The judicial system has collapsed, no question about that – Justice Ononiba
How then did you become a registrar and eventually a Chief Judge?
After a while, Nweje was appointed the judge and then, I was still the
deputy registrar. After his appointment as the judge, I did not react
and then, it became obvious that I would be the next Chief Registrar.
I was appointed Chief Registrar during Jim Nwobodo’s tenure as the
Governor of old Anambra State. There was reasonable degree of honesty
those days. You
will be surprised that the chief registrar has more powers than the
Chief Judge because the registrar is a political appointee and the
administrative head of the judiciary. So, after I noticed that Jim
Nwobodo was winning at the Supreme Court, immediately I packed out of
my official house in Enugu and returned unaccompanied to my home in
Nimo because I knew that should Nwobodo win, I would be the target. So, I
didn’t want to take chances. I left my resignation letter with the
secretary so that should Nwobodo be declared winner, she would submit the letter stating that I had voluntarily retired. Even at Nimo, my country home, I felt so
nervous about the outcome of the election that I ran to Onitsha to
stay. Later, news arose that C.C. Onoh won the election and I withdrew
my letter of retirement.
Did Justice Uyanna become a judge before you?
Yes. Justice Uyanna and Justice Igu were appointed the same day.
Did they not pass through the Chief Registrar position?
No, they did not. Uyanna was a Chief Magistrate at Enugu while Igu
was a private legal practitioner at Onitsha. Though we had oath of
secrecy, I will tell you that a letter from the National Judicial
Council to the Chief judge, Justice Aniagolu of Anambra State, produced
list of ten people for the Chief Judge to select two people as
recommendation for appointment. And the Chief Judge, having it as a
habit to seek my opinion, told me to look at the write up. After I
studied the letter, the names there were all qualified and practically
they were all my friends. When I looked at it, I didn’t know what to
write but the interesting part of it was that Justice Igu and Uyanna
were the first and second names in the list and Uyanna was from our
area. So, if I jump them there would be question mark about my
conscience. To clear my conscience, I went back to the Chief judge. I
told him that all the names are qualified and that we can choose any
two out of the ten names. He replied, in that case, let the first
two names go. So, the two of them were appointed at the same time and
ironically, Igu became the first Chief Judge at the creation
of Enugu State. He had a short stint as Chief Judge before he headed
to the Supreme Court because I don’t think there was anything like
Appeal Court that time. When he left, Uyanna became the Chief
Judge. Uyanna retired as the Chief Judge barely after one year of
resumption while Igu continued at the Supreme Court. All these things
happened because the system was good. Now, the system has changed.
People who want to be judge now campaign for it and even give bribes.
The system has collapsed and there is no question about that.
Was it after Nwazota that you were appointed Chief Judge?
Yes. After Nwazota, I was appointed Chief Judge.
From the post of a Chief Registrar?
No, it was from the post of a judge. Nwazota was a judge but became
chief judge after Uyanna left and his tenure lasted for a long time
and I was a judge while he (Nwazota) was serving as Chief judge.
Talking about Nigeria’s constitution, a school of thought holds that Nigeria has
not been ruled by any legal constitution. How true is this assertion and what do
you think the government should do in this regard?
Nothing, but let me tell you my own view. In the first place, we have
no constitution. The 1999 constitution we are using is a fraud. After
Abacha died and Abdulsalami Abubakar took over, he gathered a group of
persons who wrote the new constitution called the 1999 Constitution. I’m sorry to
say that the constitution was founded on lies and dishonesty because
that constitution said in the preamble: “We, the people of Nigeria,
having agreed, ..” this and that. How can you say such a lie openly and
many of our people accepted it as truth. The constitution lied against
itself. Is it true that we the people of Nigeria unanimously agreed on
this constitution? We have the members of the National Assembly,
lawyers and others quoting 1999 Constitution here and there. We are
dealing with very dishonest people and they are the people misleading
Nigeria today. If the lawmakers at federal and state legislative houses
are telling the truth, Nigeria would be a better place. Any country that
is founded on lies and dishonesty cannot progress, instead they would
be wobbling and that is what is happening in Nigeria. We are afraid to
tell the truth and once we cannot tell ourselves the truth, it can be
exploited and that is what the Fulani are exploiting because we are
the ones wobbling. So, nothing in Nigeria today is right because the
foundation is not there. One can only lay a strong foundation and then
build on it. Yes, we can make mistake which is natural but this
situation is a deliberate falsehood. If you pick up Nigeria’s
constitution, you find out that it tells a lie about itself. They said
the constitution is ‘unanimously agreed,’ it is not true.
