Barely a month to the February 2019 general elections, the Federal Government is taking a a very unprecedented step to remove the the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, and head of the judicial arm of government, Justice Walter Onnoghen from office.
The FG filed an application against the CJN to the Code of Conduct Tribunal dated January 11 and signed by two senior lawyers at the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Musa Ibrahim Usman and Fatima Danjuma Ali.
The Buhari-led administration is alleging that Chief Justice Onnoghen did not declare all his assets as required by law and that he operated foreign bank accounts contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct for public office holders.
It will be the first time in Nigeria’s history such an action is brought against the head of the judicial arm of government.
With the application filed, the CJN may be docked as early as Monday 14 January before the Justice Danladi Umar CCT, in Abuja, and there are indications the application includes a request for an order of the tribunal for the Chief Justice to vacate his office at the Supreme Court in order to concentrate on answering to the charges.
Incidentally, Justice Umar himself is being investigated for corruption by the EFCC, accused of collecting a N10m bribe from Rasheed Taiwo, a former officer of the Nigeria Customs Service who had faced false assets declaration charges before the CCT in 2012. The lawyer to the EFCC who preferred the charges against Justice Umar is Barr. Festus Keyamo who is in turn the Director of Strategic Communications of the Buhari Campaign Organization.
Justice Onnoghen, from Biase, Cross River State, eastern Nigeria is the first southerner to come into the position of CJN in at least 30 years. If the government succeeds to remove him from office, the position will be occupied by Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, from Bauchi, northern Nigeria.
Buhari has been tainted by repeated accusations of nepotism in his dispositions in favour of the north and moslems – to which demographics he belongs.
Justice Onnoghen would have been due to retire gracefully on attaining the retirement age of 70 years next year. He was born on born 22 December 1950 and has had an illustrious career
Already permutations into the government’s motives are being made by pundits ahead of the 2019 general elections which potentially could be headed to the apex court for post-election adjudications. Justice Onnoghen had on Tuesday last week, declared the readiness of the judiciary under his leadership to dispassionately resolve disputes that may arise from the impending elections.
Mr. Buhari had been reluctant to nominate Justice Onnoghen to the post of CJN after the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed, leaving vice president Yemi Osinbajo to do so as acting president on 6 March 2017 after the president took ill and was flown abroad. Mr. Oonoghen was nominated to the supreme court in 2005 by former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
However, the 1999 constitution was clear on how a serving justice of the supreme court may be removed from office. Section 291(1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, provided that a judicial officer appointed to the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, may retire when he attains the age of 65 years and shall cease to hold office when he attend the age of 70 years.
According to section 292 (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 (1) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, President of the National Industrial 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. (b) “In any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge Te 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”.
Opposition Reacts Strongly
But in a swift reaction, main opposition Peoples’s Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar has warned President Buhari to understand that the principle of separation of powers remains sacrosanct in a democracy irrespective of what President Buhari is being told by his advisers or the buttons they are pressing to forcefully remove the CJN.
Atiku said the plot to sack Justice Onnoghen was a preemptive move against the bench in the face of imminent defeat and knowing the role that the judiciary plays in the final outcome of elections.
He said, “We have just been made aware of the plot by President Muhammadu Buhari the All Progressives Congress (APC) to sack Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen using flimsy assets declaration issues as a pretext.
“We are aware that there are plans to arraign Justice Onnoghen before the Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar led-Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday, January 14, 2019.
“The charge against Onnoghen, we understand has already been filed and served on him last Friday at his official residence in Abuja preparatory to his appearance at the Tribunal.
”But we warn that despite the clandestine meetings in the highest echelon of the APC and also involving some top officials of the federal government which include the Code of Conduct Tribunal, neither Buhari nor the APC can re-write the Nigerian Constitution just because of its impending defeat at the February 16, presidential election.
“Heavens did not fall when PDP lost to the APC in 2015. And heavens will not fall now that the APC is sure to lose to the PDP, seeing that the APC’s plan to rig in the forthcoming elections will not pull through.”
ble acting Chief Justice of Nigeria to sit on his election petition because he has seen the signal that he will lose the February 16 presidential election,” Atiku said.
, whose appointment suffered unprecedented delay by President Muhammadu Buhari over undisclosed issues, may be the first CJN in the annals of Nigeria to be arraigned for criminal charges by the government.
Although section 291(1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, provided that a judicial officer appointed to the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, may retire when he attains the age of 65 years and shall cease to hold office when he attend the age of 70 years. According to section 292 (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 (1) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, President of the National Industrial 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. (b) “In any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge Te 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”.
