There is no section of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which mentions the word suspension as for that to have been an option for President Buhari in handling Justice Onnoghen’s alleged assets declaration infraction, the Nigerian NGO – Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) – has said. The centre has, therefore, said that President Buhari’s only way out of the mess is reversing himself or he would be implicating himself in 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”.
The centre holds the record of a Freedom of Information, (FOI), backed request to the Code of Conduct Bureau, (CCB) for the assets declaration forms of President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo but which the CCB turned down in 2016. Now, it is saying in a statement by Uche Ezekpere, its Lead Director, that President Buhari did not follow any of the two pathways by which he could have got Justice Onnoghen out – acting upon an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate in favour of his removal for inability to discharge the functions of his office Or where the National Judicial Council acts out the Third Schedule Part 1, section 21 of the Constitution which vests it with power to recommend to the President the removal from office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The centre’s argument is that a ruling of the Code of Conduct 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, not the way the President has rationalised. Mr. Ezekpere is, therefore, calling the suspension of the Chief Justice 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. He is calling on Nigerians to stand up as men, women and youths to resist tyranny “now that human rights, due process and fundamental freedoms has been denied by the authorities”.
Recalling how Justice Onnoghen had 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, he pointed out how the Court of Appeal had granted stay of proceedings in the CCT matter pending the determination of the motion on notice.
The lead Director contests the wisdom of the CCT issuing 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, especially 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”, concluded the statement which draws attention to how important it is for President Muhammadu Buhari to understand that his actions could precipitate a crisis that no one can predict its full course.