster huge enough to consume us all.
Agreed, manmade laws need to be challenged and questioned, and where necessary, updated, but this should be done with a lot of wisdom and caution.
For example, I supported the Muslim girl who started the Hijab Debate two years ago by disobeying a law she found oppressive to her as a Muslim woman, but would disagree with someone who kidnaps, imprisons and kills a government official accused of stealing. The former, although, quite upsetting to some, didn’t cause any bloodshed or real disaster, while the latter, if left unchallenged could be abused and result in chaos in the land.
This is why the rule of law is very important. Although, imperfect and sometimes, frustrating to some, it is there to protect everyone; to ensure no one crosses the red line. Because, once the line is crossed, there’s no going back. People in position of authority will begin to take actions based on conviction and the laws of the land will be rendered useless. This is only going to cause more problems for us, and I don’t think it is one Nigeria can survive.
Suleiman Ahmed, a UK-based Software Engineer and Writer, is the author of ‘Trouble in Valhalla.’ He tweets from @sule365.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary.