This newspaper is constrained to ask: is there no shame in the Buhari administration? Why the indiscretion of cuddling, who should be given a wide berth? Why will the administration take insensitivity to a whole new level, and without a care in the world about how Nigerians feel about accountability being brazenly thrown out of the window? How much lower can Nigeria be sunk so that the men of power can satisfy primordial cravings and narrow objectives? Isn’t it ironic to hear the President talk about history being kind to someone discredited by his colleagues?
These are questions and reactions that cannot be divorced from President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to roll out the red carpet for the now-retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad. From his woeful performance during his confirmation hearing at the Senate in July 2019, discerning Nigerians could see that the then incoming CJN, who tanked a question on Technicality in legal practice, was not prepared for the lofty position he was being railroaded into. It, unfortunately, turned out that ineptitude and corruption are in the same package.
On Monday, Buhari bestowed Nigeria’s second-highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on Justice Tanko Muhammed, who cited ill-health as the reason for his resignation as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). During the ceremony staged at the Aso Villa, Abuja, Buhari stated that “history will be kind to Justice Tanko Muhammed for his modest contributions to Nigeria’s Judiciary, the strengthening of our democracy and national development”. We can’t take away from Justice Tanko his bold move in confronting and tackling the menace of forum shopping and this issuance of conflicting orders by courts of co-ordinate jurisdictions. How he led the National Judicial Council (NJC) to restore sanity in this regard is commendable. Be that as it may, Naija News sees Buhari’s conferment of honour and approbation of Muhammad as an insult to the sensibilities of Nigerians given the reported circumstance of his resignation. Thankfully, the President is not Mr History to determine who should be remembered for good. Aside the unmerited honour, Nigerians will be hard-pressed to reckon with why a CJN who retired under a cloud and whose tenure was quite underwhelming, will be entitled to a staggering N2.5bn severance package.
This is a man about whose lordship of the judicial arm of government was unanimously described by 14 of his peers on the Supreme Court Bench, as “the peak of the degeneration of the court; it is the height of decadence, and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude…this act alone portends imminent danger to the survival of this court and the judiciary as an institution which is gradually drifting to extinction.” Taken together with the damning valedictory speech of Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko upon his retirement as Justice of the Supreme Court, that is 15 justices of the apex court indicting Muhammad! As it were, this tantamounts to three standard panels of the Supreme Court uniformly passing a vote of no confidence in Justice Tanko as the CJN. How then could Buhari overlook this, particularly unanimous allegations raised by the serving justices who constitute two constitutional panels of the Supreme Court, into clothing Muhammad in borrowed robe and conferring on him the GCON.
It gets even more absurd considering that the same Buhari had suspended and ousted Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen after he was tried before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on a six-count charge of corruption. While there was rife speculation at the time that Onnoghen’s “kangaroo trial” and removal were more about the 2019 election, and the ruling APC’s attempt to seize control of the post-election process, questions were also raised at the time as to why a CJN Onnoghen would be taken before the CCT, instead of the NJC. Two constitutional panels of the Supreme Court are certainly weightier than the Code of Conduct Panel. As such, their indictment of Justice Tanko should have made the President feel embarrassed and try to salvage whatever is left of fairness and objectivity by at least giving Tanko, the Onnoghen treatment.
This is more so, given the gravity of allegations raised by the aggrieved justices of the Supreme Court who, before the leak of their protest memo, had been grumbling over their poor welfare and how the man was ruining the judiciary. Nigeria must not be a country of double standards! It is worthy of note that Justice Tanko’s integrity was called to question when the 14 Supreme Court justices wrote, “We demand to know what has become our training funds, have they been diverted, or it’s a plain denial? Your lordship may also remember that the national assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary. We find it strange that in spite of the upward review of our budgetary allocation, the Court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlements. This is unacceptable!” It raises questions that a government that claims to be fighting corruption will turn a blind eye to such and allow the judex to so deteriorate that Supreme Court justices will threaten “to take further steps” if their demands are not met.
How convenient it is for the disgraced CJN to tell Nigerians that he is resigning due to ill health, When Justice Tanko, in a rejoinder by his spokesman, accused his brother Justices of “dancing naked at the market square” and disclosed that “everyone is going about his normal duty”, nothing suggested that his ailment will make him resign a couple of days later. It is also a testament to what the government thinks of Nigerians for the President to further the narrative that Justice Tanko actually threw in the towel on the ground of ill health. How about disclosing that the man is stepping aside for the weighty allegations against him to be investigated? Such would have been a victory for probity and accountability. What happened to the call by the retiring Justice Ejembi a little over a month ago for the Auditor-General of the Federation, the ICPC and other investigatory agencies to “open the books of the judiciary to expose the corruption in the management of their budgetary resources”?
Naija News demand an end to the deployment of square pegs in round holes in this country. Meritocracy must supersede mediocrity when it comes to who becomes who in this country. Greatness must never be thrust on the undeserving since nobody can give what they don’t have. For Pete’s sake, the judiciary must be out of bounds for those bent on desecrating everything sacred in this country. It is our considered opinion that the presidential celebration of Justice Tanko not only blights the halo of the GCON honour, it falsely presents the latest recipient as a role model for those coming behind. Mercifully, his successor knows better, having been among those who authored the scathing memo against Justice Tanko. Now that the leadership of the judiciary has fallen on him, Naija News calls on Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the acting CJN, to get about correcting the anomalies which made him and his brother Justices “dance naked at the market square”.
While the refreshing resignation of Muhammad 18 months before he is due for retirement when he clocks 70 on December 31, 2023, raises hopes that the judiciary can still be salvaged, Naija News calls on those in a position to reform the third arm of government to make this resignation count. The confidence of Nigerians in the country’s judiciary must be restored, and the apex Court returned to its golden era!