The controversy generated by the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen is still generating mixed reactions among Nigerians as legal practitioners seem to be on opposite sides of the divide when it comes to the legality and the morals of the action taken by president Buhari.
The political angle of the suspension is creating a lot of waves within political circles. Recently, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, took up the matter and asked all Nigerians to stand up and fight against what he perceived to be the rise of dictatorship aimed at eroding democratic values. This came after the PDP suspended campaign for two days in protest against President Buhari’s action.
“All my life, I have been a democrat and a defender of democracy. Like all men of good conscience and patriots, I believe this present challenge has imposed on us yet again, the duty to rise in peaceful defence of democracy, for which so many have laid down their lives.
“I also know that the surest weapon against tyranny is the democratic will of the people. Nigerians have consistently demonstrated their preference for democracy, and I am, and will always remain, on the side of the people of Nigeria.
“We are all witnesses to how this government has serially assaulted the National Assembly, a separate arm of government that represents the bastion of our democracy.
“However, with this attack on the judiciary, General Buhari has set a new precedent in our democracy that has no equivalence in our history, not even in the darkest days of military dictatorship. This cannot be allowed to stand.
“Meanwhile, I commend all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria who have expressed outrage over the unlawful removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, an action, which constitutes a flagrant breach of our constitution and a frontal assault on our democracy. I want to note the universal condemnation of this unlawful act by all Nigerians, as well as the international community.
“I need to state that this latest action by General Muhammadu Buhari falls squarely within the pattern of executive lawlessness that has now been firmly turned into statecraft by the APC government,” Atiku said in a statement made available to reporters a few days ago.
This sentiment by Atiku has however not gone down well with the ruling APC as it has drawn a sharp rebuke from the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Bola Tinubu questioned Atiku’s claim of being a long time democrat, he then suggested that a tougher punishment be given to Justice Onnoghen if he was found guilty of the charges made against him.
“Atiku claims to be a democrat and defender of democracy, but where was he, his voice and action during Abacha’s suffocating maximum rule? Was he not a member and cheer-leader of one of the five Abacha parties aptly described then as five leprous fingers of Abacha? Did he even have the courage to visit his mentor, late Major General Shehu Musa Yar Ádua, in jail for fear of Abacha stopping him from running for the governorship of Adamawa? Dare Atiku to say what is really upsetting him and what he really is hiding in his attempt to cloak his lifetime of undemocratic reckonings in the swaddling of this much too belated democratic second birth he now claims for himself.”
According to Tinubu,
“It is ironic that Atiku of all people throws such darts at President Buhari. Buhari actually exercised considerable restraint in this matter.
“He has reasonably balanced concerns about the integrity of the judiciary with concerns for the individual rights of the accused. Nothing has been taken from the CJN that cannot be restored if the facts warrant such restoration.
“Thus, President Buhari conditionally suspended the CJN. By doing so, this allows for the case to move forward without the CCT or others fearing the CJN might use his position to unduly interfere with proceedings. If the CJN is exonerated, then he will return to his position. If not exonerated, then a more permanent discipline awaits him.”
In the mean time, Justice Onnoghen has taken the Federal Government to court challenging the legality behind his suspension, he is asking the court to look into the legality of his suspension based on the recommendation of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), according to the suit part of which read.
“The chairman and a member of the Code of Conduct Tribunal erred in law and violated the right of the appellant (Onnoghen) to a fair hearing when they made the order ex parte that he (Onnoghen) shall step aside as CJN and Chairman of the National Judicial Council over allegations of contravening provisions of the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act Cap C15 Laws of the Federation 2004 pending the determination of the motion on notice dated January 10, 2019.”