Editor's note: Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist, writes on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen in a move that has been widely described as unconstitutional, prompting suggestions that President Muhammadu Buhari is keen on holding onto power at all cost.
Every government always has what I call the Jega moment. Even in advanced democracies, in spite of the sophistication of their governance, politics and powerful institutions, the Jega moment always comes. Broken to its brass-tacks, the Jega moment is that feisty moment that tests an administration’s capacity to jump into an oceanic tidal wave without a life-jacket. The Jega moment tests the rawness of a government’s brunt as to whether it can bite the bullet. It is akin to that biblical Esther’s valiant “If I perish, I perish” statement.
The Jega moment is reference to the dilemma faced by Goodluck Ebele Jonathan over Mahmud Jega, professor of politics and former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Prior to the 2015 election, my sources said Jonathan was privy to alleged Jega’s slant towards Muhammadu Buhari. The hawks in his government gave Jonathan security reports to that effect. He had a choice: sack Jega and face untoward public opprobrium but retain power post-2015 or retain him and see the creeks of Otuoke on a very regular basis. Pusillanimous apparently, Jonathan took the second option but believed that, among other things, the staff of office arranged on his head while he knelt down in the presence of Yoruba kings would make the mansions in Aso Villa, rather than Otuoke creeks, the constant figures he would confront thereafter. As that cliché says, the rest is now history.
In the afternoon of March 9, 2007, President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf also confronted his Jega moment. Unilaterally and in defiance of Pakistani people, he suspended Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Within a few hours, he had appointed the country’s next most senior judge available, Justice Javaid Igbal as the acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Within minutes of that order which took the country by storm, Pakistani legal fraternity and the world in general were taken by storm on the diffident manner with which the topmost adjudicator was maltreated. Their averment was that Musharraf had, by that order, taken his dictatorship to its apogee, stomping, in his military jackboots, on the supremacy of Pakistani constitution, rule of law and flagrantly violating the sanctity of separation of powers. By May 12, 2007, in Karachi alone, at least 42 people were reported to have been killed and 140 injured in riots which erupted in this Pakistan capital and largest city. Thousands of roads were blocked and cars burnt in the melee.
READ ALSO: Atiku rejects suspension of CJN Onnoghen
For Buhari, whose most dominant achilles’ heels as he went into the 2015 election was fear that the military dictatorial gene resident in his gene and manifested in 1984 would sidle back in civilian garbs, 2015 prophets of doom are the Nostradamus of today. Over the Sambo Dasuki and Ibrahim Ya’qoob El-Zakzaky matters and in the ransack of Daily Trust newspaper, Buhari has since proved that once a dictator is always a dictator. But perhaps the most notorious of that vermin that dwells in his being is the Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s Chief Justice’s suspension of last Friday.
That action was Buhari’s own definitive crossroads akin to Jonathan’s in Jega. It is apparent to political watchers that the way Buhari’s reckoning has dimmed considerably over the years, the February election may be too close to call and the Atiku Abubakar, whom the Buhari government’s gross incompetence and manifest mis-governance promoted into political reckoning, is foisting on Nigeria an Odinga-Kenyatta model. The fear is that, that model is in the offing in Nigeria. From all indications, this is what is egging Buhari into these anarchist missteps over Onnoghen. You will recall that Raila Odinga, presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance, (NSA) had sparred with Uhuru Kenyatta, incumbent president, in an election which the latter was leading with 54.2% of the votes, compared to Odinga’s 44.7%, a margin of 1.4 million votes. But the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the result in August, 2007, citing manifest irregularities. My sources again told me that some hawks in the Buhari government had flung a red flag over Nigeria’s Supreme Court as where the martial song in the February election would be sang. They mentioned judges they claimed were pro-PDP, including Onnoghen, as reason why they must make an ingress into the Supreme Court, in whatever form.
