Political News

Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen’s suspension. Here’s what you should know

President Buhari appoints new acting CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed

President Muhammadu Buhari may have overridden the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria following the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Mr. President alleged that Onnoghen’s suspension was based on an order dated January 23, 2019, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) headed by Mr. Danladi Umar.

He consequently appointed an acting CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, who he swore in on Friday inside the council chamber of the State House in Abuja.

Suspended CJN Onnoghen was accused of false asset declaration by the Federal Government through the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

He ignored CCT hearing on his case twice, first with an excuse that he wasn’t served personally of the court summon.

The Court of Appeal had however ordered the CCT to stop his trial pending the determination of his suit against the CCT.

Section 292 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria said that a Supreme Court judge can only be removed with concurrence of two-thirds of the Nigerian Senate. The lawmakers have however not heard Onnoghen’s case much less taken any action.

Onnoghen’s suspension came just as he was preparing to swear in members of the various 2019 election petition tribunals on Saturday.

Awassam Bassey, Onnoghen’s media aide, had announced this on Friday, saying that the CJN was still performing his role as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“There’s absolutely no truth in the rumours making the round that the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship Hon. Mr Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, has resigned his office. It is fake news!

“The Hon CJN was in the office all through yesterday (Thursday) and sat in court. As part of his duties, the Hon CJN will be swearing in members of the 2019 National Assembly, Governorship & State Assembly Election Petition Tribunals tomorrow (Saturday 26th January 2019),” the statement said.

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen

President Buhari explains why he suspended Onnoghen
Buhari on Friday after announcing Onnoghen’s suspension said that the CCT had 3 days ago ordered him to suspend the CJN over allegation of false assets declaration against him.

It is however unbelievable that a tribunal which is yet to rule on the case against Onnoghen, went ahead to granted an ex-parte order for the suspension of the CJN from office.

CCT order recommending Onnoghen's suspension
CCT order recommending Onnoghen’s suspension
CCT order recommending Onnoghen's suspension
CCT order recommending Onnoghen’s suspension

Mr. President alleged that since the first allegations against Onnoghen, security agencies have traced more suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars linked to the CJN.

“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,” Buhari said.

Read his full speech below;

ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, MUHAMMADU BUHARI, PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, ON THE SUSPENSION OF HONOURABLE JUSTICE WALTER NKANU SAMUEL ONNOGHEN AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA AND SWEARING IN OF ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE, 25TH JANUARY 2019

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 the right disposition for our nation?
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.

New acting CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed.
New acting CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed.

NBA condemns Onnoghen’s suspension
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has described the suspension of Chief Justice Onnoghen as a coup against the judiciary.

The NBA in a statement vehemently rejected the suspension of Onnoghen and his immediately replacement with Justice Ibrahim Tanko.

The NBA further demanded an immediate reversal of Onnoghen’s suspension.

Read the statement by the NBA below

COUP AGAINST THE NIGERIAN JUDICIARY AND SUSPENSION OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION

  1. The news media has been awash this evening with the news of the purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S C Onnoghen, GCON by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR and the swearing in of Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. We are told that this was pursuant to an Ex-Parte Order that was issued by the Code of Conduct Conduct Tribunal on Wednesday, 23 January 2019.
  2. The Nigerian Bar Association 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. The action is of the Executive portends a slide into anarchy and complete deconstruction of the same 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.
  3. 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 first previous day, Tuesday, 22 January 2019 adjourned its proceedings to Monday, 28 and January 2019 and has before it a Motion on Notice that is yet to be argued, seeking a the same reliefs as were contained in the purported ex-parte application, to wit, the state capital suspension of the CJN, amongst others.4. 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.

PDP, SDP, CUPP condemn Buhari’s action
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has vehemently condemned President Muhammadu Buhari’s action over the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria.

PDP in a statement through its spokesperson, Kola Ologbodiyan, said that the party rejects “the attempts by President Buhari to foist an illegal Chief Justice on the nation while the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen is still in office.”

“PDP says Nigerians must reject the incendiary move by the President to forcefully suspend our constitution, annex the judicial arm of govt & open the nation up for full-blown totalitarianism to achieve his self-succession bid, having realised that he cannot win in the 2019 election.”

