From Fred Itua, Abuja
In the wake of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari, Sunday Sun has reliably gathered that the Senate may reconvene on Tuesday over the issue.
Already, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, has condemned the suspension. In a statement he personally signed on Friday night and made available to the media, Saraki said the suspension is alien to any known law in Nigeria and urged President Buhari to return to status quo ante.
The statement read in part: “This is an action aimed at undermining the nation’s judiciary, subverting the constitution, intimidating judges of all the courts of record, and creating uncertainty in the electoral process, thereby laying the foundation for influencing the outcome of litigations that might arise from next month’s elections.
“There is already the general belief that this hasty action was taken to pre-empt the already scheduled inauguration of election petition tribunals by Hon. Justice Onnoghen and to destroy national institutions that are perceived to be uncooperative in his bid to manipulate the electoral process leading to next month’s general elections.
“By unilaterally suspending the CJN without following the provision of the constitution, President Buhari has taken an action which amounted to gross misconduct. He has simply sent a dangerous signal to the entire world that Nigeria is no longer a democratic nation and that we have returned to the old, jaded era of military dictatorship.
“Our constitution makes no provision for suspension of the nation’s highest judicial officer. The constitution provides a clear process for removal of the CJN and specifies the roles of the three arms of government. Beginning from the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and lastly, the Presidency, all three arms have different roles to play in that process. There is no condition under which the President can usurp the powers of other arms of government. I do not know where the President and his advisers got this idea of suspending the CJN on the so-called order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal but this is novel, disingenuous and alien to our laws.
“The President and his team must have seen this so-called suspension as a short-cut to getting Hon. Justice Onnoghen out of the way since the appellate court has eventually stopped the CCT from continuing with the trial of the CJN. It is strange that President Buhari is claiming to be taking orders from a Tribunal, which has been ordered by a superior court to halt all actions on the trial.
“With this action, President Buhari has initiated a process the consequence of which nobody can predict. They have precipitated a constitutional crisis.
“At this point, all democratic institutions in the country, the international community and democrats across the world should rise against this blatant act of impunity. We should jointly condemn this retrogressive, uncivilized and despotic measure.”
However, impeccable sources in the Senate, who spoke to Sunday Sun, but pleaded not to be named, revealed that Saraki has already reached out to senators to return to Abuja.
The source said the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, is expected to place an advertorial in some national dailies, announcing the emergency sitting.
The Senate, had on Thursday, adjourned till February 19, 2019. But with the recent developments, lawmakers are expected to start arriving Abuja from today, Sunday.
Spokesman of the Senate, who is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, could not be reached. His active mobile lines were turned off when our correspondent contacted him.
CJN: Buhari has hijacked the judiciary for political gains –Wike
From Tony John, Port Harcourt
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has declared that the removal of the Chief Justice Of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, was the conclusion of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government’s hijack of the judiciary.
Governor Wike stated that if Nigerians allow this action to succeed, then, they should embrace the death of an independent judiciary.
Speaking yesterday, during a courtesy visit by representatives of the National Executive Committee of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, at the Government House, Port Harcourt, Governor Wike said there must be a sustained national resistance to reverse Buhari’s act of impunity.
He said: “The suspension of the CJN is unfortunate. I raised an alarm when the Federal Government tested the waters by going to abduct judges in the midnight. I knew what the Federal Government intended to achieve. The whole essence was to put the judiciary in their pocket.
“Then NBA leadership played into their hands. They allowed politics and religion to becloud their sense of patriotism. It is not the removal of the CJN that is the issue. There is no more judiciary. No judge will henceforth, deliver contrary judgment based on law against the Federal Government.”
He said that the challenge before all Nigerians is to rise up in practical defence of the nation’s democracy and judiciary.
He said: “Beside condemnation, concrete steps must be taken to ensure that they change their minds. There is no way that Satan can change his mind by mere statements.”
The governor said the script of the Buhari administration is to create a situation where they can easily destroy judges through flimsy allegations and illegal actions.