But the desperation with the way the Buhari government is seeking to retain power after May this year, the unintended consequence may well be the Gbagbo model in Ivory Coast, world’s largest producer of cocoa. The presidential election held in the country in 2010 is beginning to have a flavour reminiscent of Nigeria’s current electoral drama. The first round of that election was held on October 31 of that year and the second, on November 28. Then incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo and erstwhile opposition leader, Alassabe Quattara, had traded tackle. Ethnicity was deployed in the elections between the country’s northern and southern peoples. Gbagbo had a strong support base from his southern people, while Ouattara, former prime minister, was firmly rooted in the north. More importantly, Quattara had the support of foreign powers, including France. For a country that had then recently emerged from a civil war, ethnicity as dominant thesis frightened the world and raised tension in the election. Violence was ten a dime on the streets and on December 2, 2010, Ivory Coast’s electoral commission, in its released provisional results, said Ouattara had won the second round election with 54% of the votes. But Gbagbo had the constitutional council declare the contrary and he, the winner. The result was that he and Ouattara claimed they were victorious in the elections and separately swore themselves in, leading to the 2011 Ivorian crisis.
As Buhari came into power seizing on Nigerians’ apprehension that the incubus of corruption might be the death of their beloved country and mouthing the mantra as his forte, Gbagbo, born into a Catholic family in Gagnoa, cocoa-growing central-west of Cote D’Ivoire on May 31, 1945, was a listener’s delight. In fact, he was nicknamed Cicero on account of his deft gift of the garbs. He had a PhD in History and was said to often mouth Latin while in school. Like Buhari who many Nigerians saw, pre-presidency, as disdainful of corruption, Gbagbo also promoted a mantra of suffering for the cause of his people.
Indeed, he assumed the sobriquet of “little brother.” Starting his career as a university lecturer, he was, in 1971, jailed two years on charge of teaching subversive lectures in class. He emerged therefrom into involvement in trade union activism as a lecturer and confronted Ivory Coast’s maximum ruler president, Houphouet-Boigny in the 1980s and in 1982, went on exile to Paris. Like Buhari latching on the general disdain for the huge corruption under Jonathan to win, Gbagbo also surfed on general disdain for the government of President Henri Konan Bedie by holding tight to the twine of the widespread xenophobia in that regime. Bedie had earlier ousted Ouattara by introducing the concept of “Ivorians for Ivory Coast,” as response to Ouattara, a Muslim who was said to have family ties with neighbouring Burkina Faso. Today, Gbagbo is in a small prison at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague, captured in a bunker at the Presidential Palace in April, 2011 and forced out of office by French-backed forces.
Buhari’s recourse to spitting on the constitution he swore to uphold, his desperation for a second term, as well as that of the hawks surrounding him - in whose veins blood does not flow - will certainly drag Nigeria towards Cote d’Ivoire and land Buhari on the laps of Gbagbo. If Chief Justice Onnoghen is guilty of all those fabulous allegations levelled against him, he certainly deserves to rot in the hottest part of hell. But, Buhari does not have the constitutional power to sack him. Draftsmen of the constitution apparently didn’t envisage that a day would arise that a Chief Justice of Nigeria, who is also the chairman of the National Judicial Council, (NJC) would be accused of such mind-boggling corruption, thus leaving Nigeria in a quandary of what to do with him. However, Buhari’s action of recourse to self-help, rather than the constitution, to solve this constitutional lacuna is a model found only in Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Papa and Baby Doc of Haiti or in the government of Felix Houphouet Boigny.
It is apparent that the haste to remove Onnoghen before the February election is Buhari’s frenetic attempt to prevent the Kenyan equation from happening to him. In the course of doing that however, he is dragging Nigeria towards Cote d’Ivoire and himself closer to giving Gbagbo a fraternal embrace. The frown of America and other western democracies to this sack is revealing of how Buhari is fast taking after Gnagbo, They issued Laurent same veiled threat. As Gbagbo’s dictatorship created Quattara, Buhari’s manifest mis-governance of the last three and half years not only moulded Atiku Abubakar, it is drawing unto this erstwhile pariah global and national affection. This Onnoghen sack has even done more. It has shown that Buhari is as desperate as any despot the world over. You do not need a binocular to see vultures hovering in the Nigerian sky.
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