Tobi Soniyi and Olaseni Durojaiye
Lawyers across the country have continued to reject the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) upon which President Muhammadu Buhari relied in suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. Among those who have picked holes in the order and faulted the entire process are Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, SAN; a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Chidi Odinkalu; Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Clement Nwankwo; and the umbrella organisation for all lawyers in the country, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
They said the order upon which the president relied in suspending Onnoghen was dubious.
Falana in a statement said, “The ex parte order is a suspect document, as the motion ex parte on which it was predicated was allegedly filed on January 9, 2019, while the substantive charge against the Chief Justice was filed at the registry of the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 11, 2019. Furthermore, the counsel who argued the motion is not indicated in the ex parte order.”
On his part, Odinkalu observed, “When a motion is filed in a court or tribunal, it bears the name of the lawyer or person filing it.
“The motion has to be formally moved or argued on a date fixed by the court. In this case of #Onnoghen, the motion for his removal bears no name and the order doesn’t say who moved it.
“So, to sum things up, #Nigeria’s President @MBuhari, who has no recent memory of having obeyed any court order, purports to procure the removal of the CJN based on a petition that was not investigated, a charge that was not prosecuted and an ex-parte application that was not moved.”
Falana advised the CJN to seek legal redress saying, “Meanwhile, the legal team of the Chief Justice should proceed to challenge his suspension from office either at the Code of Conduct Tribunal or the Court of Appeal. Despite the gravity of the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice the illegality of the suspension should not be allowed to stand.”
While calling on the president to reverse himself and reinstate the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the NBA said, “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.”
Nwankwo said the decision of the president violated the constitution. He said, “Unless the president has decided to operate a dictatorship, he really must rescind this so-called decision.”
“What is happening is bizarre, it is frightening, it is unconstitutional. Not even in the dark day of military dictatorship have we seen this sort of action, so clearly what has happened is a gross abuse of the constitution, gross abuse of office, it is a misconduct indeed and the constitution is quite clear that you cannot act in violation of the constitution. This is a constitutional rule, this is a democracy and this action is unknown to a democracy.
Reacting to the purported order from the CCT upon which the president supposedly suspended Onnorghen, Nwankwo said “Two things are clear here. The procedure for the removal of the Chief Justice is very clear.
The action of the CCT, if indeed there was such an action, it was in clear violation of the Nigeria constitution and so it cannot stand; and then the proceedings of the CCT has been in the public domain, lawyers were in court for the Chief Judge of Nigeria and from the reports in the media it seems the case was adjourned to the 28th of January which is on Monday. In the interim, the court of appeal had made an order stopping proceedings at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). So it is quite strange to be citing an order that one is not aware of, that wasn’t made in public, where there was no representation. If it was an ex-parte order motion there was no indication that this proceeding took place in open court.
We must save democracy in this country. Nobody has the right to undermine our democracy, we have fought very hard for this democracy, a lot of us were killed, a lot of civil rights activists in this country suffered tremendously for this democracy and to then see this kind of action endangering our democracy is indeed very shocking and I really disappointed that this is happening and I think every Nigerian should be very concerned,” Nwankwo state.