Like Justice Monica Dongban Mensem Like Former Chief Justice Onnoghen:
Renowned for his knack of lopsided appointments, nepotism and religious fanaticism as basis for appointment into his government; President Muhammadu Buhari has been flayed in an open letter by retired colonel Umar Dangiwa, former military administrator of Kaduna state.
Dangiwa who decried what he termed President Buhari’s “habit of lopsided appointments” among other issues cited the ongoing and underlining case of the acting appeal court president, Hon. Justice M.B. Dongban Mensem whose appointment President Buhari has against established civil service rules and even public expectation flagrantly refused to forward to the Senate for confirmation just yet.
President Buhari had on Thursday March 5th, 2020 in a statement issued by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, approved the appointment of Justice Monica Mensem in an acting capacity for an initial period of three months, with effect from March 6, 2020. This was following the then incumbent President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa’s statutorily retirement from service.
The Federal Judicial Service Commission had recommended both Dongban-Mensem and Lawal – in order of seniority- to the National Judicial Commission to replace Zainab Bulkachuwa. It was Mohammed Lawal Garba, who chaired the 2019 presidential election petitions tribunal which ruled in favour of President Buhari.
Accordingly, Justice Dongban-Mensem, being the next most senior judicial officer in line and having been recommended by the National Judicial Council was sworn in as acting court of appeal president by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, on March 6. Swearing her in, Mr. Muhammad urged Justice Dongban-Mensem to continue to discharge her duties diligently, noting that hardworking and discipline earned her the new position.
“As a seasoned judicial officer, there is nothing to tell her but just to work very well. She has been doing her job satisfactorily well and it is as a result of this hard work, character, and attitude that enticed the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Council to uplift her as Acting President Court of Appeal.
“I urge you to continue to with your charisma, both attitude and ability, to carry out all the tasks and assignments you are given to. Our expectation will never fall short of this kind of testimony from the public. Please continue to bear that testimony and the sky will be your limit,” Mr. Muhammad said.
The Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau state born justice who is also a northern Christian by faith was the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Jos division and as the next most senior judicial officer in line with an impeccable record, she had been highly recommended by the National Judicial Council to be uplifted to the position of President Court of Appeal.
But just when her acting capacity tenure of three months was about over and President Buhari was being expected to do the needful being to forward the name of Justice Monica Mensem to the Senate for confirmation, the president had instead taken to his usual element and to the chagrin of those Nigerians who had given him the benefit of the doubt flagrantly refused to forward Justice Monica Mensem’s name to the Senate for confirmation as required even after due approval by the National Judicial Commission.
Instead, Buhari had extended the protem appointment of Monica Dongban-Mensem as the president of the court of appeal without formalizing her position as substantive head of the appellate court with effect from June 3 for a further period of three (3) months.
“This is pursuant to Section 238(4) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic”, Mr. Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said.
This got many tongues wagging albeit, to a President who characteristically pays no attention to the views of Nigerians. However, the one man bold enough to tell President Buhari to his face about the danger of repeating the widely condemnable injustice of the then Justice Onnoghen saga with the case at hand was former military administrator of Kaduna state, Umar Dangiwa.
Dangiwa is renowned for opposing the annulment of the June 12 election in 1993 by the government in which he served. He was arrested for his dissent against the regime but was later released. He afterwards resigned from the army.
In an open letter dated 30th May, 2020 addressed to President Buhari titled “MR. PRESIDENT; PLEASE BELONG TO ALL OF US”, Dangiwa who served as military governor of Kaduna between 1985 and 1988 under the regime of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, warns that “Nigeria has become dangerously polarized and risks sliding into crises on account of lopsided appointments which continues to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others”.
Dangiwa began the letter with a quote from late Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio as follows:
“One of the swiftest ways of destroying a Kingdom is to give preference of one particular tribe over another or show favor to one group of people rather than another. And to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those who should be drawn near”.
He then went on to admonish President Buhari not only to express the hope that history will be kind to him but that he now has the opportunity in his hands to write that history.
“Nowhere is this more glaring than in the leadership cadre of our security services.
“Mr. President, I regret that there are no kind or gentle words to tell you that your skewed appointments into the offices of the federal government, favoring some and frustrating others, shall bring ruin and destruction to this nation”, he said.
Specifically, he went down memory lane to draw the president’s attention to a long list of statesmanship as exemplified by leaders in the past.
“I need not remind you, Mr. President, that our political history is replete with great acts of exemplary leadership which, at critical moments, managed to pull this nation back from the precipice and assured its continued existence. A few examples will demonstrate this:
“In February, 1965, the NPC-led Federal Government was faced with a decision to appoint a successor to the outgoing Nigerian Army General Officer Commanding (GOC), General Welby Everard, a Briton. Four most senior officers were nominated; namely, Brigadiers Aguiyi Ironsi, Ogundipe, Ademulegun and Maimalari. The first three were senior to Maimalari but he was deemed to be more qualified due to his superior commission. He was the first Sandhurst Regular trained officer in the Nigerian Army. His being a Muslim Northerner like the Minister of Defense, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu and the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa granted him added advantage by today’s standards. But to the surprise of even the Igbos, and opposition from some senior NPC members, Minister Ribadu recommended Ironsi, pointing to his seniority. The Prime Minister concurred and Aguiyi Ironsi was confirmed as the first indigenous GOC of the Nigerian Army.
