Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) recently spoke with some journalists in his office at the party’s National Secretariat in Abuja on the resignation of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen. The former CJN reportedly tendered his resignation to President Buhari on Friday according to one of his lawyers.
The party spokesman also reacted to the just concluded elections in Rivers State, where leader of the APC in the state and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi adopted the governorship candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Awara. TOM OKPE was there for The Daily Times.
What’s your view of the resignation of the CJN?
The issue we have in this country is that many people, especially those who have been part of the impunity of the past, are struggling badly to adjust to the reality of rule of law.
That is the major issue we are facing in this country. There is so much struggle to allow the past that is not good enough for us as a country to allow it go and for all of us to rise and face the future, future of promise and change so that we can move to the ‘Next Level’.
When this happened, as usual, especially PDP and some of their allies, the civil societies, not the entire community of the civil societies because some of the allies of PDP, everything they read were the barometer of politics and we do know that, until we all rise above sentiments, no matter what part of the divide you find yourself; first and foremost this is an issue that has to do with our country and that is the only way we can progress.
We know right from the beginning that what the immediate past CJN (that is if his resignation letter is accepted) did and we also know that the allegations were too serious and we know too that the President does not act on frivolities,
he must have done his background checks, he must have gotten good information to have taken the action he took and not just taking that action, that there was basis for the action that can be legally proven and those lawyers, so-called Senior Advocates of Nigeria who had over the years dipped their hands along with some of these judicial officers, in the ’till’ of this country, continued to lampoon the President, APC and blaming this government that is doing its best to right several of the wrongs that we have been used to.
We were actually the ones trying to kill democracy and this party rose in the defense of the President because we understand that the President we know meant well, he knows the real purpose that drives his actions. Now, events have proven the President right.
Events have proven the party, APC right. Events have proven those Nigerians who believe Nigeria first and any other things after – events have proven them right.
We all can only be hiding behind one finger, otherwise we know Nigerians, reasonable Nigerians knew from the beginning that those allegations were not cooked up and if they were real, the next thing for the CJN to have done was to have stepped aside and not the question of he wouldn’t be the only one, why him?
There is nowhere in the world where judgment is passed on every sinner at once. It is not every armed robber you can catch the same day.
And even some you know, the slow will of justice may not catch up with them immediately, but we must continue to see evidence that we are moving towards that sanity that we are making progressive efforts and sending strong signals to people who think this country must continue as long as they are comfortable and the rest of Nigerians are suffering.
We must send that signal to them. It is not going to be business as usual.
Now, you have seen the head of National Assembly, Senate President in the dock. You have seen the CJN in the dock.
So, one day, we will see a President that will also misbehave in the dock, which now shows that nobody is above the law of this country that we are all equal before the law.
So, anybody who finds himself in any position should now begin to look closely at his own actions knowing well that today may protect him but tomorrow may expose him.
The Senior Advocates that you talked about argues that it was not about Onnoghen, it was about due process. They always craved for due process that Onnoghen was supposed to be made to resign due to recommendations of NJC. Suddenly, NJC has made a recommendation… Is it just a mere coincidence that Onnoghen has resigned?
NJC’s action has confirmed that due process was actually followed. You see, we are too much in a hurry to protect what is wrong because there were two issues involved; one is the issue of declaration of assets which there is abundant proof from superior court that no court has power to stop the Code of Conduct Bureau or Tribunal from doing its work.
So, it was the same Code of Conduct Tribunal that says this person has a case to answer, and President Buhari acted, based on directive from a competent court.
The President is not in the best position to examine the action of that court whether it is wrong or right, the law does not give him that power. Even, if you believe he has acted wrongly. The correct thing for him to do is to comply with that instruction.
The President also understands that there was an issue. So, the President didn’t just wake up and act, he acted on something.
The second issue is the criminal aspect of it, of which was sent to the NJC, so, the people were saying it is only NJC that can act, they were not separating the issue of Code of Conduct Tribunal from the criminal aspect of Onnoghen’s actions.
For instance, you saw what the prosecutors did at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
They were not talking about where you got the money or how did you get so much money into your account, what they were talking about was, the money we found in your account, you didn’t disclose or declare it in your Declaration form.
It doesn’t matter whether you earned it legitimately or not, that is not the issue, the law says even the ones you earned legitimately, you must disclose in your form and you must continue to update your form as the situation changes, he didn’t do that.
So, it was not about whether he stole money or whether he got bribe. That was not the issue before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. And that was what they took to that place.
When they now worked diligently on the criminal aspect of it and sent it appropriately to the NJC, because these people are not actually looking for something on the basis of looking at what is right, it is on the basis of impunity must continue because they were all part of it and they have all been benefiting from it, so, that is the issue.
