Onnoghen’s Suspension: Rocking The Boat Before The Poll -By Banji Ojewale

Filed under: Forgotten Dairies |

How come the eve of major elections in Nigeria always throws us measly meals, as it were, which we grab with passion and prey on ravenously, not discerning the food’s irredeemable toxicity, not reasoning that what we’re consuming could end up consuming us? How come when a make-or-mar ballot approaches, in tow too is a host of hell hoisting a holocaust of horrors? How come election season is when we elect to display the worst in us, our ‘angels’ the most culpable? How come we all run mad and dance naked in the marketplace as soon as we hear the jingles of political parties positioning for polling day? How come at election, we drop our thinking caps so we can become light for fight over slight matters that won’t unite but disunite us? How come we hardly realise that after such do-or-die squabbles, we don’t move a flea-hop closer to recognising, reckoning and resolving what’s nibbling at our existence and threatening to destroy us?

So, just days before the 2019 ballot, a police commissioner in one of the battleground states in the South-West is reported to have been removed and replaced by one said to be a long-time protégé of a chieftain of the ruling party. But while the ceremony for the transfer of office was taking place, with journalists standing by to record the event, word came from Abuja that the status quo should remain. No reason has been given for reversing the decision. That there was a move, shortly before the elections to redeploy a police boss, has sparked satanic theories. There were concerns that a pliant commissioner of police (CP) was being brought in to ‘enhance’ the electoral fortunes of the governing administration, which the present CP might not be inclined to do. Whether this was the motive or not isn’t the issue. Why would we not weave issues around the matter, seeing it is coming on the eve of a crucial poll and a key politician is linked to the person picked to replace the ‘no-nonsense’ incumbent? Why wasn’t the deployment done earlier? In a land with a surfeit of suspicions and citizens with a cynical outlook, government need to be steps ahead of conspiracy theorists when taking decisions. Well-disposed policies with a wrong timing would be trashed by those only trained to notice warts in a sparklingly white background.

Walter Onnoghen and President Buhari

It’s what’s happening to the so-called TraderMoni scheme of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The party is alarmed that most Nigerians don’t believe the distribution of such largesse on the eve of the ballot isn’t a disingenuous way of bribing the electorate with state funds. The party hasn’t been able to convince Nigerians that the N10,000 to each trader is part of a Social Intervention Programme. Why? It is coming too close to the polling day. Why didn’t this money-spraying bazaar begin to be effected immediately the party came into power? The point is that whatever you do now, in the election season, is interpreted as calculated to win votes. There would be resistance from the other parties that would shake the polity. It’s not enough to have a great idea; it must be implemented at the right time.

When last year, President Muhammadu Buhari appeared radical with his declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, the dissenters cried foul. They said it was not utilitarian, not altruistic, that it was schemed to capture the South-West’s passion in 2019. Ordinarily, it should have earned national applause. However, it was a mixed reaction he got, instead of a flawless one. Why? Why not? It came from a man who served in the junta of the anti-June 12 dictator, Sani Abacha. He hadn’t been known as a June 12 sympathiser. If he is now, it’s only skin-deep, driven by ephemeral politics and treacherous politicians. So, why would a move by him that now favours that date less than a year to the poll be taken seriously? The lesson: your motive can make or mar your action; it can vitiate and destroy your good work if it is laced with self-interest.

That is what Buhari and his government are experiencing at the moment with the case of Justice Walter Onnoghen. When a government with a phlegmatic disposition to responding to burning national matters behaves contrary to that tradition on the eve of a classic election, you must begin to look for what it is up to. It took Buhari eternity to constitute his cabinet. It took him another wide time chasm to deal with the corruption charges against Babachir Lawal, Kemi Adeosun, Usman Yusuf, among others. With Adebayo Shittu who also dodged national service but is still waxing strong in the central government, it is taking longer than eternity to call him to order.

Yet, in a matter of days that a petition was written in respect of alleged malfeasances by Onnoghen, he was not only prosecuted, but he was also suspended from office, all in less than a week. The public outcry is less about the innocence or guilt of the jurist. By all means crucify the man for his corrupt practices if he’s lawfully tried and found culpable. But Nigerians are asking if due process is taking the centre stage. They’re asking why we’re back to the days of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, nearly 74 years after it was published, with its infamous declaration that “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

Therefore, not a few believe that the APC administration is unnecessarily rocking the boat with the Onneghen trial, on the eve of the February 2019 elections. They say the government is desperate to clobber the judiciary into docility for compromised verdicts should the poll become a legal tussle. It is difficult to disagree with them.

Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.

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