By Dirisu Yakubu
ABUJA – Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar has warned President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC, not to throw the country into an avoidable crisis, following reported plan by the federal government to sack the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
In a statement issued in Abuja Saturday by Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communication, Mr. Phrank Shaibu, the PDP candidate said the principle of separation of powers remains sacrosanct in a constitutional democracy like the one being run by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Atiku said the plot to sack Justice Onnoghen is a preemptive move against the bench in the face of imminent electoral defeat and knowing the role that the judiciary plays in the final outcome of elections.
The statement read, “We have just been made aware of the plot by President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC to sack Justice Walter 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.”
The former Vice President said Nigerians were aware that the mastermind of “the plot to remove Onnoghen, Mr. Dennis Aghanya, the Executive Secretary of the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, ARDI, the author of the purported petition seeking Onnoghen’s removal was the National Publicity Secretary of President Buhari’s defunct political party, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.”
The PDP candidate warned however that if Buhari and the APC succeed in the current plot, it then should be ready for an epic battle, the end of which no one can predict, and the consequences of which can only be imagined.
He added: ”We have the strength of character, the courage and the conviction to mount a sustained campaign in defence of justice, and in defence of separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution, which is the ground norm of our democracy.”
Atiku said even if the allegations against Onnoghen are true, the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, was wrong to have referred the petition to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
He said the Code of Conduct Bureau, according to Section 3 (e) of the third schedule (part 1) of the 1999 constitution, “shall receive complaints about the non-compliance with or breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct or any law in relation thereto, investigate the complaint and, where appropriate, refer such matter to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.”
But Atiku argued that since judicial officers are disciplined by the National Judicial Commission, NJC,, the CCB was wrong to have referred the matter to the CCT even if the allegations have been found to have any substance.
“The proper procedure would have been for the petition to be referred to the JSC of which Onnoghen is the Chairman, but he would have to excuse himself from the process. If found guilty, he could be asked to vacate his office as CJN, in addition to other punishments, ” he argued.
The PDP candidate further added that President “Buhari’s desperation was to get Onnoghen out of the way and (in order) to appoint an Acting CJN whom he views as pliant and who will be made to superintend over election petitions in case his well laid out rigging plan fails.”