You will find out that most of the monies they found there were the ones trading with judicial officers. Some of them are agents of these judicial officers and that is why they all came out and said they were defending judiciary, that they are defending separation of powers and that, they are defending rule of law, that they are fighting for the constitution, whereas they are fighting to protect themselves from the long arm of the law.
What about the results of the Rivers State governorship election, was it a failure of the APC?
No, we don’t have anything to do with the Rivers State election. APC didn’t have candidates in Rivers State and that is why, from the beginning, we didn’t throw ourselves so much into it.
You know what the Supreme Court did; we were not qualified to contest, so, on that basis, whatever happened in Rivers, whether a Local Government that gave 80% total during Presidential election suddenly produced 320,000 for Wike during governorship election didn’t hurt us in any way.
If INEC says that was correct, fine, it is up to the parties involved to take actions if they find it necessary but for us as a party, we didn’t have the opportunity to contest in Rivers State.
You adopted AAC?
But that was the controversy; you absolve a chieftain of the party who worked directly with AAC?
What happened last time was whether what he did amounted to anti-party activities and I said No, because they have not denied any of our candidates anything in Rivers State.
So, I separated what had happened in Rivers from Ogun and Imo where we had our own candidates and our own members worked against own candidates and worked for some other candidates.
It is different in Rivers. Whatever local arrangement they had there, we were not aware of it, we were not part of it. I’m sure you didn’t see anybody there campaigning for anybody outside of APC.
On Kwara State APC governor-elect, in case the governor-elect is indicted on the alleged scandal against him, what do think will become of the party in the state?
See, there is no scandal. You see, APC is a party of due process. Once you comply with your rules, things become easy for you. We have a process and they, (governorship aspirants) went through the right process.
We are confident and completely certain that our governor-elect has nothing to hide. The certificates are genuine. So, those who are involved in those antics should think twice.
You see, it is laughable that of all things, they cannot come out to say the election was rigged because they were trapped even beyond their own imagination.
So, may be they could use something from that to say that they have something to go to tribunal, so at least they can’t just walk away, but they need to wake up and face the reality of that defeat, it is an eternal defeat, it is total.
In the just concluded elections, your party lost some major states like Bauchi, Adamawa, Sokoto, Oyo and you narrowly won in Kano, is your party not jittery ahead of 2023?
Not at all. Again, the picture you painted is not exactly correct. Sokoto, we lost by less than 500 votes. Kano, we won by thousands of votes. Which one is narrow? Is it the Sokoto that PDP have claimed they have won with three hundred or Kano that we won by over 20,000 votes, so it is not narrow.
But the important thing to note is that, being a journalist myself, and I begin to ask myself, what has happened to us in the media in our roles to interpret events;
because if we interpret these events very well, you have a ruling party that is supposed to mobilise all the resources of coercion, all instrument of coercion to get what you want and you have said now that we lost some states, major states.
I will tell you that the only reason that happened happened was because this party has provided a platform for people to go and face the electorate and for the electorate to pass judgments on the people that had been put forward without anybody doing anything against it.
We have just talked about Rivers State. Whatever was going on in Rivers State, as far as this party is concerned, belongs to the people of Rivers State. Otherwise we will say okay move in and do that.
We have witnessed it in this country under PDP that a whole state would be locked down. Their own method is winning by all means, let others go to tribunal. We didn’t apply that.
You have seen major politicians in this country, big politicians in this country losing election even in our own party. You saw a serving governor in Oyo State who couldn’t win one-third of the State.
A governor who is governing the entire state couldn’t win one-third of the entire state to get to the Senate.
You saw a struggle that is still going on in Akwa-Ibom State. Somebody of the caliber of Godswill Akpabio even though we know there are issues to that and it would be corrected but at the same time, we should have deployed in such a way that we will want to arm-twist anybody or the system or manipulate the system.
That question did not even arise at all and I think media should step back from the milieu so that they don’t get carried away by what kind of ‘flu’ politicians are going with. So, they can see the issue clearly and say what is responsible for this.
You could see that we lost Oyo in presidential election. We have a sitting governor, we lost Ondo, and we have a sitting governor.
But because we didn’t want to condone impunity, we did all we did in Imo in a way to undermine ourselves and the choice we had was to accept what would have amounted to impunity, so that we could win Imo but we said No! We would rather do what is decent.
We all can only be hiding behind one finger, otherwise we know Nigerians, reasonable Nigerians knew from the beginning that those allegations were not cooked up and if they were real, the next thing for the CJN to have done was to have stepped aside and not the question of he wouldn’t be the only one, why him? There is nowhere in the world where judgment is passed on every sinner at once.