…It’s a Judicial Coup, Slide into Anarchy, says NBA …President’s action is a Negation of Democracy…Southern, Middle Belt Leaders President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as new Chief Justice of Nigeria after suspending current CJN, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, setting the stage to a looming constitutional crisis. The Nigerian Bar Association
…It’s a Judicial Coup, Slide into Anarchy, says NBA
…President’s action is a Negation of Democracy…Southern, Middle Belt Leaders
President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as new Chief Justice of Nigeria after suspending current CJN, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, setting the stage to a looming constitutional crisis. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Southern and Middle belt leaders say this is a coup against the Judiciary, a slide into anarchy and negation of democracy.
Mr Buhari says he removed Mr Onnoghen based on an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal dated January 23, 2019.
“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,” he explains
Continuing, Buhari says, “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.”
“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.”
“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.”
The President says, “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.”
The new CJN who is from Bauchi State, was sworn in by Mr Buhari on Friday afternoon inside the council chamber of the State House, Abuja. The swearing was done after the President signed the new Executive Order 007.
Justice Mohammed was driven into the forecourt of the President’s office at about 4:30 p.m. in a black Mercedes Benz C240 with number plate GWA:900FA.
The constitutionality or otherwise of the president’s action has sparked intense discussions among Nigerians with some commentators saying the country may have a constitutional crisis on its hands.
Mr Onnoghen had earlier today announced a plan to swear in members of the various 2019 election petition tribunals on Saturday, January 26.
Mr Onnoghen also described as absolute falsehood, the media reports that he resigned his office, following current allegations against him.
The suspended CJN is facing trial over alleged false asset declaration brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
The Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, has also requested that Mr Onnoghen resigns from office, following the various allegations.
The case, currently ongoing at the CCT was adjourned till January 28.
But the Court of Appeal on Thursday ordered the tribunal to suspend sitting, pending the discharge of current applications before it.
The Court of Appeal will give its verdict on the matter on January 30.
The appeals were brought by Mr Onnoghen who wants his trial halted, citing lack of merit.
Many however say the President lacks the powers to suspend or remove Onnoghen.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) says, it “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.”
In a statement by its President, Mr Paul Usoro, the NBA argues that “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,” the NBA says.
The Southern and Middle Belt leaders also say, “This is a constitutional crisis foisted by desperation and morbid desire to foist rule of thumb.”
In a statement jointly signed by Chief Edwin K Clark, South South, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, South West, Chief John Nwodo, South East and Dr Pogu Bitrus for the Middle Belt, the leaders say, “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,” they maintained.
The Constitution states 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.
In other words, a sitting CJN can only be removed from office by the president after at least two-thirds majority members of the Senate support such a move. No such matter has been debated in the Senate.