“This unconstitutional action of the President has several negative ramifications. A governor, who hates his State Chief Judge can concoct a petition and unilaterally remove him,” he said.
Wike said that Rivers State is the prime target of the Buhari administration, adding that the new CJN and other judges are under instructions to upturn judgements of courts in states where the APC is in intra-party crisis.
“The Minister of Transportation told his party men that Buhari will use all forms of illegality to achieve his aim. The president wants to act against states, where the party is having crisis.
“The whole thing is because APC has crisis in Rivers State. Just because of that you destroy the whole institution. They want another CJN that will upturn everything. These are the types of actions that generate insecurity,” he said.
Governor Wike said the APC-led Federal Government has already started intimidating the justices of the Court of Appeal for them to give a legal stamp to the unconstitutional removal of the CJN.
The governor said that if President Buhari gets away with this crime against the constitution, he would go for a third term.
He stressed that if the removal of the CJN succeeds, Nigerians should bid credible polls farewell as the Federal Government can unilaterally sack the National Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over any flimsy excuse.
Governor Wike said that the next victims of intimidation would be the media, noting that media proprietors would be hounded by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and compelled to dish out lies and half truths.
He added that already, the APC-led Federal Government has used ethnicity and religion to divide lawyers, so as to justify this ugly trend.
Earlier, the outgoing president of FIDA, Mrs Inime Aguma, said the removal of the CJN might lead to a national crisis that would negatively affect women and children.
FIDA called on the Federal Government to have a rethink on the illegal removal of the CJN.
US, UK, EU express concern over suspension of Onnoghen
From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The United States of America and the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria for the 2019 General Elections have expressed concern over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The United States and the EU EOM made their concerns known in separate statements made available to Sunday Sun in Abuja.
Reacting through its Public Affairs Section, the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria, the US government said it was deeply concerned by the impact of the executive branch’s decision to suspend and replace the Chief Justice and head of the judicial branch without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections.
“We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch. That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful – leading to a credible result.
“We urge that the issues raised by this decision be resolved swiftly and peacefully in accordance with due process, full respect for the rule of law, and the spirit of the Constitution of Nigeria. Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process,” the United States said.
On its part, the EU EOM, in a statement by its Press and Public Outreach Officer, Sarah Fradgley, said it was very concerned about the process and timing of the suspension of Onnoghen.
“The European Union was invited by the Independent National Electoral Commission to observe the 2019 general elections. The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) is very concerned about the process and timing of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, on 25 January.
“With 20 days until the presidential and National Assembly elections, political parties, candidates and voters must be able to have confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judicial system.
“The decision to suspend the Chief Justice has led to many Nigerians, including lawyers and civil society observer groups, to question whether due process was followed. The timing, just before the swearing in of justices for Electoral Tribunals and the hearing of election-related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice,” the EU said.
The EU EOM however called on all parties to follow the legal processes provided for in the constitution and to respond calmly to any concerns they may have.
In a related development, the United Kingdom, yesterday, said the timing of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, gave cause for concern.
While noting that the UK respects Nigeria’s sovereign authority and its right to adjudicate on constitutional provisions, but as friends of the Nigerian people, it was compelled to observe that the timing of the action so close to national elections, had raised questions on the issue.
The United Kingdom further said that along with other members of the international community, it was following developments in the country closely.
Onnoghen: Buhari will not bend rules nor allow interference, Presidency replies UK, US
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidency has said the Muhammadu Buhari administration will not bend the rules as regards its fight against corruption, neither would the government tolerate interference from the international community as regards Nigeria’s internal affairs.
The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, stated this in reaction to the United Kingdom’s and the United States of America’s condemnation of the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Presidency insisted that Nigeria reserves the right to take action on internal affairs without interference.
The statement reads: “The Federal Government welcomes the prevailing keen interest and partnerships for successful elections in, and a peaceful Nigeria.
