By the end of proceeding at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Thursday, March 22, 2019, in the trial of Justice Walter Onnoghen, the harassed, embarrassed, humiliated and suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, it was obvious that the allegations against him, which emanated from a petition signed by Dennis Aghanya, for himself and on behalf of Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, was a classic act of mendacity which won executive support and appeal.
A short recap: The prosecution had listed six witnesses to testify, in the effort to prove, that in accordance with the petition, Justice Onnoghen had 55 houses hidden across Nigeria. They were also to help the prosecution to establish allegation that Justice Onnoghen operated foreign accounts where he hid away undeclared monies, running into billions in total.
The swiftness of action against Onnoghen left tongues wagging. Actions taken between the time the petition against him was sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau and his arraignment before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, could have won Nigeria a platinum medal in seriousness. But that’s not the real issue.
The real, and disturbing, issue now is that despite listing six witnesses, the prosecution closed its case after only three testified. Among the three that testified were Awal Yakassai, a former director in charge of political office at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Ifeoma Okagbue, a banker with Standard Chartered Bank.
In his witness testimony, Yakassai denied allegations that Onnoghen did not declare his assets and rather stated that his (Onnoghen) assets declared in 2016 were yet to be verified by the Code of Conduct Bureau. He also testified that contrary to claims that Onnoghen owned 55 houses, that he indeed has only five, one of which was sold to him by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
On the other hand, Okagbue testified that contrary to claims that Onnoghen operated a foreign account, that all his accounts are domiciliary; and are domiciled in the Wuse branch of Standard Chartered Bank. She also read out bank balance on Onnoghen accounts as well as confirmed that indeed, the bank advanced a $500,000 facility to Onnoghen. The social media has gone bust since these facts were stated before the tribunal.
These testimonies put a huge lie on the allegations against Onnoghen. They also show that the federal government had other motives in moving against the Chief Justice other than fighting corruption. It simply says that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, assisted by desperately mendacious officials, was fighting corruption by corrupt means. It also proves as truth, insinuations that Onnoghen was being hounded for fear he may lead the Supreme Court to redress planned fouling of the electoral process. Rotimi Amaechi gave credence to this when he appeared on a television station where he begged opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to kindly accept outcome of the presidential election, as it is, as a brotherly thing and wait for 2023 when “we will tell INEC to conduct a proper election”. INEC itself has been unrestrained in its condemnation of the use of Nigeria Army and Nigeria Air Force personnel in messing up the electoral process, especially in Rivers state, where Amechi promised violence, prior to the elections.
However, the bigger question that still begs for answers is the new national demand on Dennis Aghanya to face Nigerians with proofs of his allegations against Onnoghen. He has to tell Nigerians where the 55 houses he claimed in his petition belonged to Onnoghen are located. He also has to come to terms with the reality of his claims of financial impropriety against the Chief Justice. At least, that is what honour demands.
Besides, Aghanya owes reasonable members of the public detailed explanation as to how he laid his hands on Onnoghen asset declaration form given that the law establishing the CCB does not allow any official of the Bureau to release an asset declaration form to anyone. So far, there is no evidence of a Freedom of Information request from Aghanya to the CCB to make Onnoghen’s asset declaration form available to him or any member of his supposed anti-corruption group. This is more worrisome, especially, when other members of the group, had publicly distanced the group, and themselves, from Aghanya’s action. So, Aghanya owes the world a whole lot of explanation.
Further, the no case submission by Onnoghen indicates that there was nothing to defend in the trial. This means, in essence, that Dennis Aghanya misinformed the tribunal and lied in his petition. In other words, he perjured in his action which makes him liable to prosecution and possibly, a jail term. As it is now, it is obvious that Aghanya lied against Onnoghen and ought to be punished appropriately.
Not prosecuting and penalizing Aghanya, in the same manner some fake whistle blowers are being prosecuted, would mean that insinuations that he was an accessory to a high wired plot led by Ministers in the Buhari administration, notably, Rotimi Amaechi and Abubakar Malami, assisted by other members of government, who are desperate in their bid to sustain their places in a government that is in need of purposeful direction.
As things are now, Onnoghen may have the last laugh. But his ego has been bruised. This is classic Buharinomics. The strategy has always been to name and to shame even if it means to lie shamelessly about reality. It shows that most of the administration’s leadership strategy had been couched in lies, sold as lies and managed as lies to an undiscerning and noisy public that is blinded by devotion. Lai Mohmmed is classic here. Perhaps, the Onnoghen case will make the administration to re-work its strategy of mendacious leadership – a strategy that would make all honourable officials to quietly quit if they still think honour.
*Ameh writes from Abuja