Senate to reconvene on Tuesday over sacked CJN
•FG places accounts of more judges on surveillance
•Timing of Onnoghen’s removal raises concern –UK, US
•Stop meddling in our affairs, FG tells UK, US governments
The Senate will, on Tuesday, reconvene to discuss the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and the swearing-in of Tanko Mohammed as the acting CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday.
A principal officer in the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the leadership of both chambers would have a crucial meeting today (Sunday) to deliberate on the agenda for the emergency session.
SUNDAY PUNCH, however, learnt that the sudden decision of the National Assembly leadership to reconvene might not be unconnected with the public outcry that greeted Buhari’s suspension of Onnoghen on Friday.
The source said, “The leadership of the two chambers has agreed to reconvene on Tuesday. They will, however, hold a crucial meeting in the private residence of the Senate President on Sunday evening (today).
“The meeting will set agenda for the emergency session they plan for Tuesday. I cannot confirm whether the impeachment of the President will form part of the agenda but I can assure you that a drastic decision will be taken against him.”
The lawmakers had, during Thursday’s plenary, adjourned sitting until February 19, which will be after the presidential and National Assembly elections.
We’ll resist any impeachment move against Buhari – Ndume
However, the leaders of the All Progressives Congress in the Senate have vowed to resist any attempt by the presiding officers of the federal parliament to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.
A former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, maintained that the President did not breach the constitution by his action.
He said, “As members of the APC in the National Assembly, we will put the nation’s interest above any parochial or sectional consideration in dealing with the issue.
“However, if anybody wants to start another trouble in the Senate over the issue, we are ready. We have the number; we have the strength because we constitute the majority.
“It’s just that the Senate leadership wants to play to the gallery, otherwise, I don’t see the same leadership that accused the judiciary of meddling in its affairs now moving against the President for fighting corruption in that arm of government.”
Reps keep mum
At the House of Representatives, the lawmakers had scheduled Tuesday for the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill second reading and the New Minimum Wage BiII.
Several members, who were contacted on Saturday either declined to speak or asked one of our correspondents to wait for the turn of events on Tuesday.
A lawmaker from Lagos State, who did not want to be named, declined to speak on the telephone except our correspondent could meet with him during the week.
Another lawmaker, Mr Chinda Ogundu, of the Peoples Democratic Party, said, “Wait till Tuesday.”
FG places accounts of more judges on surveillance
In another twist, there were indications in Abuja on Saturday that the Federal Government had directed that the accounts of more judges be placed on surveillance, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt on Saturday night.
It was gathered that the plan by the government was aimed at identifying those believed to be corrupt in the judiciary and remove them from the system as the 2019 elections draw nearer.
Authoritative sources close to the government said the task of looking into the accounts might have been handed over to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.
It was gathered that the same agency was asked to probe the salary account of the suspended CJN.
The agency launched the probe into his salary account from September 2005 to December 2018.
A very reliable source, who was part of those privy to the Onnoghen saga, said more judges might be affected when the NFIU would submit its report.
The source said, “The government is placing the accounts of more judges under watch. You will see what will happen soon. It is wrong to assume that Justice Onnoghen was being singled out for punishment.
“The government decided to start with him because of the sensitive position he is holding. That is what happened.
“Now, more judges are under scrutiny and I can tell you that majority of them may have questions to answer. The courts are the hope of the common man. If the courts are monetised or commercialised, what then is the hope for the country?
“Therefore, salary and other accounts of these judicial officers and that of their relations are being watched.
“Apart from that, their assets declaration forms are also been scrutinised. If there are those with undeclared assets, they will be made to answer questions.”
Timing of Onnoghen’s removal raises concern –UK, US
Meanwhile, the British Government has expressed worry over the removal of Onnoghen.
This comes barely hours after the American government disagreed with the Federal Government over the removal of the CJN.
The United Kingdom said the timing of the removal, which occurred three weeks to the election, could cast a shadow over the polls while the US believed that the CJN’s removal could affect the credibility of the polls.
The statement read, “We respect Nigeria’s sovereign authority and its right to adjudicate on constitutional provisions but as friends of the Nigerian people, we are compelled to observe that the timing of this action, so close to national elections, gives cause for concern. It risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections. We, along with other members of the international community, are following developments closely.”
Also, the United States of America asked Buhari to resolve the issues raised by Nigerians against the suspension of Onnoghen quickly and peacefully in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
The US Embassy said this in a statement on Saturday in a reaction to the suspension of Onnoghen by the President.
The statement read, “The Embassy of the United States is deeply concerned by the impact of the executive branch’s decision to suspend and replace the Chief Justice and head of the judicial branch without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections.
