President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday suspended the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen and immediately swore in an acting CJN. He is Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed,who is next in ranking to Onnoghen at the Supreme Court. President cited an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) as the basis for his action.
The January 23,2019 interim order directed Onnoghen to “step aside as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Chairman of the National Judicial Council over an allegation of contravening the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act CAP C15 Laws of the Federation 2004 pending the determination of the Motion on Notice dated 10th Day of January 2019.”
It also mandated the President to “take all necessary measure to swear the most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council in order to prevent a vacuum in the judicial arm of government pending the determination of the motion on Notice.
” The motion ex parte filed by the Federal Government against Onnoghen. Attached to the motion,according to the CCT, were an affidavit of urgency and an affidavit in support of the motion by “one James Akpala,an investigator with the Code of Conduct Bureau for the Complainant/Applicant.”
Justice Mohammed was conveyed to the Presidential Villa at about 4:30pm in a black Mercedes Benz C240 with number plate GWA:900FA. Buhari,in a 20-paragraph speech soon after swearing in the acting CJN, decried “the drama around the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria,” which he said, “has challenged that pillar of justice in the perception of the ordinary man on the street.
” He said government could not allow the situation to continue unabated. His words: “A short while ago, I was served with an Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal issued on Wednesday 23rd January 2019, directing the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen from office the pending final determination of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and several other fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
“The nation has been gripped by the tragic realities of no less a personality than the Chief Justice of Nigeria himself becoming the accused person in a corruption trial since details of the petition against him by a Civil Society Organisation first became public about a fortnight ago.
“Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law. “Perhaps more worrisome is the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s own written admission to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, citing ’’mistake’’ and ’’forgetfulness,’’ which are totally unknown to our laws as defences in the circumstances of his case. “One expected that with his moral authority so wounded by these serious charges of corruption, more so by his own written admission, Mr. Justice Walter Onnoghen would have acted swiftly to spare our Judicial Arm further disrepute by removing himself from superintending over it while his trial lasted.
“Unfortunately, he has not done so. Instead, the nation has been treated to the sordid spectacle of a judicial game of wits in which the Chief Justice of Nigeria and his legal team have made nonsense of the efforts of the Code of Conduct Tribunal to hear the allegation on merit and conclude the trial as quickly as possible considering the nature of the times in which we live. “Whether deliberately or inadvertently, we have all seen the full weight of the Chief Justice of Nigeria descend on the tender head of one of the organs of justice under his control. There is simply no way the officers of that court, from the Chairman to the bailiffs, can pretend to be unaffected by the influence of the leader of the Judiciary.
“Not only the trial court, but others have been put on the spot. Practically, every other day since his trial commenced, the nation has witnessed various courts granting orders and counter-orders in favour of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, all of them characterised by an unholy alacrity between the time of filing, hearing and delivery of judgment in same. “The real effect has been a stalling of the trial of Justice Onnoghen, helped along by lawyers who insist that these orders, whether right or wrong, are technically valid, and must be obeyed till an appellate court says otherwise.
No doubt, that it is the proper interpretation, but is it the right disposition for our nation? “Nigeria is a constitutional democracy and no one must be, or be seen to be, above the law. Unfortunately, the drama around the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria has challenged that pillar of justice in the perception of the ordinary man on the street.
Due process is expected to be properly followed to guaranty fair justice.