We have the 1963 and 1979 constitutions, do we go back to those ones?
If I’m to decide, I would go back to the 1960 Constitution that gave us
independence. It is only the 1960 constitution that can correct this
rubbish being practised in the country today.
What about the 1963 Republican Constitution?
It is still better than what we have now. There is no constitution
that would not be better than the 1999 constitution founded on lies,
brazenly told and even written down. And how was this constitution
made? After Abacha died, Abubakar became the Head of State. He was
there for about nine months before he handed over and that was how he
put these things together. Who and who would he say made the
constitution when it did not seek the opinion of the people. Any
constitution that did not seek the opinion of the people is not worthy
to be called a constitution.
So, what’s the way forward for Nigerians, constitution wise?
My dear, I have problem in answering that question because I trust
nobody now. I don’t trust anybody be it in the civil service or elsewhere because
of corruption. Money is now guiding our actions and no one has the
integrity to say what needs to be said. If you look at the likes of
Michael Okpala, Mbazuluike Amaechi, etc., they all fought the white men
without waiting for compensation. That is how people work. They purely
worked for the people and not for their pockets. I don’t know of any
politician now who is working for the people, rather than for his pockets.
So, how can you use people like that to talk about constitution? I’m
sorry, the politicians today are just looking for money. They are not
trustworthy. That is not how to make money, making money requires
hard work, not stealing.
Against this background, some people are saying that restructuring,
devolution of power or secession is the way forward for Nigeria, which
way do you think Nigeria should go?
There is nothing to restructure because there is nothing there. There
is nothing in the constitution that is not oriented towards
benefitting either A or B. It is not a constitution. The nearest thing
to constitution is the 1960 independence constitution and if it is
what we are going to amend, it will be understandable and simple. What is
police? Police is an institution that maintains law and order in the
community. Okay, we borrowed the constitution of America, then, why
did we chose what to put and what not to put. American system has
lasted for a long time and has been amended only three times while our
own here has undergone countless amendments. In the constitution, we
had the Senate and House of Representatives then as well as the State Assembly.
Why don’t we take it as a whole. It is a packaged deal and not
picking parts. It is because we picked only the ones we liked, that is why
the system is collapsing. Take, for instance, in the American Constitution,
they have the state police which is not even a matter to debate. It is
a part of their constitution. Then, they have town police; they also
have local government police and then generally, the federal guard.
The reason police stations are burnt is because the structure is
not straight. If we are serious about any amendment, the starting
point should be the Police. We are deceiving ourselves. Politicians
are naive and they are acting on what they are told. We are talking
about constitution amendment but we have not asked ourselves the
possibility of amending what does not exist. It is this situation of
going round and round that has pushed some persons into agitation for
In the light of these, which way do you think the country should go?
Should the agitators be given opportunity for plebiscite or
Well, to be honest with you, the agitation by these people is natural
reaction any human being can make. If you force me to be part of you
and I am not happy with how you are doing your things, allow me to be
on my own. That is the situation of Nigeria. Agitation is a right in
principle and the method of achieving it is a different matter. If we
follow 1960 Constitution which gave us independence, that is the
constitution we should amend now. I’m not even sure we have sufficient
reason to have presidential system of government instead of the
parliamentary system we were trained with. This country was born into
it and that is still what Britain is using. When we are talking about
constitution writing, Nigeria as a country is blessed with intelligent
people especially among the Igbo race. What Nigeria is trying to do
now is to ensure that those brilliant people are not seen or take part
in the scheme of things.
Ahead of the 2023 election, if given the choice of presidency and
an independent state of Biafra, which one do you advise the Igbo to
I will take presidency because that is where the power is in Nigeria.