“We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch. That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent and peaceful – leading to a credible result.
“We urge that the issues raised by this decision be resolved swiftly and peacefully in accordance with due process, full respect for the rule of law, and the spirit of the Constitution of Nigeria. Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process.”
Parties, groups, others flay Buhari over Onnoghen’s suspension
Suspension can truncate Nigeria’s democracy – UP
The acting National Chairman of United Patriots, Mr Chukwudi Ezeobika, in his own reaction, described the suspension of Onnoghen as illegal and unconstitutional.
Ezeobika, who doubles as the party’s senatorial candidate for Anambra South, said Buhari’s action was against the ruling of Justice Abdul Aboki who ordered the Code of Conduct Tribunal to stay all proceedings pending the ruling on the application before it.
He said, “It is indeed of great concern to watch, in utter disbelief, President Buhari, who, before all Nigerians and the international community, swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of Nigeria, chose to disobey subsisting court orders with such impunity and arrogance.
“We hereby call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately retrace his steps and without further delay, reinstate the ousted Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and obey all court orders relating thereto.”
It indicates Buhari’s desperation to rig polls –Senate minority leader
Also, the Senate Minority Leader, Biodun Olujimi, described Onnoghen’s suspension as embarrassing and indicative of Buhari’s desperation to perpetuate himself in office through rigging of next month’s elections.
Olujimi, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Chief Sanya Atofarati, in Ado Ekiti, on Saturday, said, “The manner, drama and circumstances leading to the litigation against and suspension of Onnoghen are not only unconstitutional, illegal and embarrassing, but also amount to executive impertinence, rascality, recklessness and impunity which portend enormous danger to our growing democracy.
“The current development has gone a long way to show the level of desperation of the All Progressives Congress and Buhari government to rig the forthcoming general elections at all cost, even to the detriment of the rule of law, the fundamental rights of Nigerians and our hard earned democracy.”
It’s political, unconstitutional, says NBA
In the same vein, the Chairman of Ilesha Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Kanmi Ajibola, on Saturday, said the suspension of Onnoghen was politically-motivated and far from being a fight against corruption.
Ajibola, in an exclusive interview with SUNDAY PUNCH in Osogbo, noted that effort by Buhari to hinge his action on alleged corrupt act by the CJN was untenable.
He said, “First and foremost, the suspension is political. Buhari is trying to link it to the alleged corrupt act by the CJN, but what of other glaring corrupt acts by Buhari’s cronies that were investigated?
“Buhari has breached the Constitution by suspending the CJN. If it were to be in another clime, the parliament would have set to work and commence impeachment proceedings against the President, but we don’t have a vibrant National Assembly again.
“The judiciary should not be an annex of the executive arm. The court should be allowed to function. Thank God NBA is coming up strong on the issue. If needs be, we should give it to Buhari administration like we did during the military era. Buhari’s action is a clear abuse of the right to fair hearing.”
Presidency plans to truncate democracy –Ortom
Also, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, on Saturday, condemned the suspension of Onnoghen, saying the suspension and his hasty replacement was an attempt by the Presidency to truncate democracy and throw the country into anarchy.
Ortom stated that by the sacking of the CJN, the Presidency had demonstrated that it did not believe in the rule of law, due process and the principle of separation of powers.
The governor, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, in a statement, wondered why the current administration, which had no antecedent of respecting court orders, acted swiftly relying on a ‘directive’ from the CCT to suspend the CJN.
Ortom stated, “The hurried removal of Justice Onnoghen appears to have the imprints of the cabal which the President’s wife said is running the government.
“I advise the Presidency to remember that its integrity is at stake and should reverse the CJN’s suspension in the interest of the country.”
YCE warns against arresting CJN Onnoghen
In its reaction, the Yoruba Council of Elders described the suspension of Onnoghen as a national embarrassment and an invitation to crisis.
The Secretary-General of the YCE, Dr. Kunle Olajide, who said this in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH in Lagos on Saturday, said the President should not go ahead to arrest Onnoghen as being rumoured if he had such plans.
Olajide said, “The suspension of the CJN is very disturbing. One would have expected Mr President to tread cautiously. We are dealing with the head of the third arm of government and all necessary precautions should have been taken to ensure that no room is left for any mischief or suspicion.
“But the haste at which the suspension was announced was very frightening. There is a pending Court of Appeal decision that the Code of Conduct Tribunal should halt all processes on this matter. One would have expected the Federal Government to have respected that decision in conformity with the best global practices.
