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Embattled Walter Onnoghen

Just in: Nigerians decry constitutional, judicial miscarriage in removal of Onnoghen

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The Federal Government may have created a judicial scenario capable of causing nationwide confusion that may make or mar next month’s general election if not handled with high level intelligence and on time.

Leading socio-cultural bodies in the South East, South South and Middle Belt of Nigeria including constitutional lawyers have observed unmanageable constitutional and breach of court process in the sudden suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mr. Walter Onnoghen today, Friday, January 25, 2019.
The Federal Government seems to have relied on the ruling of the CCT which had been taken over or superseded by the latest ruling yesterday, of the Appeal Court which ordered suspension of the trial pending the determination of the substantive suit before Court of Appeal.
Already, the presidency did not stop at suspending the CJN, but went ahead to appoint and swear in Tanko Mohammed in acting capacity all on Friday.
However, in a swift joint reaction, the coalition of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders has has described the presidential act as “a coup against Constitutional Democracy in Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari by the Suspension of CJN Walter Onoghen this evening and swearing in a replacement”.
While observing that “This is a constitutional crisis foisted by desperation and morbid desire to foist rule of thumb,” they averred that “We have checked through the constitution and the President has no power to unilaterally suspend the CJN.
Section 292 of the amended 1999 Constitution is clear that the President can only remove the CJN with 2/3 of Senate resolution”.
“To us what has been done is resort to self-help after the Court of Appeal issued an order stopping the trial of the CJN by the CCT presided over by a man answering charges in court over corruption allegations but still in office.
“The latest action is a clear suspension of the constitution and enthronement of full blown dictatorship.
“We reject the illegal suspension and demand its immediate reversal. The suspension is null and void and of no effect whatever.
“An emergency meeting of the Forum holds shortly on this total aberration. We call on all Nigerians to wake up to the reality that our democracy is now under threat and use all constitutional means to defend it.
“We must not surrender to this authoritarian rule.
The terse statement was signed by the regional leaders including Chief E K Clark for the South South, Chief Ayo Adebanjo for the South West, Chief John Nwodo, Ohaneze President and for the South East, and Dr Pogu Bitrus, representing the Midddle Belt Groups.
In another reaction, a legal luminary and constitutional lawyer argued that “Section 202 of the Nigeria Constitution provides that: (1) A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances –
(a) in the case of –
(i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State,
Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct;
(b) in any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
(2) Any person who has held office as a judicial officer shall not on ceasing to be a judicial officer for any reason whatsoever thereafter appear or act as a legal practitioner before any court of law or tribunal in Nigeria”.
A review of appointments in the nation’s judicial agencies suggest yet a regional dominance like the national security architecture.
For example, where as the EFCC is headed by Ibrahim Magu, NFIU- Hamman-Tukur, Police- Mohammed Adamu, DSS- Bichi, NIA- Ahmed, AGF – Abubakar Malami, Appeal Court – Bulkachuwa, High Court – Abdul Kafarati and now, Supreme Court – Tanko Mohammed.
Besides, opposition political parties under the aegis of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), has asked the Senate to reconvene immediately and begin impeachment move against President Muhammadu Buhari for suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen in variance to the ruling of Court of Appeal on the matter.
National spokesman of the CUPP, Imo Ugochinyere, said this in a statement made available to journalists in Abuja that “The Senate should reconvene now and start impeachment process against the President for acting against the provision of the Constitution he swore to uphold.
“A man who rode to power on the basis of respect for the rule law and fundamental principles of democracy has chosen to play to the gallery of dictatorship to rig elections. Let’s see how it goes.
“But we know that this is going to be the beginning of democracy in Nigeria. The democratic institutions will fight back. Trust me it is the beginning of democracy in Nigeria. Out of adversity comes strength.”
Observers say such moves may shock the upcoming national election in one way or the other.

In another development, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, in his reaction described the act as the highest abuse of rule of law and court processes in Nigeria and called on all justices and stakeholders in the judiciary to embark on protest against the height of judicial and constitutional bleeding capable of embarrassing the judiciary and nation’s common sense.