“When on 13 February 1976, the Commander-in-Chief, General Murtala Muhammed, was assassinated in a failed Coup de tat, General Olusegun Obasanjo, his deputy and the most senior officer at the time, was sworn in as his successor. The Chief of Army Staff, General T.Y Danjuma, a Northern Christian, was next in line to succeed Obasanjo as the Chief of Staff, SHQ and Deputy Commander in Chief. General Danjuma however waived his right and recommended a much junior officer, Lt. Col. Shehu Musa Yar’adua, for the post. Shehu was promoted two steps up to the rank of Brigadier and appointed Chief of Staff SHQ and Deputy Commander-in-Chief. Lt. Col. Muhammadu Buhari was appointed Minister of Petroleum. This was done to placate Muslim North which was deemed to have lost one of its own, Murtala Muhammed.
“Both the chief of staff, Mr. Sunday Awoniyi, and the personal physician Dr. Ishaya Audu to the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, a direct descendant of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, were Christians.
“Barely nine years after the civil war in 1979, the NPN Presidential candidate, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, picked an Igbo, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, as his running mate. They enjoyed a truly brotherly relationship as President and Vice President. President Shagari’s political advisor, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and National Assembly Liaison, assistant, Dr. K.O Mbadiwe, were both Igbos. His economic advisor, Prof. Emmanuel Edozien and his Chief of Personnel Staff Dr. Michael Prest, were of Niger Delta extraction. Remarkably, all his military service chiefs were Christians with the exception of his last Chief of Army Staff, General Inuwa Wushishi under whose tenure he was removed in a military coup de tat.”
“Mr. President, as a witness and beneficiary, it is our expectation that you would emulate these great acts of statesmanship. Which is why we have continued to engage with you.
“You may wish to recall that I had cause to appeal to you, to confirm Justice Onnoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria a few days before the expiration of his three months tenure in acting capacity and not have him be replaced by a Muslim Northerner. We were saved that embarrassment when his nomination was sent to the senate by the then acting President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo. But even when he was finally confirmed, a few days to the end of his tenure, he was removed after a few months and replaced by Justice Muhammed, a Muslim from the North.
“May I also invite the attention of Mr. President to the pending matter of appointment of a Chief Judge of the Nigerian Court Appeal which appears to be generating public interest. As it is, the most senior Judge, Justice Monica Dongban Mensem, a northern Christian, is serving out her second three-month term as acting Chief Judge without firm prospects that she will be confirmed substantive head.
“I do not know Justice Mensem but those who do attest to her competence, honesty and humility. She appears eminently qualified for appointment as the substantive Chief Judge of the Court of Appeal as she is also said to be highly recommended by the National Judicial Council. If she is not and is bypassed in favor of the next in line who happens to be another northern Muslim, that would be truly odd. In which case, even the largest contingent of PR gurus would struggle to rebut the charges that you, Mr. President, is either unwilling or incapable of acting on your pledge to belong to everyone — and to no one. I hope you would see your way into pausing and reflecting on the very grave consequences of such failure not just to your legacy but to the future of our great country”, Dangiwa warned.
The case of former Chief Justice of the federation, Justice Onnoghen as alluded to by Dangiwa who was unceremoniously and unjustly humiliated out of office by President Buhari over what many have described as trumped-up and spurious charges comes to mind.
A contrived group had suddenly filed a petition to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) alleging that the Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen failed to fully disclose his assets before he assumed office as required by law and that while holding office, he also maintained foreign accounts contrary to law.
In less than a week after the petition was submitted, the Bureau had concluded its investigations, prepared a charge against Justice Onnoghen and got the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to fix a date for the trial of the CJN.
The speed with which the investigation was done at a time when the country was preparing for general election made many Nigerians to read meanings into the intention of the Federal Government.
The Economist has this to say over the unfortunate incident as orchestrated by President Buhari:
“On the rare occasions when corruption cases are brought against prominent people, petitions can take years to resolve. It was therefore unusual that on January 25th President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, a mere 15 days after allegations of impropriety were lodged against the most senior judge in the country. This was the first time that Nigeria’s head of state had sacked a chief justice since 1975, when the country was under military rule.”
The widely held public opinion at the time all over the country was that President Buhari’s move was not merely unusual but also unlawful as it later emerged that what President Muhammadu Buhari-led government wanted was to remove the Chief Justice Onnoghen from office for two phony reasons: that he had breached the constitution which he swore to uphold and that he had got himself involved in the murky water of politics and was no longer a fit and proper person to sit in judgment over cases.
Consequently, given this profane antecedent of the Buhari-led government in this regard and given the present scenario which is yet unfolding but indeed already pointing to a suspected conclusion; many Nigerians including Umar Dangiwa already seem to have arrived at the fearful conclusion that a somewhat similar ploy such as the one used to orchestrate the downfall of former Chief Justice Onnoghen may already be in the offing this time against the person of Justice Monica Mensem.
Her sins? Obviously for been a northern Christian, qualified and nominated by the National Judicial Council for the exalted position of President of the Court of Appeal. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time (possibly before the expiration of her extended 3 months protem appointment) before Nigerians are greeted with some sordid details from the blues seeking to justify why a certain Justice Monica Mensem is no longer suitable to be sworn-in as the substantial President of the Court of Appeal.
Ultimately, the questions in the minds of Nigerians amongst others include: Is president Muhammadu Buhari again playing to the gallery? Is he truly averse to non-Muslims heading perceived sensitive positions under his government? What has he got against non-Muslims occupying perceived leadership positions under his government? What possibly excuse is he likely going to come up with this time around to seal the fate of Justice Monica Mensem and of course get a northern Muslim to take her place? What would it take for a President Muhammadu Buhari to for once be a nationalist instead of the grumpy, chronic, ethnocentric and religious bigot he has always portrayed himself to be?
In another three months or perhaps even less, Nigerians will find answers to these questions.