There will not be independent state of Biafra without it being
announced. But if our five governors are smart, they will have Biafra
without announcing it. All they need to do is cooperate and work
There are calls that the President wields enormous power which makes him
dictatorial and to use the military at will, how do you think this perceived
anomaly can be corrected?
We have to be honest with ourselves. We have people talking about the
constitution and we need to ask ourselves what we really want in the
constitution. Is it the British system or the American system. We now
have the presidential system which is neither British nor American.
Doesn’t that show we are wrong? What we are using as a constitution
today was given to us to quarrel. America has used their constitution
for years and why not take theirs as a packaged deal. Their
constitution gave everybody room to develop his/her talents and not what
is in Nigeria. Nigeria has 36 states but we are finding it difficult
to manage them whereas America has 50 states manages them successfully. Now,
ethnicity is being suppressed so that the Southeasterners would not
grow to their full potentials. We create our industries because we have
brains and that has been God given-gift to the Igbo man. I don’t mean
the Igbo are perfect but they are very hard working people and their
principle is nearest to the American system. Europe and the civilized
world created what is happening in Nigeria today and that is how they
want us to be. European powers and America are happy with what
is happening in Nigeria because if Igbo is set free they will develop
faster than they. We will not only challenge them but will check
them because they are only looking for markets, having been
industrialized. Africa is the market for the industrialized countries
and that is why they keep retarding.
Remember, Asia was the former market for European countries but they
turned to Africa after the rise of Asia continent. Europe is not happy
about the rise of Asia because they lost the market. So, the only
market remaining in the world today is Africa where Nigeria is the
biggest market. If you are looking for peace in Africa, you are
wasting your time. The thousands of generator companies in America
will lose their existence and employment if Nigeria begins to have
steady electricity. Again, Gaddafi was shot by CIA because he
transformed Libya into a strong country. Libyan university graduates
were taken care of and many things were made free in the country but
the western countries saw the development, planned and killed him. So,
if you think any white man is thinking well of Africa, you are wasting
What do you see as flaws in the arrest and prosecution of IPOB leader,
First of all, they are trying to make him more popular. You can kill
him but it would not matter. Everybody will praise him, saying if he were
alive, some things could have happened. Fighting ideology requires
intelligence and not gun because it is implanted in the people.
That is why the Nigerian leadership is tactless. Why should they
make Nnamdi Kanu popular by arresting him? If the government had
ignored them and concentrated on serving the people well, these boys
would have changed their mindset. They chose to fight him, thereby making
him important. Again, if Nigerians could agree to close their
businesses and stay back at home because of his trial, the Federal
government needs to be very careful in handling him. Why are they
worried about him? The Federal government’s greatest error is making
Nnamdi Kanu popular. You don’t fight ideology with gun and that has
made Nnamdi Kanu stronger.
The nation is making preparations for 2023 elections amid protests against
the lopsidedness of FG appointments. With this in mind, how do you see the outcome of the 2023 election?
Well, we have never had any free and fair election in Nigeria. All the
elections that have held in the country are rigged. If elections are
not rigged, why should people spend excessively to win elections?
Again, since you are clamouring to work for me, why must you pay me to
How do you think the electronic transmission of results can mitigate the scale of election rigging in this country?
Rigging had been in existence and is now part of Nigeria’s system.
Okay, when the issue of electronic transmission was put to vote in the
House, about three Igbo senators walked out. It was only Enyinnaya
Abaribe that opposed it. Where did the rest of the Igbo senators go?
Instead of contesting the issue with northern senators, they left.
These are the set of people that should be brought out and dealt with
in a clean society because it was a betrayal of people that elected
them. Things changed because of poor leadership and that is the
problem with Nigeria. It is because people now worship money, that is why they
kill to win elections. My son was in the House of Assembly two times and
I was the one feeding him. I managed to buy an old car for him
which he drove to work. But now, a member of the house is a
billionaire. System of governance has collapsed in Nigeria. Vote
buying has taken the order of the day. INEC officials are bribed to declare
false results and even the judiciary which used to be the last hope of
a common man has been infiltrated with corruption. That tells us that
the system has collapsed and cannot function again. No government
functions on falsehood.