Well meaning Nigerians and groups have condemned in totality, the suspension of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, describing is as illegal and unconstitutional.
In her reaction to the development, Nigerian Bar Association described it as a coup against the Nigerian Judiciary, calling on well meaning Nigerians to rise in defense of the judiciary.
A Statement signed by the NBA National President, Paul Usoro, SAN and made available to The Agenda Online also urged the National Assembly to wade into the matter to prevent erosion of Rule of Law.
“The news media has been awash this evening with the news of the purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S C Onnoghen, GCON by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR and the swearing in of Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. We are told that this was pursuant to an Ex-Parte Order that was issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Wednesday, 23 January 2019.”
“The Nigerian Bar Association unequivocally rejects and condemns this attempted coup against the Nigerian Judiciary and evident suspension of the Nigerian Constitution by the Executive arm of the Federal Government. The action of the Executive portends a slide into anarchy and complete deconstruction of the Rule of Law and due process. It amounts to an absolute breach of the Constitution and the usurpation of the powers of the Senate and the Nigerian Judicial Council”.
“It is unfortunate that the Executive Branch of Government purports to suspend the CJN on the basis of an alleged ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal – the same Tribunal that, to the knowledge of the Executive, had, only the previous day, Tuesday, 22 January 2019 adjourned its proceedings to Monday, 28 January 2019 and has before it a Motion on Notice that is yet to be argued, seeking the same reliefs as were contained in the purported ex-parte application, to wit, the suspension of the CJN, amongst others.”
“We call on the Federal Government to avert the looming constitutional crisis precipitated by its ill-advised action. In particular, the Nigerian Bar Association demands the reversal of the purported suspension of Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S C Onnoghen, GCON. We also call on the National Assembly to assert its constitutional authority and powers and prevent this slide into chaos and erosion of the Rule of Law.”
Adding his voice, Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki has condemned the suspension of the CJN, accusing President Buhari of sending a dangerous signal to the world about the country’s democracy.
“The suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Onnoghen by President Buhari is an action capable of undermining the nation’s judiciary, subverting the Constitution, intimidating judges, and creating uncertainty in the electoral process.
By unilaterally suspending the CJN without following the provision of the constitution, President Buhari has sent a dangerous signal to the entire world that Nigeria is no longer a democratic nation and that we have returned to the old, jaded era of military dictatorship.”
“Our constitution makes no provision for suspension of the nation’s highest judicial officer. The constitution provides a clear process for removal of the CJN and specify the roles of the three arms of government, beginning from the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and lastly, the Presidency, have different roles to play in that process. There is no condition under which the President can usurp the powers of other arms of government. I do not know where the President and his advisers got this idea of suspending the CJN on the so-called order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal but this is novel, disingenuous and alien to our laws. It is strange that President Buhari is claiming to be taking orders from a Tribunal which has been ordered by a superior court to halt all actions on the trial.”
I call on President Buhari to immediately reverse this decision and allow the due process of the law to take its natural course.”
Also condemning the development, Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana says President Buhari “has no right and no power under the Constitution and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 is very explicit on how to remove the CJN in Section 292(1)(a)(i).”
On his own, former Vice President and Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar has described the CJN’s suspension as anti democratic, even as he urged the judiciary to be united in resisting attempts to sow seeds of discord.
“The purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari, is an anti democratic act which I reject in its entirely and call on Justice Onnoghen and the judiciary to resist with every legal and constitutional means that they can muster.
This brazen dictatorial act is the latest action in the ongoing rape of our nation’s hard earned democracy by those who dined with anti democratic forces, and is symptomatic of the increasing desperation that President Buhari and the cabal pulling the strings have as February 16, 2019 draws near.
The fact that the unlawful suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was announced just as it became public knowledge that the CJN was constituting the election petition tribunals is not lost on discerning Nigerians and the international community. This act of desperation is geared towards affecting the outcome of the 2019 Presidential elections. Indeed, it is not just the CJN that has been “suspended”, it is the Nigerian Constitution that has been infracted and, in effect, suspended, under the guise of the suspension of the CJN.”
Similarly, a Civil Society Organisation, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption- MIIVOC has faulted President Buhari’s suspension of the CJN, describing it as illegal.
MIIVOC Executive Director, Dr. Walter Duru, who made the organisation’s position known during a telephone interview Friday, warned that the attack on the judiciary could spell doom for the country’s democracy.
He however called on all Nigerians to rise in defense of the country’s constitution.
Reacting to the development, another non governmental organization, Center for Social Justice-CSJ has condemned the suspension of the CJN, Walter Onnoghen.
A statement signed by CSJ’s Lead Director, Eze Onyekpere and made available to The Agenda Online reads in part:
“It is clear from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) that there are two pathways for the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. By section 292 (1), it is to be done by the President acting upon an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or for misconduct or for contravention of the Code of Conduct. The second is under the Third Schedule Part 1, section 21 (b) where the National Judicial Council is vested with power to recommend to the President the removal from office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The President did not follow any of these procedures in the removal of the CJN. Also, in no section of the Constitution is the term suspension of the CJN mentioned.”
“The President purports to have acted on a ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal; the Tribunal only comes to a decision of disqualifying public officers from holding office for a period not exceeding ten years after determining a case on its merits. It is the worst form of abuse of process for the CCT to issue an order ex-parte to ask for the removal of the CJN at a time the parties to the charge are already before the Tribunal. This is also coming at a time the jurisdiction of the Tribunal has been challenged and the issue of jurisdiction which is foundational to the sustenance of the charge has not even been argued nor resolved.
In the circumstances, it is crystal clear that President Muhammadu Buhari acted illegally and ultra vires his powers and such suspension is null and void and of no effect in law. The purported swearing in of an acting CJN is also void and of no effect. The President therefore has only one course of action open to him; to reverse his illegality and apologize to Nigerians. If the President insists that he is right in his action, then he has simply announced a coup against the People and the Constitution by establishing a new legal order which takes its authority from the raw manifestation of violence, barbarism and might is right.
It is important that President Muhammadu Buhari understands that his actions may precipitate a crisis that no one can predict its full course. Therefore, it is time for Nigerians to stand up as men, women and youths to be counted of the side of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with preambular paragraph four of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to resist tyranny now that human rights, due process and fundamental freedoms has been denied by the authorities.”