By Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
South-South Governors’ Forum has described the impending arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, scheduled for Monday as humiliation of the nation’s highest judicial officer and has therefore asked Onnoghen not to appear before the tribunal.
The forum said that the unfortunate action against the CJN further reinforces the perception that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians, in particular the people of Niger Delta, and the rule of law.
The South-south governors disclosed this in a communique issued at the end of an emergency meeting held at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Lodge Sunday in Abuja.
The meeting had in attendance the Governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson, who is also Chairman of the Forum, Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ben Ayade; Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike; Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, and Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa.
A communique read by Dickson, said the meeting deliberated on the recent happenings at the Supreme Court involving Onnoghen, adding that the action against him constitutes a setback to the gains of the nation’s democratic experience of 20 years.
The forum noted that under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council, had ample powers to deal exhaustively with matters pertaining to allegations of misconduct and discipline of judicial officers.
The forum also stressed that specifically, the NJC had the powers and clear procedures for investigating allegations, and recommending appropriate sanctions or disciplinary measures against judicial officials as a matter of first instance before any further steps.
The Bayelsa state governor noted that the judicial pronouncements in the cases of FGN Vs Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court on January 9, 2018; and Justice Ngajinwa Vs FGN 2017 at the CCT had given validation to the express provisions of the constitution on this issue.
Dickson stated: “We note that the attempt to drag the CJN to the CCT is also a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of state including the National Assembly and the judiciary.
“We believe that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has a constitutional responsibility and huge moral obligation to defend our democracy.
“Therefore, we consider this step, which is directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the region, as totally unacceptable as it is reflective of the South South story of endless marginalisation and intimidation. The unceremonious removal of former Acting Director General of the Department of State Service, Mathew Seiyefa, and his replacement is still very fresh.
“We note that the unfortunate action against the CJN further reinforces the perception that the Buhari administration has no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians, in particular the people of Niger Delta, and the rule of law
“It is a fact that this administration has a penchant for flagrant disobedience of and disregard for legitimate and valid court orders.”
The forum stressed that its expect Buhari to know that democracy cannot survive without respect for the constitution, strict adherence to the rule of law, and separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution.
Dickson added, “We strongly believe that the regrettable development at the Supreme Court at this critical time, when preparations for the general elections are wobbling (with serious concern about INEC and security agencies) is capable of causing avoidable anxiety, tension and possible breakdown of law and order in the country.”
“We note further that the action undermines confidence not only in the judiciary but also the electoral process that has already commenced, in view of the pivotal role that the judiciary plays in the process of electoral adjudication.
“We affirm President Buhari should know that the continuous assault on critical institutions of state is a defining feature of a dictatorship, and that the President is obliged to live up to his word that he is a born-again democrat, as he assured Nigerians in 2015.”
Dickson said, to this end, the forum condemned without any equivocation the assault on the CJN and the judiciary especially coming after similar assaults on the National Assembly, to save the country from this embarrassment and global contempt.
Dickson added, “We call on the CJN to ignore this so-called Court summon from the CCB and the provocative call for his resignation in some quarters.
“While we are not opposed to a genuine fight against corruption, such an action must always be anchored on the rule of law.”
The governors of the South South also decried “he massive buildup of arms by APC leaders and members across the Niger Delta with the intent to cause mayhem and a general breakdown of law and order during the elections.”