A top judicial source at the Supreme Court of Nigeria and a security agent have disclosed that the apex court’s attempt to deliver a definitive ruling on a lingering crisis that has split the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was stalled by interference from politicians belonging to the two factions within the former ruling party.
The case was originally scheduled for a final ruling last week. However, the verdict was postponed as politicians loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) learned that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, was interfering in the case. According to the source, the Chief Justice was telling the other justices involved in the case not to give a ruling that might weaken the PDP. Justice Onnoghen reportedly told his colleagues that any ruling that could lead to the death or weakening of the PDP would be dangerous for Nigeria since the country could not thrive without a vibrant opposition party.
Our source said the meddling of the CJN appalled some of the Supreme Court justices. Justice Onnoghen’s colleagues felt that his admonition was unnecessary and at odds with the position of law. The Court of Appeal had earlier ruled that the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the party was the lawful one.
Mr. Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, is known to be cozy with many officials of the ruling APC. Numerous members of the PDP believe the ex-governor was on a mission to tear apart the PDP in order to strengthen the APC in the country. Mr. Sheriff’s critics also accuse him of being a paid agent of the Muhammadu Buhari regime.
In a similar vein, a security source told our correspondent that Justice Onnoghen’s interference amounted to partisan activism on behalf of his friends within the PDP. Justice Onnoghen is quite close to former Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom. Our security source suggested that the Chief Justice was playing the part of go-between Mr. Akpabio, who is now a senator, and some of the justices handling the PDP case. According to the source, Justice Onnoghen had already signaled to PDP heavyweights that the Supreme Court would rule in their favor. He added that the assurance was responsible for the recent exuberance and outright jubilation within the PDP camp led by Ekiti state Governor, Ayodele Fayose backed by Mr. Akpabio.
According to our security source, President Muhammadu Buhari had initially balked at nominating Justice Onnoghen as the substantive CJN because agents of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had discovered huge dollar deposits domiciliary accounts linked to the judge. He said the deposits came to light as the judge was being screened prior to clearance to assume the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Because of the findings, President Buhari decided to hold off on nominating [Justice Onnoghen] as CJN. However, when the pressure mounted on Mr. President while he was away on medical vacation in London, he was accused of playing sectional politics, he had to let things go. Besides, the next person in line to become CJN was Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, who is a northerner. Justice Muhammad originally came to the Supreme Court as a Sharia appeals judge. He reportedly has close to 40 kids.
Until Justice Onnoghen’s name was finally forwarded as CJN, no person born in the southern half of Nigeria had held the position since 1987 when Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe, a southerner, served in that position.
Our judicial source said he expected the Supreme Court to rule next week on the PDP crisis.