“Let us sincerely hope that the action will not cause a chain of reactions that might be a national embarrassment. So, going ahead to arrest him will, of course, escalate matter. I don’t want to believe he will be arrested because the consequences of doing that will be very unpredictable especially when this is coming at the election season.”
Court order leading to suspension suspect –Falana
In the same vein, a Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said the CCT’s order relied on by Buhari to suspend Onnoghen, was suspect.
According to Falana, the exparte application relied on was filed on January 9 while the motion on notice of the substantive suit was filed on January 11 with the name of the lawyer that argued the exparte motion not stated in the order.
He also suggested that Onnoghen might have contributed to his own ‘downfall’ by postponing indefinitely the meeting of the National Judicial Council, which could have deliberated on the matter and taken an informed position.
The senior advocate stated this in a statement made available to SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday in Abuja.
Stating that the exparte order was procured in an act of brazen impunity by the executive, Falana urged the President to respect all orders of the court, earlier obtained, which restrained the Federal Government from removing the CJN.
The senior advocate added, “It is unfortunate that the Bar and the Bench have played into the hands of the sponsors of incipient fascism in the country. For reasons best known to them, the stakeholders in the legal profession stood by and allowed the Office of the Chief Justice to be completely desecrated.
“It is intriguing that the 12 lawyers, including three Senior Advocates of Nigeria in the federal cabinet, did not deem it fit to dissuade President Buhari from carrying out the illegal suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the basis of an ex parte order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
“In particular, they ought to have reminded the President of the compulsory retirement of Justice Stanley Nnaji and Justice Wilson Egbo-Egbo for issuing illegal ex parte orders for the removal of Dr. Chris Ngige as Governor of Anambra State. It is sad to recall that it was the Federal Government, superintended by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that instigated the illegal removal of the governor at the material time.”
Falana challenged his colleagues to collectively rise up to the occasion by reviewing the entire Onnoghen saga in the interest of the nation’s judiciary.
He said, “Meanwhile, the legal team of the Chief Justice should proceed to challenge his suspension from office either at the Code of Conduct Tribunal or the Court of Appeal.”
NASS should reconvene to sack Aso Villa tyrant –Peter Obi support group
In its own reaction on Saturday, the Peter Obi Support Network asked the National Assembly to reconvene immediately and begin impeachment proceedings against Buhari, who it described as “the tyrant in Aso Villa” for suspending Onnoghen.
The spokesperson for POSN, Chief T. E. Ezeoke, in a statement on Saturday, said Buhari had confirmed the statement of former President Olusegun Obasanjo that Nigeria had returned to the dark era of dictatorship.
Ezeoke said, “The National Assembly should assert its constitutional authority and powers and prevent this slide into chaos and erosion of the rule of law. We call on the Federal Government to avert the looming constitutional crisis precipitated by its ill-advised action.
“In particular, POSN demands the reversal of the purported suspension of Justice Onnoghen, failing which NASS should immediately reconvene to start impeachment proceedings against the tyrant in Aso Villa.”
Nigeria now like Germany’s 1933 Reichstag fire –Dogara
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said dictatorship was now full-blown in Nigeria with Buhari’s purported suspension of Onnoghen as the CJN.
“As of today, Nigeria is now Germany in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire. Our democracy is on fire, ignited by the very people who swore to protect and defend it. That this fire must not convert the Chancellor to Fuhrer, as it happened in Germany in 1933, depends on our collective response and that of the international community. We must not bow our knees to dictatorship; not now, not ever again,” Dogara said in a statement on Saturday.
The Speaker stated that no provision in sections 157 and 292 of the 1999 Constitution supported the President in purporting to suspend the CJN or swearing in an acting CJN.
Dogara also noted that the Constitution did not contemplate a situation whereby the Judiciary would have a suspended CJN and acting CJN at the same time.
He said, “Therefore, it is right to posit, as some have done, that the President now has his own Chief Judge to do his bidding while Nigeria has a sitting CJN until he is removed in line with the provisions of the constitution.”
He added, “With the unconstitutional suspension of the CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari, the world has been served with notice that Nigeria is now a full-blown dictatorship.
“This did not come as a rude shock except to those that have been blind to the gradual but progressive erosion of democratic values in the polity as President Buhari’s government has never hidden its disdain for the rule of law.”
Reinstate Onnoghen now, PANDEF tells Buhari
In its own reaction, the Pan Niger Delta Forum called on Buhari to immediately reverse the CJN’s suspension and reinstate Onnoghen.
PANDEF, in a statement on Saturday, said Onnoghen’s suspension based on the orders of the CCT was akin to suspending the Nigerian constitution and enthroning dictatorship and anarchy in the country.
