The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Monday filed a suit before the Supreme Court, seeking to know whether President Muhammadu Buhari has the power to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The action by the Senate came following the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, had announced an emergency plenary which was scheduled for today (Tuesday). It was however cancelled without any notable reason given.
Rumour however has it that the Senate cancelled the emergency plenary following plot by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) senators to impeach Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Saraki’s aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu, however stated that the cancelation of the plenary was because of a last-minute decision by the Senate leadership to seek judicial interpretation to Onnoghen’s suspension by Buhari.
The Senate in the suit marked SC.76/2019 asked the Supreme Court to declare the suspension of CJN Onnoghen without the support of two-third of majority of the Senate as a violation of Section 292(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution.
Removing a CJN from office requires the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the verdict of the Senate.
However, President Buhari said that the decision to suspend Onnoghen and appoint a new CJN was following an order by Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The Senate in the suit further asked the Supreme Court to issue an order restraining President Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; the two defendants in the suit, from misinterpreting the constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect to Onnoghen’s suspension.
“A declaration that the suspension, by the President, of Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from his office as Chief Justice of Nigeria on or about January 25, 2019, without an address calling for the removal, supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate is in violation of section 292(1)(a)(i) of the constitution and therefore null and void.
“An order rescinding or setting aside the suspension of Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from his office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and restoring him to the said office.
“An order restraining the defendants from continuing or repeating the violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and disregarding the powers of the Senate at the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The counsel of the Senate, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), in the suit faulted the suspension of Onnoghen by Buhari without two-third majority of the Senate and the appointment of Muhammad Tanko as CJN without the confirmation of the Senate.
The Senate through its counsel seek to know if having regard to Section 292(1) of the Third Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution and Section 21 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, the President could not suspend or prevent the CJN from performing his functions in his office “on the directive of the Code of Conduct Tribunal or for any reason whatsoever, without an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate calling for the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
And if; “having regard to section 231 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and in particular, sub-sections (1) and (4) thereof, can the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appoint an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria when there is no vacancy in that office and when the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria is fit and able to perform the functions of the office and without the recommendation of the National Council and confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.”
APC Senators disown Senate’s legal action
As expected, senators under the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have disowned the legal action filed by the Senate over the suspension of CJN Onnoghen.
Mr. Ahmad Lawan, the Senate Leader, in a statement on Monday following the suit at the Supreme Court, said that there was no resolution of the red chamber which empowered Saraki to take such an action.
“It has come to the notice of the Senate APC caucus that the Senate has approached the Supreme Court for the interpretation of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“For the records, the Senate never met to take such a resolution and at no time, mandated anyone to approach the Supreme Court on this matter, on its behalf.
“Consequently, the Senate APC caucus dissociates itself from the said request for the legal interpretation of the (CJN) suspension.”
NBA disowns Tanko, says it only recognizes Onnoghen as CJN
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has vehemently rejected the appointment of Justice Tanko as the CJN, saying that it only recognizes suspended CJN Walter Onnoghen as the CJN.
The NBA further directed its members across the nation to boycott the courts on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest against Mr. Onnoghen’s suspension.
The decision was taken on Monday following an emergency meeting by the National Executive Committee of the NBA.
The Association said that due process was not followed by Buhari in the suspension of Onnoghen and the swearing in of Muhammad as acting CJN.
The NBA further setup a committee led by its two former presidents, Chief Wole Olanipekun and Abubakar Mahmud, to liaise with lawyers serving the Buhari administration in order to find a solution to the problem.
Why Federal Government could not wait for NJC
The Federal Government in its response to the development defended the action of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to the FG, Onnoghen’s case was much more than misconduct, saying that there were suspicious transactions carried out by the suspended CJN which ran into millions of dollars.
Mr. Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, who spoke on the matter in Abuja on Monday said;
“Some have argued that the Justice Onnoghen issue should have been referred to the NJC to handle. They would have been right if Justice Onnoghen had been accused of professional misconduct, which is what is within the purview of the NJC.
“The allegations against Justice Onnoghen go beyond professional misconduct. It is the alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. And only one body is statutorily empowered to deal with this: the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”
“This whole issue is about the country’s highest judicial officer, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, being accused of a breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, and the legal and moral conundrum surrounding that.
“‘It is about the suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the suspended CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.
“It is about the Hon. Justice Onnoghen himself admitting to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, calling it a ‘mistake.’
“And it is about him refusing to take responsibility, instead opting to put the entire judiciary on trial.
“Please remember that Justice Onnoghen has been given the opportunity of fair hearing, but he has been abusing his position and the judicial process by filing frivolous applications and even dodging service of process.”
Lai Mohammed, when asked why the FG that acted promptly on the CCT order to suspend Onnoghen, did not act quickly on several court orders on Sambo Dasuki, denied knowledge of the case of former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).
Acting CJN Muhammad reportedly ordered Police to seal off Onnoghen’s office
Report has it that the newly appoint CJN, Tanko Muhammad, on Monday ordered the police to seal off Onnoghen’s office.
Punch Newspaper reported that an undisclosed source revealed that the order was granted by the new CJN.
Another undisclosed senior police officer however stated that the police was not aware of the development until it was reported by the media. The undisclosed source further noted that inquiries at the FCT Police Command and the Force Headquarters revealed that they were not involved in the deployment of police to seal-off Onnoghen’s office.
“When we heard about the sealing of the suspended CJN’s office, we made inquiries from the various departments at the Force headquarters and the FCT Command, but none of them was aware of the deployment. They also said they did not send any personnel to the Supreme Court.
“Our findings later showed that it was an internal security arrangement ordered by the acting CJN, and it involved some policemen and the private security guards employed by the Supreme Court.”
CCT Suspends Onnoghen’s trial indefinitely
The Code of Conduct Tribunal, after issuing an order to suspend CJN Onnoghen from office, has adjourned hearing in the case indefinitely.
According to the Chairman of CCT, Danladi Umar, who could not earlier obey the Appeal Court order to suspend Onnoghen’s trial, the adjournment of Onnoghen’s case on Monday was in obedience to the interim order granted by the Court of Appeal in Abuja.