“However, we reject any interference or perception management that promotes apprehension, citizens distrust or undermines the transparency and acceptability of the outcomes of our electoral process.
“Nigeria reserves the right to be insulated from suggestions and or interference with respect to wholly internal affairs and commends international laws, customs and norms that mandate and require nations and the comity to respect this prerogative to all.
“Nigeria is confident of its electoral processes and her preparation for the imminent elections and the federal government has supported the independent electoral umpire in both its independence and resources needed to accomplish our desire and insistence on free and fair elections.
“In addition, the Federal government has ensured the independence of all organs, institutions and arms of government to perform their functions in a manner that is transparent and is not lacking in integrity whether institutionally or by persons within such institutions or organs and will continue to do this.
“Although the question of foreign interference, whether state sponsored, promoted or otherwise has dominated recent elections and outcomes globally, the federal government assures citizens and the global community that it will fiercely and assiduously promote the will and the right of Nigerians to choose and elect their leaders without pressure or assistance from persons or entities that are not constitutionally empowered to participate in the process.”
Onnoghen’s suspension lawless –Group
From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
The suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnorghen has been described as purely an act of Executive lawlessness, recklessness and rascality.
National Coordinator, Concerned Advocates for Good Governance, CAGG, Olusegun Bamgbose, a legal practitioner, who stated this during interaction with Sunday Sun in Umuahia, Abia State capital, in the wake of the action taken by the government, said the suspension unconstitutional and unacceptable, and urged all well meaning Nigerians to condemn it.
His words: “It’s a clear attack on democracy and a reckless attempt by the Executive to subvert and suffocate democracy in Nigeria that will clock 20 years this year. This is a brazen affront on the Judiciary. There is a subtle move by the Executive to desecrate and decimate the Judiciary and this must be legally resisted to any length,” he said.
He stated further that the rule of law must not be violated or else the future the country would be in great peril and jeopardy.
Nigeria now full blown dictatorship –Dogara
From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, has said that the suspension of Justice Walter as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), by President Muhammadu Buhari without recourse to the constitution is an indication that the country is now a full-blown dictatorship.
Dogara, in a statement he personally signed, yesterday, said no part of sections 157 and 292 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) support the suspension of Onnoghen and appointment of the acting CJN.
The statement read: “With the unconstitutional suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) by President Muhammadu Buhari, the world has been served with notice that Nigeria is now a full-blown dictatorship. This did not come as a rude shock except to those that have been blind to the gradual but progressive erosion of democratic values in the polity as President Buhari’s administration has never hidden its disdain for the rule of law.
“We have watched in disbelief as the government recklessly deploys institutional prerogatives; routinely flouts the rule of law, subverts and assaults democratic Institutions; refuses to accept opponents as legitimate; suppresses citizens civil liberties (especially those of opponents) and trample underfoot the media. In short, the Government’s tyrannical and authoritarian credentials are loathsomely legendary.
“No provision in Sections 157 and 292 of the 1999 Constitution as amended support the President in purporting to suspend the CJN or swearing in an acting CJN. The whole idea of a limited government is that the President’s powers is limited by law and it is ultra vires his powers to act in the absence of explicit legislative authorization. That is representative democracy at its best which our 1999 Constitution as amended guarantees.
“It is instructive to note that our Constitution does not contemplate or presuppose a situation whereby the Judiciary will have a suspended CJN and an acting CJN at the same time. Therefore, it is right to posit, as some have done that the President now has his own Chief Judge to do his bidding while Nigeria has a sitting CJN until he is removed in line with the provisions of the Constitution.
“The awfully crude annexation of the judiciary by the President in violation of his oath of office and the Constitution cannot be for any other reason except, as alleged by so many, to prepare the judiciary ahead of time for the purpose of conferring some aura of legitimacy to the contraption that the 2019 general elections may after all become.
