- It’s unprecedented and a coup against judiciary, say lawyers
By Akinwale Akintunde
Senior lawyers have been reacting to the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeira (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari calling it a strange development and coup against the judiciary.
President Buhari suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen on Friday, pending the completion of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
He hinged the suspension on an order he received from the Code of Conduct Tribunal directing him to do so.
The President announced the suspension of the CJN at a brief ceremony at the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja.
According to the president, the suspension is as result of the ongoing trial of Onnoghen by the CCT and subsequent order of the tribunal directing him to suspend him, pending the completion of his trial.
The President has since sworn in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, from Bauchi State, as the acting CJN.
But reacting to development, a senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said:
“The alleged suspension from office of the CJN is the vilest, thieving, most despicable, ultravires, undemocratic and brazenly unconstitutional act ever carried out by any government in Nigeria, civilian or military, since 1st January,1914, when the contraption called Nigeria was forcibly contrived through the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates.
“The desperate act of a sit-tight president constitutes a direct suspension of the Nigerian Constitution and the entire democratic process. It has finally removed the remaining veneer of pretension to democratic credentials by Buhari and his all- conquering cabal. Welcome, Nigerians, to full blown dictatorship, absolutism, authoritarianisn and fascism. Buhari has behaved worse than what he was as a military tyrant. Military juntas always only suspended parts of the Constitution they did not like.
“But, by torpedoing the entire judiciary, rule of law and due process, including four valid High Court/Federal High Court rulings and yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal, all of them staying proceedings of the phoney and funny charges levelled against Onnoghen before the CCT, Nigerians now know that we have now become an endangered specie. It means that the next election is nothing more than a ritualistic outing to illegally confer life presidency (not just 4 years) on Buhari.
“There is no known basis, legal, constitutional or moral, to hurriedly bypass courts of law, the judicial process and court orders, to illegally remove the CJN and swear in an Acting CJN. The provisions of section 292(2) of the 1999 Constitution are quite clear on how the CJN can be removed from office. Aside sections 153,158 and parts 1 and 2 of the 3rd schedule to the Constitution which provide that a judicial officer can not be removed from office until he has first been tried and dealt with by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“Section 292(2) makes it clear that the president can only remove the CJN from office before the age of his retirement, “acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate”. When did the Senate meet to donate this power to the president? NEVER. The president has illegally and unconstituonally stripped both the judiciary and the Legislature bare of their constitutional functions, usurped their powers and enthroned maximum dictatorship over the affairs of Nigeria, like Louis X14 once did when he stood in front of parliament, beat his chest imperiously and declared,”l’est tat c’est moi”(I am the state).
“The ill-advised action does not only assault our noble sense of humanity and dignity as decent Nigerians, it also violently desecrates the principles of rule of law as espoused by Prof A.V.Dicey and the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers as ably propounded in 1748 by the great French Philosopher, Baron De Montesque.”
On what to be done, the senior lawyer said:
“Nigerians should brace up, come out enmasse, to protest against this illegality. We are back to full Abacha era, as OBJ rightly noted three days ago in his patriotic letter to Nigerians. Nigerian lawyers and the NBA should shut down all courts in Nigeria until the CJN is returned to his seat.
“This was achieved even under military dictatorship in Pakistan, when former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf illegally removed from office, the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on 11th March, 2007. All the lawyers went on strike, from 15th March,2007,shut down the courts and protested on the streets for months, until a panel of 7 members of the Supreme Court sat and held that the removal was illegal and reinstated the Chief Justice. Nigerian lawyers should act now.
“The NASS should also shut down in protest and allow Buhari and his cabal have their jolly ride over cowed, hapless, vanquished and conquered Nigerians. There is no more democracy in Nigeria. It is as dead as dodo. The coming presidential election is but a mere charade to confer legitimacy on a pre-rigged, on-the-spot rigged and post-rigged election. “The pretentious chicken has finally come home to roost. This recent act is a big scandalous shame on the Buhari government, assuming it still knows anything called shame. It has tainted it with the paint brush of odium, obliquy and international derision. The international community should weigh in immediately to prevent Nigeria from burning.”
In his own reaction, the immediate Past second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, said the President did not have the power to remove or suspend the head of another arm of government.
“What has happened sounds very strange. It is indeed a strange development. The CJN has not been convicted and anything that has to do with the CJN’s removal or suspension must follow a procedure.
“There must be recommendations from the NJC. That process has not been complied with.
“So, the suspension when the matter is still pending in court is a very strange development”, he added.
Also, speaking on the development, the Executive Director of Access to Justice, a human rights group, Mr. Joseph Otteh, said the President has no such power to remove or suspend the CJN.
According to him, what happened can be described as a coup.
“The Presidency does not have such power. This is a Coup by one arm of government against another arm.
“This is likely to have political crisis and we are not sure where this we end. It is blatant despotism that has taken over governance in Nigeria.
“The foundation of democracy is completely eroded. We are in a serious trouble with this kind of development.
”How can the head of one arm of government remove or suspend the head of another arm.
“There is no other word but to say this is an internal coup”, he said.