Fellow Nigerians,
A short while ago, I was served with an Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal issued on Wednesday 23rd January 2019, directing the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen from office pending final determination of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and several other fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
2. The nation has been gripped by the tragic realities of no less a personality than the Chief Justice of Nigeria himself becoming the accused person in a corruption trial since details of the petition against him by a Civil Society Organization first became public about a fortnight ago.
3. Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.
4. Perhaps more worrisome is the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s own written admission to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, citing ’’mistake’’ and ’’forgetfulness’’ which are totally unknown to our laws as defences in the circumstances of his case.
5. One expected that with his moral authority so wounded, by these serious charges of corruption, more so by his own written admission, Mr. Justice Walter Onnoghen would have acted swiftly to spare our Judicial Arm further disrepute by removing himself from superintending over it while his trial lasted.
6. Unfortunately, he has not done so. Instead, the nation has been treated to the sordid spectacle of a judicial game of wits in which the Chief Justice of Nigeria and his legal team have made nonsense of the efforts of the Code of Conduct Tribunal to hear the allegation on merit and conclude the trial as quickly as possible considering the nature of the times in which we live.
7. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, we have all seen the full weight of the Chief Justice of Nigeria descend on the tender head of one of the organs of justice under his control. There is simply no way the officers of that court, from the Chairman to the bailiffs, can pretend to be unaffected by the influence of the leader of the Judiciary.
8. Not only the trial court, but others have been put on the spot. Practically every other day since his trial commenced, the nation has witnessed various courts granting orders and counter-orders in favour of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, all of them characterised by an unholy alacrity between the time of filing, hearing and delivery of judgment in same.
9. The real effect has been a stalling of the trial of Justice Onnoghen, helped along by lawyers who insist that these orders, whether right or wrong are technically valid, and must be obeyed till an appellate Court says otherwise. No doubt that it is the proper interpretation, but is it right disposition for our nation?
10. Nigeria is a constitutional democracy and no one must be, or be seen to be, above the law. Unfortunately, the drama around the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria has challenged that pillar of justice in the perception of the ordinary man on the street. For it is certain that no ordinary Nigerian can get the swift and special treatment Justice Onnoghen has enjoyed from his subordinates and privies in our Judicature.
11. In the midst of all these distracting events, the essential question of whether the accused CJN actually has a case to answer has been lost in the squabble over the form and nature of his trial. This should not be so.
12. If Justice cannot be done and clearly seen to be done, society itself is at risk of the most unimaginable chaos. As a Government, we cannot stand by wailing and wringing our hands helplessly but give our full backing and support to those brave elements within the Judiciary who act forthrightly, irrespective of who is involved.
13. As you are all aware, the fight against corruption is one of the tripod of policies promised to Nigerians by this administration. Needless to say that it is an existential Policy which must be given adequate attention and commitment by all the three arms of government. The efforts of the Executive will amount to nothing without the cooperation of the Legislature and especially the Judiciary.
14. It is no secret that this government is dissatisfied with the alarming rate in which the Supreme Court of Nigeria under the oversight of Justice Walter Onnoghen has serially set free, persons accused of the most dire acts of corruption, often on mere technicalities, and after quite a number of them have been convicted by the trial and appellate courts.
15. Since there is nothing the Executive Arm can do after the apex court of the land has spoken on any matter, several of these individuals walk free among us today, enjoying what are clearly the proceeds of the corruption which for so long has defeated the efforts of this nation to develop and prosper.
16. It is against this background that I have received the Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal directing me to suspend the Chief Justice pending final determination of the cases against him. It also explains why I am not only complying immediately, but with some degree of relief for the battered sensibilities of ordinary Nigerians whose patience must have become severely over-taxed by these anomalies.
17. In line with this administration’s avowed respect for the Rule of Law, I have wholeheartedly obeyed the Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal dated 23rd January 2019.
18. Accordingly, I hereby suspend the Honourable Mr. Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen, GCON as the Chief Justice of Nigeria pending final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
19. In further compliance with the same Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, I hereby invite Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed JSC, being the next most Senior Justice in the Supreme Court, to come forward to take the Judicial Oath as Chief Justice of Nigeria in an Acting Capacity.
20. Fellow Nigerians, we can only stand a chance to win the fight against Corruption, and position our dear nation for accelerated development when we stand together to contend against it.
Thank you and may God bless our country, Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari Tanko
Buhari in a handshake with Justice Tanko Mohammed shortly after his swearing in as Acting CJN in Abuja on Friday, January 25, 2019

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 provisions 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 the suspension of the nation’s highest judicial officer.
The Constitution provides a clear process for the removal of the CJN and specifies the roles of the three arms of government, beginning from the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and lastly, the Presidency — all have different roles to play in that process.
There is no condition under which the President can usurp the powers of the 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.
With this action, President Buhari has initiated a process the consequence of which no one can predict. He has precipitated a Constitutional crisis.
At this point, all democratic institutions in the country, the international community and democrats across the world should rise against this blatant act of impunity.
We must jointly condemn this retrogressive, uncivilized and despotic measure.
I call on President Buhari to immediately reverse this decision and allow the due process of the law to take its natural course.
Senator Dr. Bukola Saraki, President of the Nigerian Senate

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