“There can be no two Chief Justices of Nigeria. Our constitution is clear on how a CJ is appointed and removed as such does not lie on the prerogative of the President. As such, we urge all Nigerians and the international community to recognize only Justice Onnoghen as the CJN.”

CUPP describes Onnoghen’s suspension as a coup

The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) in its reaction also described Onnoghen’s suspension as a judicial coup which must be resisted.

“This brazen dictatorial act is the latest action in the ongoing rape of our nation’s hard-earned democracy by those who dined with anti-democratic forces, and is symptomatic of the increasing desperation that President Buhari and the cabal pulling the strings as February 16, 2019 draws near.

“As far as the law of the land is concerned, Onnoghen remains the CJN. We will not recognise any other person who may be occupying that office illegally. Justice Tanko Muhammed us a usurper. The NJC must sack him. Lawyers must ignore him as long as he remains on that seat.

“The CJN can be removed from office either if he has been convicted or if under section 291 and 292 of the Constitution, the Senate affirms a request by the President to remove him by two-thirds majority vote. Buhari has dared Nigerians.”

The coalition further urged the CJN to remain in office, saying that the president has no power to suspend him.

“The Senate should reconvene now and start impeachment process against the President for acting against the provision of the Constitution he swore to uphold.”

Duke condemns Buhari’s action

Also, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Donald Duke, has condemned the CJN’s suspension.

“While I’m glad the Appeal Court upheld my constitutional right to contest for the office of president of our country, I’m shocked at the blatant and arrogant display of power exhibited by the administration in the removal of the CJN and shamefully, Justice Tanko Mohammed accepts to be sworn in.

“They attempted removing the head of the legislative arm now it’s the judiciary. Atiku is NEXT. Wait and see,” the former Cross River State governor said.

A former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke
A former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke

PDP presidential candidate condemns Onnoghen’s removal
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has also condemned the suspension of CJN Onnoghen.

He described Buhari’s action as a desperate plot to subvert Nigeria’s democracy days into the election in which Nigerians are set to vote him out of office.

Read Atiku’s statement below

PRESS RELEASE

The Purported Suspension of CJN Onnoghen is an Act of Dictatorship Taken too Far
Abuja, Nigeria, 25 Jan 2019: The purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari, is an anti democratic act which I reject in its entirely and call on Justice Onnoghen and the judiciary to resist with every legal and constitutional means that they can muster.

This brazen dictatorial act is the latest action in the ongoing rape of our nation’s hard earned democracy by those who dined with anti democratic forces, and is symptomatic of the increasing desperation that President Buhari and the cabal pulling the strings have as February 16, 2019 draws near.

The fact that the unlawful suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was announced just as it became public knowledge that the CJN was constituting the election petition tribunals is not lost on discerning Nigerians and the international community. This act of desperation is geared towards affecting the outcome of the 2019 Presidential elections. Indeed, it is not just the CJN that has been “suspended”, it is the Nigerian Constitution that has been infracted and, in effect, suspended, under the guise of the suspension of the CJN.

The case involving the legality or otherwise of the charges against Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen is in court, as it should be. So far, the judiciary has ruled in Justice Onnoghen’s favour. So, why not allow the court to adjudicate on the matter? What is the pressing urgency?

PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar
PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar

I want to seize this opportunity to call for unity amongst the judiciary. Do not let the Muhammadu Buhari administration divide you. Do not let this government turn you against yourselves. The judiciary is the last hope of the common man and the defender of our democracy.

I also urge the international community to follow the commendable example of the United States and the United Kingdom by intervening to make those involved in this undemocratic act know that their actions will have consequences. Strong consequences.

And to the Nigerian electorate, I call on you to save your beloved country from dictatorship by voting against President Muhammadu Buhari’s desperate war against the judiciary. Our country is falling apart under the leadership of President Buhari and it is time to stand up for democracy.

Signed:
Atiku Abubakar
Waziri Adamawa
Presidential Candidate of PDP & Vice President of Nigeria, 1999-2007

Senate President Bukola Saraki reacts

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