By Emmanuel Aziken
With the controversy arising from the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria still raging, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo last Tuesday symbolically took flight to the increasingly endangered Lake Chad.
Osinbajo who has the honour of being the lawyer in the highest office in the land ‘was in Lake Chad’ for a conference called to address further desertification of the Lake Chad region.
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His Lake Chad expedition on a day the National Judicial Council, NJC, was to sit on the Onnoghen controversy, some muttered, was akin to the case of King David, who at the time kings went to war went sightseeing on the rooftop of his Jerusalem palace. Inevitably, the king was taken in by the nakedness of Mrs. Bathsheba Uriam, a dalliance that eventually brought David to the sin that plagued him and his household for the rest of his life.
It is remarkable that as at press time Osinbajo, has yet to ‘return’ from Lake Chad and make a public pronouncement on what many consider as the most vicious attack on the rule of law since the inception of the fourth Republic.
The forceful ejection of the head of one of the three branches of government by presidential decree has been widely described as untenable, even by many APC chieftain.
Osinbajo’s predicament is very obvious. How does he as a professor of law defend the vicious desecration of the judiciary as symbolized by the attack on Justice Onnoghen? It is an issue that is bound to stretch the imagination of the law professor.
The reason for reticence is understandable; anything he says would be weighed against his past utterances on the rule of law, and in the future whenever he may have left office.
The Onnoghen matter is even of special interest to the vice-president. In the wake of the dithering procrastination by President Buhari to appoint Onnoghen as Chief Justice, being the jurist in the hierarchy and the person recommended by the National Judicial Council, NJC, the nation was for weeks on edge as the three-month statutory deadline to forward his name approached.
Why Buhari dithered at that time was never made public. It was easy for some critics to allege at that time in 2017, that the hesitation had to do with Buhari’s alleged proclivity towards Northern Muslims in key positions. After all, before Justice Onnoghen no person from the South had occupied the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria for about 30 years.
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Following the recent development, some have now alleged that President Buhari’s initial hesitance in forwarding Onnoghen name to the Senate flowed from allegations of corruption. However, given the administration’s mixed record in fighting graft and Buhari’s lifting up of Governor Abdullahi Gandjue’s hand in Kano last Thursday, that claim can now be challenged.
Onnoghen would not be the first appointee of Osinbajo’s to be dismissed in such a cavalier manner. Last September, Mr. Matthew Seyiefa who was appointed as director-general of the Department of State Services, DSS after Osinbajo dismissed Lawal Daura from that position in August did not last more than one month in that office.
The Bayelsa born Seyiefa was removed by Buhari and replaced with a retired operative of the DSS, Yusuf Bichi from Kano State.
That action and the latest action could bring to question the relationship between the president and the vice-president. Though both men have repeatedly sought to shame sceptics of their partnership, actions, however, speak louder than the words of their propagandists.
The unique position of a vice-president in a presidential system are remarkably ill-defined and varies according to the whims of the president.
As President Olusegun Obasanjo reminded the nation earlier this week, no vice-president since the advent of the fourth Republic held as much power and influence as Atiku truly had between 1999 and 2003. Dr. Obasanjo, however, did not say that no vice-president was also as powerless as Atiku was in the period between 2005 and 2007 when he was reduced to the barest!
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was another example of the fluctuating fortunes of a vice-president. At the peak of the controversies surrounding the ill-health of President Umaru Yar‘adua, Vice-President Jonathan was practically cut off from government as the cabal held sway. However, once Yar‘adua died, the cabal was demystified as the man from Otueke took charge.
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Prof. Osinbajo has undoubtedly been a great asset to President Buhari given that the social welfare programme and other initiatives domiciled in the office of the vice-president have practically been the only positives the administration can brag about. However, those successes are tempered by mutterings now and then from around the cabal of how “that man is trying to outshine the president.”
So, it could be understandable why it was convenient for the professor of law to ‘travel’ to Lake Chad at the time he did!