The congested space of standpoints on the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of the Federation has widened to a call on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign for breaching the Constitution. The Middle Belt Forum, (MBF) which is declaring this standpoint is also inviting the National Judicial Council (NJC) to immediately remove Justice Tanko Mohammed from office for presenting himself to be sworn-in as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria without being recommended by the NJC. Furthermore, the forum is calling on the international community to be proactive and prevent a descent into international humanitarian crises that may be occasioned by what it calls the disdain and contempt of the president for constitutionalism and the rule of law.
The reinforced position of the MBF is coming a day after an emergency meeting of the NJC which has given both Walter Onnoghen and Justice Tanko Mohammed a week to respond to petitions against each of them. Earlier on, the MBF had joined its South South (PANDEF), the South East (Ohanaeze Ndigbo) and the South West (Afenifere) counterparts in rejecting the suspension of the Chief Justice. Now, it is calling on Middle Belt voters to reject the president at the polls should he refuse to resign.
Although the MBF is pushing a very drastic position by insisting on the president’s resignation, there is a remarkable departure in the tone of its articulation in this press release signed by its president, Dr. Bitrus Pogu. The ideology of escape into minuscule republic appears to have given way to a reassertion of belief in one Nigeria in the politics of the forum. Perhaps, crisis brings out the best in individuals as much as in organisations, including in their ideological orientation. It would be interesting to hear what The Presidency would say in response to the call for the president to excuse himself from power. That is an Africa rarity but there is always a first time!
The forum’s argument for the president’s resignation is that he has breached both the Constitution he swore to uphold and his oath of office and that any person or group of persons who breached the Constitution or act in such a manner that could jeopardize the corporate existence of Nigeria and precipitate crisis is an enemy of the area. The forum is not only declaring that it could not trust the president to be fair and just in carrying out his functions as the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, it is also alleging that the president’s conduct is capable of setting this country on the path of anarchy.
Locating its position in legal advice it says it has received on the suspension of the Chief Justice as well as a long review of the entire case, the MBF articulated what appears to be the core of its distrust of the President as follows: The President rather than allowing the due process of the law, chose to overthrow the Constitution and the law by unilaterally suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onoghen, GCON from Cross River State and the only Southerner in the last 32 years to head that arm of Government of the Federation; and immediately swore-in Justice Tanko Mohammed, CON from Bauchi State in the North thereby ensuring that the three Arms of Government are headed by Northerners”.
It thus concludes that “the action of the Executive Arm in using the Code of Conduct Tribunal to harass, intimidate and embarrass the Chief Justice of Nigeria is insensitive, deceitful and calculated to deepen the division in Nigeria along religious and regional lines and stands condemned by the peoples of the Middle Belt and all people of good conscience across Nigeria”.
The statement of the MBF is bound to be the most frank articulation of the national question circumscribing the Justice Onnoghen palaver but which the anti-corruption monologue in government and in the APC is either incapable of appreciating or simply determined to stretch to the farthest. The idea of three Northern Muslims heading each of the arms of government is the fire dragging objections to the suspension. That reality is bound to alarm the rest as well as reinforce the suspicion of a hidden agenda even in the best of times, before the age of insistence on inclusiveness. This is more so that the Government or the president lost the opportunities to respond to strong criticism of lopsidedness in the selection and appointment of heads of security agencies. Instead of doing so, the president has argued energetically that he selected security chiefs on the basis of merit, thereby aggravating the situation instead of calming nerves.