Justice for Onnoghen

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

This country, which gets by despite its rampaging leaders, who live off our commonwealth with impunity and use proxy violence to achieve their heinous aims, may finally have reached the crossroads. Not that it didn’t in the past. The problem this time, is that the fragile bond that holds us together risks being finally stretched to the limit. Call it the quiet before the storm, if you like. For those of us immersed in the populace, the tension is writ large. But if your senses were not so keen, all you may hear could be no more than a hum. And a blur may be all you see. Naturally, our big men hear nothing. After all, there is noise all around. Horns blaring in sometimes hopeless traffic, violent gyrations from generators that every household must have, one killing here, some bombing there. We are so used to the noise all we hear is a hum. And the sights? Blasé geriatrics, forever in our corridors of power, couldn’t be moved: they’ve seen it all before. But the conscientious ones amongst these experienced men must surely wonder about the disturbing violent trend of our nation’s politics. And the impunity. Marauding Fulani herdsmen kill harmless farmers like they wouldn’t their cattle. But who gets compensated? And with the sweep of a broom, a soiled man becomes anew. In saner climes, an accused official would resign to clear his name, a ruling political party would shut its doors to fair-weather supporters, and criminals would face the full wrath of the law. Injustices everywhere.

Conventions matter
It would be unwise to deny Justice Walter Onnoghen what he has rightly earned, who having been nominated by the country’s highest judicial governing body for the chief justiceship of the land, is still being made to jump through hoops. Should President Muhammadu Buhari not forward his name to the Senate within the next two weeks, Justice Onnoghen would become the victim of a great injustice by hegemons, who not too long ago displaced but now back in power, are stopping at nothing to ensure they hold all the reins. I suppose the indignity being meted out to Justice Onnoghen is not unconnected with his ethnicity and religion. My view. Ironically, had Mr Buhari been more accommodating with his earlier appointments and endorsements – the security establishment, presidency and legislature are dominated by northerners – he could have gotten away with appointing “someone he likes” to the chief justiceship. Now for the one appointment he probably wishes goes to one of his brethren, who have occupied that exalted office since 1987, he meets the roadblock of convention. True, the north lost out when former President Goodluck Jonathan jettisoned the north-south power rotation convention of his party and used his powers of incumbency to secure his first full and only term in office. Hence why the hegemons unabashedly urging Mr Buhari on say the south is being paid back in its own coin. Alas, the tit-for-tat only begets a vicious cycle.

Violence must stop
Unfortunately, history is on the side of violent men. And hegemony does profit. Still, societal order depends on violence being the exclusive preserve of the state. When non-state actors attempt to share that privilege, it behoves the state to put them down and protect the oppressed. When it refuses to do so or lacks the capacity thereof, the state becomes a failed one. The contemplation of self-defence by some rightly aggrieved groups is symptomatic of the belief that the state is not doing its duty. Or that it is being selective when it comes to protecting the citizenry. We must condemn all those who have resorted to violence. And those outside constituted authority calling for its use as a counterweight are misguided. They should be condemned as well. Violence begets violence. It is a cliché because it is true. Still, from killings of mostly Christians in southern Kaduna to rampages by murderous Fulani pastoralists sending farmers in central and southern Nigeria – who also happen to be largely Christian – to their early graves, one may not be exaggerating if one thought some heinous scheme is about. Governors of northern states say foreigners fronting as Fulani cowboys are the purveyors of the violence. This is complete nonsense. The herdsmen are known. Some argue that state authorities dominated by Fulani or northerners with sympathies for the nomads have simply been reluctant to go after their own. In the absence of a credible alternative narrative, this view has prevailed. The casaulty? A weakening of the ever fragile fabric that holds the agglomeration of contradictions called Nigeria together. And you’d think the north would see how it is in its enlightened self-interest to embrace its co-travellers in other parts of the country. For it certainly didn’t help that Mr Buhari had to be pressured to issue a statement condenming kilings in southern Kaduna. And yet, he is always amongst the first to offer sympathies when terrorists strike in some European capital. Mr Buhari has the moral and statutory authority to stop the violence. He must use it.

Come clean
Worries abound about the health of Mr Buhari, exacerbated by the refusal of his handlers to come clean on his health condition. Judging from our past experience, his officials probably don’t know anymore than has already been revealed in the media. What do we know? Mr Buhari is on vacation in the United Kingdom. Naturally, he would see his doctors. In the recent past, Mr Buhari travelled to Britain to seek medical attention for an ear infection. He was also on holiday then. But surely for a man in his seventies, it is not out of place for him to have ailments that require routine check-ups. So is the primary reason Mr Buhari travelled to London for the chill of its streets? I think not. Unsurprisingly, governors from his part of the country – who hope that one of them would take Mr Buhari’s place when the time comes – have their antennae up. The incumbent’s predecessor was not supposed to have the spine for the highest office in the land. Mr Jonathan certainly didn’t have the ambition. That changed when his principal succumbed to ill health. The northern politicians must have had a sudden sense of déjà vu the moment rumours started about Mr Buhari probably fighting for his life in a London hospital. But did they ask Acting President Yemi Osinbajo – a southerner, who is also vice-president – to resign? I don’t think so. Was it contemplated? Probably. Maybe the proper question should be this: If they could have their way, and in light of Mr Buhari’s advanced years and accompanying health troubles, would they replace Prof Osinbajo with someone of their ilk, say? If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you? It is all a distraction, if you ask me. Alas, it is one we would have to endure for the remainder of Mr Buhari’s first and probably only term in office.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/justice-for-onnoghen/

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