“I therefore call on the President to remember that he has no better legacy to bequeath other than a good name: which cannot be achieved without honour, character and integrity. Honour and integrity demand that he upholds his oath of office by reversing this assault on our Constitution and following the manifestly clear and unambiguous constitutional procedure for the removal of the CJN if he must be removed. Anything short of this demeans all of us.
“To our citizens, we must now heed the warning of the Irish lawyer cum orator, John Philpot Curran who said, “the condition upon which God had given liberty to man is eternal vigilance: which condition if he breaks, servitude is at once the consequences of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.”
Despotism can only prosper in Nigeria if good men and women do nothing. I also call on all lovers of freedom and democracy all over the world to rise to the occasion and demand of this Government and the President to halt the march to anarchy and bedlam: which dictatorship promotes. The world has an experience in this and it must not allow this unmitigated disaster on Nigeria before it acts to restore sanity.
“As of today, Nigeria is now Germany in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire. Our democracy is on fire; ignited by the very people who swore to protect and defend it. That this fire must not convert the Chancellor to Fuhrer as it happened in Germany in 1933 depends on our collective response and that of the international community. We must not bow our knees to dictatorship: not now, not ever again.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Council has announced the suspension of its presidential campaign in protest of the suspension of Onnoghen as CJN
In a statement signed by the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, said: “In the first instance, we are suspending our campaign for 72 hours. It is our hope that President Buhari will listen to the voice of all lovers of democracy the world over and restore democracy in Nigeria immediately and without qualifications. At the moment, the President has effectively suspended the constitution under whose basis the elections are being contested.”
Ozekhome tackles FG over Onnoghen’s suspension
Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Mike Ozekhome has described the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen as the most despicable act since the creation of Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday raised dust when he suspended the embattled CJN and in his place appointed Mr. Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as acting CJN.
Reacting to the suspension during a chat with newsmen, Ozekhome, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), stated that the alleged suspension is ultravires, undemocratic and brazenly unconstitutional act ever carried out by any government in Nigeria, civilian or military, since the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates.
According to him, the desperate act of a sit-tight president constitutes a direct suspension of the Nigerian Constitution and the entire democratic process.
He added: “It has finally removed the remaining veneer of pretension to democratic credentials by Buhari and his all-conquering cabal.”
He however suggested that “Nigerians should brace up, come out enmasse, to protest against this illegality. We are back to full Abacha era, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo 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.”
Onnoghen’s planned arraignment breakthrough in fight against corruption – Edebiri
From Tony Osauzo, Benin
The Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief Solomon Edebiri, yesterday said that the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, from office, would go down well with the masses of the country.
Besides, he said the planned arraignment of Justice Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal was a breakthrough in the fight against corruption in the country.
The Benin high chief who stated this during a chat with journalists in Benin City, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the courage and political will to take the action.
He slammed Nigerians who have constituted themselves into professional supporters club of corruptive tendencies, urging them to have a rethink that the wealth of the country belonged to all Nigerians and not few of them who threatened to pull down the roof each time a member of their club was accused of any wrongdoing.
He described such people as poor students of history, and recalled that Chief Awolowo was arraigned on phantom coup plot charges and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and his powerful political party, the Action Group did not pull down the roof.
He said further: “Are these people crying not aware that the Zik of Africa and the doyen of Nigerian politics and nationalism was in February 1953 charged before the Sir Foster Sutton Tribunal for alleged wrongdoing regarding the finances of African Continental Bank founded by him?
“Zik with all the powers and support of a solid ethnic group did not threaten to pull down the roof of the house. He submitted to the trial, which found him guilty. Zik responded by resigning as the leader of government business in the Eastern region.
“Those who hinged all their hopes on becoming the President of Nigeria through technical knockout option (TKO) will now go back to the drawing table to strategize on how to win the people’s vote through lawful and constitutional means.
“President Buhari has taken good steps. Justice Onnoghen is not the first VIP to be put on trial. Others have been put on trial and heavens did not fall. What is strange in the CJN being made to face trial?
“Justice Onnoghen should face trial and if he is found innocent, he goes back to his work,” Edebiri said.