The motion, if granted, will see the replacement of Justice Onnoghen who is the first Southerner to attain the position of the CJN in over 30 years, with the next most senior jurist on the apex court bench, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, who is from the Northern extraction.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) itself has accused the Buhari Presidency of plotting to destabilize and annex the Judiciary ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The party also alerts of allegations that the All Progressives Congress (APC) and cabal at the Buhari Presidency are hounding Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen and seeking his removal so as to cause a constitutional crisis, instill fear in judicial officers and pave way for the foisting of a pliable CJN that will do their bidding on electoral matters.
This is particularly following allegations that the APC seeks a new CJN that will aid its rigging schemes as well as execute the plot to use the court to detain and put opposition members and outspoken members of Civil Society Organizations out of circulation during the general elections.
This development is a clear recipe for anarchy and a huge crisis that is capable of fracturing our justice system and derail our democracy as it portends a prelude to a total clamp down on institutions of democracy and rule of law in our country.
The PDP therefore urges all Nigerians, the United Nations and all international bodies to unite in the defence of our democracy, especially at this very critical time in our political development. Charge against Onnoghen attempt to gag judiciary – Hon, SAN Read more at: or General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, whose tenure has expired and who had also been rejected by Nigerians due to his manifest partisanship, to go.
President Buhari should also ask Amina Zakari to recuse herself from INEC following her rejection by Nigerians over issues of impropriety in her appointment as Chairperson of the Presidential election collation committee.
Furthermore, we challenge Mr. President to also commence plans for the immediate prosecution of members of his campaign organization, including his co-Chairman, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the factional National Chairman of his APC, Adams Oshiomhole over allegations of corruption against them.
Finally, the PDP counsels the APC to note that it has been rejected by Nigerians and as such should end all its actions and schemes that overheat the polity and place our nation on the precipice.
CUPP Declare “One Million March” In Protest
Opposition parties on the platform of the Coalition of United Political Parties are planning a one-million-man march to protest the planned trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The coalition’s first national spokesperson, Imo Ugochinyere, disclosed this in a statement made available to journalists in Abuja on Saturday.
Ugochinyere said the protest was meant to save the nation’s judiciary and by extension, Nigeria’s democracy.
“Nigerian opposition will immediately commence mobilisation for a one-million-man march to save the Nigerian judiciary from President Buhari’s reign of destruction,” he said.
He described Onnoghen’s planned arraignment as undemocratic and unconstitutional.
He said the plan was the latest in the strategies being deployed by the present administration to rig the forthcoming elections.
He added, “The Presidency had during the appointment of Justice Onnoghen shown its card that it was not comfortable with his appointment hence it was delayed until President Buhari was hurried out of the country due to perennial illness.
“Justice Onnoghen has since shown that he is fair, firm, and able to do justice and will not succumb to the pressures of a Presidency that is planning to rig an election as the only hope of winning reelection following their rejection by the Nigerian people.
“This dastardly move by the Presidency is the last desperate acts of an outgoing government to blackmail the CJN out of office and bring in a rogue judge to allow APC’s rigging.”
He enjoined Onnoghen not to resign for the sake of the nation’s democracy.
He said, “The trumped-up charges will fall like a pack of cards like those filed against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and all the judges whose homes were invaded on October 7, 2016.
“These acts of desperation are an unequivocal declaration of war on the Nigerian democracy by the Buhari Presidency and the ruling APC.
“President Buhari is now living in morbid fear of losing the election after he wasted the opportunity freely and willingly given to him by Nigerians to improve their lot.
“This can only be a plot to manipulate post 2019 election tribunal. Nothing else can be behind this despotic move to desecrate office of the CJN.
“This plot is as sacrilegious, if not more, as the demolishing of the homes of judges and not securing any convictions but this is the last defence line of democracy which must be protected at all cost even with the blood of Nigerians.
“We know we are dealing with a President who is a maniac now. He is willing to bring Nigeria to a grinding halt. Nothing is sacred to President Buhari anymore. Not the lives of Nigerians, not our institutions of state, not security, not the economy, just absolutely nothing.
“What President Buhari is doing is the height of impunity and rascality. The CJN cannot be forced out of office even with a trillion fictitious charges.”
Ugochinyere claimed that intelligence reports showed that some ministers and leaders of the APC are behind Onnoghen’s ordeal.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode