Justice Ogebe and Justice at the Tribunal

by SOC Okenwa

Justice James Ogebe is a no-nonsense Judge with high judicial pedigree. He has given courageous judicial orders in the past that altered some gubernatorial disequilibrium. He is a Justice known generally for his credible character and sound judgment. At a time the Nigerian Judiciary in general is rising up to the occasion of doing justice to countless electoral injustices of April 2007 the whole world awaits the verdict from the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) which Justice Ogebe heads.

Just yesterday morning as I was reading through some home news from Nigeria (as is usually the case daily in the internet) I came across reports in many newspapers to the effect that President Yar’Adua has elevated two Court of Appeal Justices (James Ogebe and Justice Mukhtar Coomasie) to the Supreme Court as Justices of the highest court in the land. President Yar’Adua forwarded their nominations to the Senate for confirmation and ratification. The President acted following the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Ordinarily Justices Ogebe and Coomasie are distinguished senior members of the Nigerian judiciary; they deserve their elevation to the apex court. No one is contesting that. But we are in an extra-ordinary times here. Justice Ogebe is in charge of litigations instituted by the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and ex-Head of State General Muhammandu Buhari against the declaration of President Yar’Adua by Iwu’s INEC as winner of the April presidential poll generally seen to have been riddled with fraud.

President Yar’Adua’s motive is questionable here. Indeed there is apparently an ulterior motive behind the move. As an apostle of rule of law and due process the President is open to accusations of attempts at subversion of justice. Though the elevation is commendable the timing is highly suspicious and questionable. Why not wait till Justice Ogebe dispenses with the all-important matter on his table? From all indications there is a political under-tone to James Ogebe’s appointment at this material point in time.

It simply amounts to executive recklessness for the President to do this honour to the Honourables even when they are deserving of same. One thing I have noticed in recent times is the seeming desperation in the Presidency to preserve Yar’Adua’s dubious mandate. In the recent past he had declared his unwillingness to appeal against a possible ruling against him in the Tribunal but recent events point to a president that is desperate to consolidate power by hook or by crook.

The power-indifferent political animal we all know was imposed on us as our president by the Obasanjo/Iwu rigging machinery is turning full circle baring his executive fangs? President Yar’Adua means well or so it appears but we all know that power (especially the Nigerian version) has the capacity of corrupting even the paragon from above. So the public goodwill the president currently enjoys must not be abused!

With federal roads deteriorating further (months after Minister Diezani Madueke wept openly at Benin-Ore Expressway and apologised for previous government’s criminal negligence), PHCN holding power supply hostage and prices of basic goods and services uncontrollably spiralling the popular president with legitimacy crisis appears to have chosen the path to self-survival thus abandoning governance. Nigeria is a tragic case, she is in critical situation, one that deserves emergency operation to revive. Her survival depends mainly on how we confront the evil past and the bright future!

At a crucial time Nigerians in their majority are demanding that President Yar’Adua sacks Prof. Maurice Iwu of INEC for wilful criminal failure at the April 2007 general elections President Yar’Adua seems to be playing politics with Iwu’s case. As a prime beneficiary of Obasanjo/Iwu electoral heist does it surprise anyone that whilst Yar’Adua and his handlers confess daily of the “irregularities” that marred last year’s elections and appointing panels and commissions to proffer solutions to our endless electoral woes Maurice Iwu keeps insulting people’s intelligence by his warped defense of himself?

This is hypocrisy at the highest level: where to start to clean the Augean stable is not ‘paneling’ and ‘commissioning’ (we have seen them before) but dealing with the harbinger of electoral brigandage which the Iwu-led INEC represents.

Much as one admires President Yar’Adua — seen in many quarters as a decent man — his failure so far to bring the Aremu of Ota before competent judicial authorities to account for his stewardship smacks of irresponsibility if not unpatriotism. Whether cowardice is to blame or not biting the finger that fed one is not the issue here. National interest far outweighs any banal or amity considerations.

Against this worrisome background, then, President Yar’Adua can therefore not claim to be a patriot when unpatriotic elements litter the landscape especially those known to have defrauded the state. Criminality in Nigeria pays just because no commensurate effective measures are in place to bring to book executive offenders. A good leader does the right thing for history and posterity to so record.

Justice James Ogebe must not be ambushed by the executive arm of government. Any attempt to relieve him of his present charge a la Ribadu while giving it a face of “official promotion” must be resisted by discerning Nigerians at home and abroad. Justice at the Tribunal must be done and be seen to be done. If it involves holding another presidential election after the nullification of the status quo for disenfranchised Nigerians to have a say on who should be their leader so be it.

And I have just read this morning from the Nigerian dailies online that Tuesday next week has been set aside as judgment day in the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal litigation. One only hopes justice will be done and seen to be done by Justice Ogebe and his colleagues ‘promotion’ to the Supreme Court notwithstanding!

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