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Centre for Social Justice Regrets Buhari’s Coup Against Judiciary

Media Release

THE PURPORTED SUSPENSION OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA, WALTER ONNOGHEN

Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) notes with regret the unconstitutional and illegal suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.

This is an assault of incalculable proportions on constitutionalism, democracy, the rule of law and the right of majority of Nigerian to freedom from tyranny, oppression and bondage.

We recall that there has been an attempt to arraign Justice Onnogehn before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Justice Onnoghen has followed due process by responding to the charge with a challenge to the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in view of recent decisions of the Superior Courts on the process and procedure for bringing judicial officers to answer for criminal charges.

Indeed, the Court of Appeal had stayed proceedings in the CCT matter pending the determination of the motion on notice.

It is clear from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) that there are two pathways for the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. By section 292 (1), it is to be done by the President acting upon an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or for misconduct or for contravention of the Code of Conduct.

The second is under the Third Schedule Part 1, section 21 (b) where the National Judicial Council is vested with power to recommend to the President the removal from office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The President did not follow any of these procedures in the removal of the CJN.

Also, in no section of the Constitution is the term suspension of the CJN mentioned.

The President purports to have acted on a ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal; the Tribunal only comes to a decision of disqualifying public officers from holding office for a period not exceeding ten years after determining a case on its merits.

It is the worst form of abuse of process for the CCT to issue an order ex-parte to ask for the removal of the CJN at a time the parties to the charge are already before the Tribunal.

This is also coming at a time the jurisdiction of the Tribunal has been challenged and the issue of jurisdiction which is foundational to the sustenance of the charge has not even been argued nor resolved.

In the circumstances, it is crystal clear that President Muhammadu Buhari acted illegally and ultra vires his powers and such suspension is null and void and of no effect in law.

The purported swearing in of an acting CJN is also void and of no effect.

The President therefore has only one course of action open to him; to reverse his illegality and apologize to Nigerians. If the President insists that he is right in his action, then he has simply announced a coup against the People and the Constitution by establishing a new legal order which takes its authority from the raw manifestation of violence, barbarism and might is right.

It is important that President Muhammadu Buhari understands that his actions may precipitate a crisis that no one can predict its full course.

Therefore, it is time for Nigerians to stand up as men, women and youths to be counted of the side of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with preambular paragraph four of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to resist tyranny now that human rights, due process and fundamental freedoms has been denied by the authorities.

May God save Nigeria from anarchy, internal strife and illegality.

Eze Onyekpere

Lead Director

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