THE Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has condemned the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday.
In a statement issued late Friday, the action of the executive arm of government was described as an “attempted coup against the Nigerian Judiciary and evident suspension of the Nigerian Constitution by the Executive arm of the Federal Government”.
“The action of the Executive portends a slide into anarchy and complete deconstruction of the Rule of Law and due process. It amounts to an absolute breach of the Constitution and the usurpation of the powers of the Senate and the Nigerian Judicial Council,” read the statement signed by the NBA president, Paul Usoro.
The NBA expressed disappointment that the presidency had relied on an ex-parte order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal as a basis for the suspension of the CJN, even when the same CCT had on Tuesday, January 22, adjourned the hearing of the CJN’s case to Monday, January 28. And on Thursday, the Court of Appeal had ruled that the CCT lacks the jurisdiction to try the CJN.
“The Nigerian Bar Association demands the reversal of the purported suspension of Honorable Justice Walter S C Onnoghen, GCON. We also call on the National Assembly to assert its constitutional authority and powers and prevent this slide into chaos and erosion of the Rule of Law,” the statement read further.
Meanwhile, the presidency has insisted that the suspension of Onnoghen’s suspension “is about fighting corruption”.
Speaking on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ on Friday, the president’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, maintained that there is no political motives behinds Buhari’s decision to remove Onnoghen.
“As far as the President is concerned, this is just about fighting corruption,” Adesina said.
“As to what is on the President’s mind, he wrote a speech just before the swearing in of the acting CJN.
“He said the moral authority of Justice Walter Onnoghen has been wounded. He said it’s been so wounded that he should just have stepped down till the case is concluded, and that is why he had to now use the power vested in him, as directed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”
Buhari has since sworn in Justice TankoMohammed as the new CJN.
The argument about whether or not the president has the powers to remove the CJN, who is the head of the Judiciary, an independent arm of government, is still ongoing.
Section 292 of the Nigerian constitution dwelt on how a judicial officer could be removed from office.
It states: “(1) A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances – (a) in the case of – (i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
“(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State, praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.”