The statement, signed by the forum’s National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, indicated that the people of South-South would not tolerate the continued persecution of their people.
The statement read in part, “We shall employ all legitimate means to demonstrate our insistence on the reversal of the illegal removal of CJN Walter Onnoghen. This country belongs to all of us, and we are critical stakeholders in the Nigerian State.
“The President acted on a fraudulent order, emanating from an inferior court without jurisdiction to advise the President to remove the CJN. He acted on the order procured by a tribunal, which blatantly and flagrantly chose to disobey a subsisting court order.
“PANDEF therefore declares as follows: The NBA should call for total boycott of courts until this illegality is reversed.
“Justice Tanko Mohammed should be sanctioned by the NJC for his willful participation in this ‘coup’ against the Office of the CJN and the Nigerian Constitution.”
It’s the right move to fast track anti-graft war –BMO, gov candidate
But the Buhari Media Organisation has supported the President’s decision to suspend Onnoghen.
The group said the action signified a conscious shift of policy to fast-track the fight against corruption.
The group said in a statement by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, that Buhari had no alternative but to respect a valid suspension order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal pending the final determination of the case against Onnoghen.
It stated, “Resignation was the only meaningful option for the suspended Chief Justice. He is indeed a confessed felon after claiming in one breadth to have made a mistake and also forgot to have properly declared his assets in line with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau for public officials when confronted by investigators.
“Just like the President said in his speech at the swearing in of the Acting CJN, someone with a moral authority so wounded by serious charges of corruption by his own written admission ought to have stepped down on his own volition.
“But in the character of tainted high office holders in Nigeria, Justice Onnoghen preferred to lash on to the rigmarole of legal technicalities as well as a desperately shallow opposition party that is on the lookout for anything to use to cast aspersions on President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress to shore up its flagging campaign and an apparent failed effort to market a presidential candidate with questionable moral standing.
“So, from whichever angle one looks at it, it would be difficult to fault the President’s action with all the facts at his disposal as well as the CCT suspension order.
“We urge Nigerians across all divides to show support and solidarity with the President in his bid to fast track the fight against corruption, no matter whose ox is gored.”
Meanwhile, the governorship candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party in Bauchi State, Ambassador Shuiabu Adamu, has commended Buhari for firing Onnoghen, for alleged corrupt act, saying it is long overdue.
Adamu, who spoke to journalists in Bauchi on Saturday, said what the President did was the right thing considering the fact that there was an established corruption case against the suspended CJN as contained in his purported written confessional statement.
He said, “As far as I am concerned, I want to align myself with the action of Mr. President. In fact, I feel that it should have been done much earlier without even wasting time about all these court cases that kept coming up.
“The facts are there; they should just have been presented to the CJN at that time and ask him to resign, and if he doesn’t resign, this action that was taken should have been taken.”
Stop meddling in our affairs, FG replies US, UK
The Federal Government said last night that Nigeria reserved the right to control its internal affairs and noted that it would not subscribe to other countries “meddling” in its affairs.
The government said the forthcoming elections would be free, fair and credible.
It said Nigeria had rules and laws governing its affairs and would apply them in all circumstances for the purpose of promoting good governance.
In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, the FG made a reference to concerns raised by other countries over Friday’s suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria over alleged false asset declaration.
Recall that many observers, including the United States and the United Kingdom had expressed reservations over the action of President Muhammadu Buhari, coming so close to the February and March general elections.
They had observed that this could heat up the polity and might signpost possible mayhem during and after the elections.
But, on Saturday, the government, through Shehu’s statement, dismissed the apprehension as an attempt by outsiders to interfere with the internal affairs of Nigeria.
The statement said, “The Federal Government welcomes the prevailing keen interest and partnerships for successful elections and peaceful Nigeria.
“However, we reject any interference or perception management that promotes apprehension, citizens’ distrust or undermines the transparency and acceptability of the outcomes of our electoral process.
“Nigeria reserves the right to be insulated from suggestions and or interference with respect to wholly internal affairs and commends international laws, customs and norms that mandate and require nations and the comity to respect this prerogative to all.”
OLUSOLA FABIYI, JOHN AMEH, OLALEKAN ADETAYO, ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, SUNDAY ABORISADE, FRIDAY OLOKOR, KAMARUDEEN OGUNDELE, FEMI MAKINDE, LEKE BAIYEWU, ADELANI ADEPEGBA, ABIODUN NEJO, BOLA BAMIGBOLA, JOHN CHARLES, ARMSTRONG BAKAM
Credit: The Punch