What we just witnessed in Walter Onnoghen’s case with President Buhari on one hand and the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the other hand lends credence to the assertion by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt that the presence of democratic institutions does not necessarily mean that democracy is alive and well.
In their book, “How Democracies Die”, the above named Harvard University professors had argued that:
“The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy – gradually, subtly, and even legally – to k*ll it”
Arguing further, they contended that:
“Many government efforts to subvert democracy are “legal”, in the sense that they are approved by the legislature or accepted by the courts. They may even be portrayed as efforts to improve democracy – making the judiciary more efficient, combating corruption or cleaning up the electoral process”
They couldn’t have been more right.
Buhari didn’t just wake up to suspend Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). He based his scandalous action on a legal document by a court -Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) created by a legally recognized Act that passed through a legally recognized law-making legislature and was even okayed by the judiciary even when that court (the CCT) is not part of the Nigerian judiciary as it is located under the full control of the executive arm of govt (the secretary to the govt of the federation, precisely.
A court under the Executive!
With full powers. Which means, the executive can be the Accuser, the Judge, the Jury and the Prosecution as is the case in Onnoghen’s CCT trial.
Now, the same Buhari has used another “Institution of democracy” (The NJC) to upgrade his illegal suspension of the CJN (now former, following his resignation earlier today) to compulsory retirement while legitimizing the appointment of Ezemmuo Tanko Muhammad who replaced Onnoghen as the CJN without the input of the NJC.
According to the NJC, both Onnoghen and Tanko are innocent of any wrong doing. Curiously, it was only Onnoghen the NJC asked to retire compulsorily for what they call “The Need To Maintain Confidence In The Judiciary”.
If the NJC cared about restoring confidence in the judiciary, why did it not ask both Onnoghen and Tanko to retire compulsorily and make way for a flesh CJN not tainted by any allegation or fear of bias??
When the credibility of democratic institutions are destroyed, every thing about that democracy is destroyed. As the Bible puts it, when the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do?
With the judiciary and the legislature in the bag, where will the Salvation now come from? Remember, the ruling party controls overwhelming majority of the incoming legislature.
As it stands today, if Buhari wants to amend the Land Use Act to take away control over community land from the governors and hand same to the President just so he could have his grazing routes or cattle colony in every part of the country, I see nothing stopping him. He can even change the constitution without any noise. All he needs is 2/3 in the National Assembly as well as 2/3 of all States Houses of Assembly. If any case against him gets to the Supreme Court, he is guaranteed victory as long as that Ezemmuo Tanko is there. And yes, as the CJN, Ezemmuo Tanko has only one judgement, his own, to write and deliver but he has power to select Judges and Justices that will preside over a case. All he need do is select pliant Judges and Justices that will give President Buhari what he wants. That way, you won’t even realize that you are living under a full blown ‘Democratic Dictatorship’.
Guys, “Winter” is no longer coming. It is here.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.