The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday rejected the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, describing it as a coup against the Judiciary.
Its President, Paul Usoro (SAN), said President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision amounted to the suspension of the Constitution. In a statement, the NBA said the swearing-in of Justice Ibrahim Tanko as the acting CJN cannot stand.
“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 of the Executive portends a slide into anarchy and complete deconstruction of the 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 National Judicial Council.
“It is unfortunate that the Executive branch of government purports to suspend the CJN on the basis of an alleged exparte 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. Hide original message “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.” But, a senior lawyer and multilateral diplomat, Dr. Babafemi Badejo, said it was left for the courts to decide whether Chief Justice Onnoghen’s suspension was proper.
Sagay says suspension legally, morally right
Professor of law, Itse Sagay (SAN), yesterday said President Muhammadu Buhari only obeyed a court order in suspending Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen.
He said the President’s action was in line with the rule of law as there was a valid order, which he obeyed. Sagay told The Nation last night that Chief Justice Onnoghen’s removal was also morally justified as he had admitted that he did not fully comply with the assets declaration requirements.
He agreed that the Constitution empowers the President to remove the CJN through the Senate.
However, he argued that the president could also suspend the CJN pending when the Senate votes on whether the CJN should be removed or not, According to him, the CJN could return to his post if the Senate does not remove him by a two-thirds majority.
Sagay said: “The suspension is morally justified and legally justified. Morally, he should not be in that office considering what has happened. Legally, the President has powers to remove him.
“The Code of Conduct Tribunal gave an order that the CJN should be removed from office. So, the President carried out a court order. “If anyone says it’s an exparte application, my answer is that all the orders they got from courts over the matter were ex-parte.
“If they have been using ex-parte, they have no moral right to quarrel if the prosecution applies the same method in one case as against four in their own case.
“So, the President was obeying a court order and for the rule of law to prevail, he should obey court orders. That’s number one. “Two, without even going to court, Section 292 (1) of the Constitution provides for the CJN’s removal, including over a breach of the Code of Conduct. He has committed a breach of the Code of Conduct and he has admitted it.
“The only person who can remove the CJN in the Constitution is the President. The removal could take the form of presentation of the matter before the Senate by the President. “The Senate cannot bring the matter before themselves, nor can the National Judicial Council.
So, the President, in trying to exercise the power of removal of the Chief Justice for breach of Code of Conduct, can first suspend him.
“He can then take his name to the Senate for consideration for permanent removal. If the case fails and the Senate cannot vote by two-thirds majority, then the CJN returns to his post.
This is my own interpretation. “But the government has adopted the alternative option of obeying a clear court order which accords with the rule of law.”