By Dare Babarinsa
These are interesting times when the suspended Chief Justice of the Federation is also in search of justice.
Justice Walter Onnoghen is facing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja, for alleged infringement of the law. He is accused of not fully disclosing all his assets after he had taken office as CJN.
Among the assets undisclosed is said to be the sum of three million dollars lying innocently in a domiciliary account.
Onnoghen is a powerful man who is capable of defending himself.
Some of his supporters, claiming they are defending the Constitution, have gone on the streets to demonstrate. But the man himself knows the answer to his dilemma lies in the court of law.
In the past in Nigeria, power and money use to live on separate streets. Now they dwell in the same house.
The youths of Nigeria have come to realise that the road to sudden wealth is through political power. They have seen how humble people, once they get elected into the Senate, House of Representatives, or become local government chairmen, have transformed into the class of the rich.
Finally, the youth may now be eyeing the sober wig of the judge as the ultimate way to make it and join the billionaire club.
Some of these judges, unbeknown to these youths, may have inherited their wealth from their rich parents or wealthy grandmothers or uncles.
Judges are revered men and women not people known to be of reckless means. Even now, in the Year of our Lord, 2019, most judges are still like that.
In 1985, I had been sent by my editors in the old Newswatch to interview Honourable Justice Emmanuel Fakayode, the retired Chief Judge of Oyo State. I met him in his house at Oke-Ado area in Ibadan.
The house was modest and certainly not opulent. There was nothing to suggest extraordinary wealth.
I also recall now my encounters with the likes of Justice Kayode Eso, who retired from the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Justice Akinola Aguda.
None of these men could be accused of being wealthy. They were comfortable men of the middle-class and not the monied class.
As children growing up in Okemesi, Ekiti State in the 1960s, we knew the difference between the wealthy and the powerful.
In Okemesi, the wealthy was epitomised by Chief Theophilous Oni, who owned the construction company, T.A Oni and Sons Ltd. He had many cars.
The man of power was Chief Odunola Osuntokun. He had two cars. Both of them had electricity generators in their houses.
It was Oni, perhaps, the richest Nigerian of that era, who tarred all the township roads in Okemesi. He also donated the main building of the community second school, the Okemesi Grammar School.
Chief Osuntokun was the Minister of Works and Housing in the old Western Region (which is now Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Edo and Delta states).
It was the richest region in the Federation where the workers earned higher pay than those of the Federal Government.
It was under Osuntokun that the Ikeja GRA and the Bodija Estates were created among other landmarks. He was minister for 11 years until the military seized power in 1966.
Then he went back to his teaching job and was appointed Principal of Amoye Grammar School, Ikerre-Ekiti.
One of his old students is the inimitable award-winning poet, Professor Niyi Osundare. Osuntokun was not a wealthy man and yet he was a minister for 11 years. Think of a minister now who serves for 11 months.
Compare what happened then to what we are facing now. Almost all the former governors who are currently in the Nigerian Senate have cases before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. They may not all be guilty, but it is a sign of the times that those who rule Nigeria today are suspected to be uncommon thieves.
One of the senators, who is regarded as a mascot of the current era and has perhaps never held any serious employment in his life until he drifted into politics, is now a member of the monied class.
He spent many years in the House of Representatives until he got elevated by his constituents into the Senate. He displays his opulence everywhere. He has more personal cars than Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
So many are his cars that he keeps one in his sitting room for his visitors to admire!
When the world call us corrupt it is because they see how easy it has become for our leaders to steal from the Commonwealth.
In the early days of the current era, far-reaching investigations were made by the Federal Ministry of Justice under Chief Bola Ige into the money stolen by General Abacha.
Billions of dollars were traced to more than 130 bank accounts all over the world owned by the late dictator.
One of Abacha’s bagmen who was arrested and detained, was released after he surrendered more than 100 million dollars in his care. That bagman is today an elected governor.
Tackling corruption is not going to be easy because the entire system is now woven into it.
Everyone knows that the duty of the Legislature is to make laws and that of the Executive to execute the law. We know that the so-called Constituency Project was invented to ensure that the lawmaker too has a way of recouping his investments while also playing the role of a Man of the People.
Two of my friends in the Senate have ran into problems because they focussed mainly on education and neglected “welfare” of the party leaders. Now election is days away and “welfare” would have a day of reckoning.
In 1984, Chief Gani Fawehinmi at the premises of a military tribunal where a top military officer was facing trial for alleged embezzlement of public fund, said corruption cannot be tackled through the normal process.
“Experience has shown that corruption in public life cannot be obliterated by mere probes and commissions of enquiry or by the invocation of the criminal code under the ordinary legal system,” Fawehinmi declared.
“The compelling need, therefore, arose to evolve and devise a system swift enough, fair enough and serious enough to deal a lethal blow on corruption in public places.”
When Fawehinmi made that statement, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was Nigeria’s military dictator and Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon was his unsmiling deputy.
Today Buhari is an elected ruler and Idiagbon is dead. The country is still the same but the market of corruption is different.
In 1984, a military governor of one of the South-Western states bought himself a brand new Peugeot car costing almost N10,000.
Idiagbon fired him a query and threatened to remove him from office. The governor had to explain and show the evidence, that indeed he took a car loan.
The trial of Justice Onnoghen is a sad commentary on how far we have fallen. Can anyone imagine that Justice Taslim Elias or Justice Chukwudifu Oputa would be put on trial for alleged stealing? Today, top officials of government, the judiciary or the legislator accused of stealing, instead of issuing a public statement to deny the allegation and defend their integrity in the court of public opinion, would rather hire an army of lawyers to defend their alleged infractions. They would confuse the public, claiming that all is politics and politicians are not expected to be clean. Shame.
In the past, the deity we worship was power and not money. None of our founding fathers was noted for his wealth.
When Chief Obafemi Awolowo was Premier of the defunct Western Region, his wife, the unforgettable Mama Dideolu, was running her shop at Gbagi Market in Ibadan, trying to augment the family’s income. At that time, first ladyism had not overtaken us.
The military followed in that footstep. When General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi and Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi were killed in the counter-coup of July 29, 1966, neither of them had any house anywhere.
Navy Captain Philip Oladipo Ayeni, the first military governor of Bayelsa State, had no retirement home in Okemesi, his hometown, many years after he served as governor and retired from the navy.
It took the generosity of Governor Seriake Dickson, the current governor of Bayelsa State, to build him one.
It was a great favour for us in Okemesi for when Ayeni died in April 2017, we were able to bury him in his own house.
No government is strong enough to fight corruption alone. We all have a duty to ensure that the deity of corruption does not find a comfortable home in Nigeria. The battle ahead against corruption would be rough and protracted.
The judiciary, to justify its position as the Last Hope of the Common Man, must rise to the occasion and imbibe new impetus for speed and justice.
Some of the accused former governors sitting pretty in the Senate have been facing trials for more than 10 years.
In most countries, corruption trials don’t last more than 10 months. We cannot afford our judiciary to become a laughing stock or else our country is finished! Weep not for Nigeria but rise up to fight corruption even at your own domain. Follow not the way of Corrupt Men and Women but walk away from them for it is through this way the future generation will get independence from corruption. Share this epitome far and wide as your own contribution towards the fight against corruption. God bless Nigeria.