Mike Ozekhome and Femi Falana, both senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, have flayed the suspension of Walter Onnoghen, chief justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25.
While Ozekhome said that action tantamount to the suspension of the Constitution of Nigeria and full return to dictatorship, Falana pointed out that the court order was procured with brazen impunity.
In a statement entitled: “President Buhari Has Finally Suspended the Nigerian Constitution” Ozekhome described the alleged suspension from office of the CJN as the “vilest, thieving, most despicable, ultravires, undemocratic and brazenly unconstitutional act ever carried out by any government in Nigeria, civilian or military, since 1st January,1914, when the contraption called Nigeria was forcibly contrived through the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates.”
According to him, “The desperate act of a sit-tight president constitutes a direct suspension of the Nigerian Constitution and the entire democratic process. It has finally removed the remaining veneer of pretension to democratic credentials by Buhari and his all- conquering cabal. Welcome, Nigerians, to full blown dictatorship, absolutism, authoritarianisn and fascism.
“Buhari has behaved worse than what he was as a military tyrant. Military juntas always only suspended parts of the Constitution they did not like. But, by torpedoing the entire judiciary, rule of law and due process, including four valid High Court/Federal High Court rulings and yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal, all of them staying proceedings of the phoney and funny charges levelled against Onnoghen before the CCT, Nigerians now know that we have now become an endangered specie.
“It means that the next election is nothing more than a ritualistic outing to illegally confer life presidency (not just 4 years) on Buhari. There is no known basis,legal,constitutional or moral,to hurriedly bypass courts of law,the judicial process and court orders, to illegally remove the CJN and swear in an Acting CJN.The provisions of section 292(2) of the 1999 Constitution are quite clear on how the CJN can be removed from office.
“Aside sections 153,158 and parts 1 and 2 of the 3rd schedule to the Constitution which provide that a judicial officer can not be removed from office until he has first been tried and dealt with by the National Judicial Council (NJC),section 292(2) makes it clear that the president can only remove the CJN from office before the age of his retirement,” acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate”. When did the Senate meet to donate this power to the president? NEVER. The president has illegally and unconstitutionally stripped both the judiciary and the Legislature bare of their constitutional functions, usurped their powers and enthroned maximum dictatorship over the affairs of Nigeria, like Louis X14 once did when he stood in front of parliament, beat his chest imperiously and declared,”l’est tat c’est moi”(I am the state).
The ill-advised action does not only assault our noble sense of humanity and dignity as decent Nigerians,it also violently desecrates the principles of rule of law as espoused by Prof A.V.Dicey and the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers as ably propounded in 1748 by the great French Philosopher,Baron De Montesque.
What to Do?
Ozekhome urged Nigerians to brace up, come out enmasse, to protest against this illegality. We are back to full Abacha era, as OBJ rightly noted three days ago in his patriotic letter to Nigerians. Nigerian lawyers and the NBA should shut down all courts in Nigeria until the CJN is returned to his seat. “This was achieved even under military dictatorship in Pakistan, when former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf illegally removed from office, the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on 11th March, 2007.
“All the lawyers went on strike, from 15th March,2007, shut down the courts and protested on the streets for months, until a panel of 7 members of the Supreme Court sat and held that the removal was illegal and reinstated the Chief Justice. Nigerian lawyers should act now. The NASS should also shut down in protest and allow Buhari and his cabal have their jolly ride over cowed, hapless, vanquished and conquered Nigerians.
“There is no more democracy in Nigeria. It is as dead as dodo. The coming presidential election is but a mere charade to confer legitimacy on a pre-rigged, on-the-spot rigged and post-rigged election. The pretentious chicken has finally come home to roost. This recent act is a big scandalous shame on the Buhari government, assuming it still knows anything called shame. It has tainted it with the paint brush of odium, obliquy and international derision. The international community should weigh in immediately to prevent Nigeria from burning,” Ozekhome said.
Court Order is Suspect
On his part, Falana said the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s order relied on by President Buhari to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, is suspect.
According to Falana, the exparte application relied on was filed on January 9, while the motion on notice of the substantive suit 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 take an informed position.
Falana, in a statement issued in Abuja recalled that he had tried to intervene in the matter by calling on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN to withdraw the charge of false declaration of assets filed against the suspended CJN.
“The call was without prejudice to the merit of the serious allegations levelled against the Chief Justice. In line with decided judicial authorities, I had wanted the National Judicial Council to investigate the allegations. Unfortunately, the 88th statutory meeting of the National Judicial Council scheduled to hold on January 15, 2019, which could have deliberated on the matter and taken an informed position was postponed indefinitely on the directive of the embattled Chief Justice.