By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Kingsley Omonobi, Henry Umoru, Alemma Aliu
ABUJA — The National Judicial Council, NJC, and the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, have convened emergency meetings to hold tomorrow over the brewing constitutional crisis in the country, following the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was learned that the NJC meeting, expected to begin by 10am tomorrow was called by some NJC members in line with its rules.
A member of council, who confirmed the meeting, said neither Onnoghen, whose suspension has become a subject of controversy, nor Justice Tanko Ibrahim Muhammad, the acting CJN, will be allowed to preside over the meeting.
NJC’s Judicial Discipline Regulation 2017, Section 4, entitled MEETINGS OF THE COUNCIL, provides as follows:
- The Council shall hold meetings at such times and place as the Chairman may appoint.
- Notwithstanding the provision of paragraph (1) of this regulation, a Meeting of the Council shall be convened if five or more members make a request to that effect, in writing to the Chairman, specifying the business to be transacted.
- Every Meeting of the Council shall be presided by the Chairman and in his absence, by a member selected by a simple majority of Members present and/or nominations in the call of expression of interest and in the request for nomination.
- The quorum for a meeting shall not be less than one-third of the total number of the Council Members as at the date of that Meeting.
- A Member shall be entitled to one vote and the simple majority votes shall be the decision of the Council provided that the Chairman or other person presiding shall have a casting vote as well as deliberative vote.
Also, the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has equally summoned an emergency meeting over President Buhari’s action against Onnoghen, which the legal body insisted was illegal.
Those summoned to attend the meeting holding at the National Headquarters of the NBA are all its National Officers, Past Presidents, Past General Secretaries, Branch Chairmen, Branch Secretaries, Branch NEC Representatives and chairmen and secretaries of Sections.
Senate cuts recess, resumes tomorrow
In like manner, the Senate has resolved to cut short its break and reconvene tomorrow (Tuesday). The Senate will at plenary, brainstorm on the suspension of the CJN.
It will be recalled that the Senate had on Thursday after the Minimum Wage Bill passed the first and second reading and referred to the Eight member ad-hoc Committee headed by the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun Central) adjourned plenary till February 19 and to return back for further legislative business after the Presidential and National Assembly election.
However, in a statement yesterday by Clerk of the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, Senators will reconvene at 10a.m. on Tuesday.
Ayewoh in the statement said: “This is to inform all distinguished Senators of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the resumption of Plenary earlier Scheduled for Tuesday, February 19, 2019 has now been rescheduled for Tuesday, January 29, 2019.
“All Senators are by this notice, requested to resume sitting in plenary on January 29, 2019 by 10a.m., prompt, please.”
The Senators it was gathered, would consider among others, whether President Buhari has such powers to, on his own, suspend the CJN without referring to the Senate where a two- thirds majority is required.
The Senators when they come back on Tuesday will invoke Section 292(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Amended.
PANDEF demands Onnoghen’s reintatement
This came as Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, umbrella body of traditional rulers, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, weekend, raised four key posers for President Muhammadu Buhari over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, an act it strongly denounced, demanding his immediate reinstatement.
PANDEF in a statement by its National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, also called on the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to boycott the courts “until this illegality is reversed.”
PANDEF said, “Justice Ibrahim Muhammad should be sanctioned by the National Judicial Council, NJC, for his wilful participation in this ‘coup’ against the office of the CJN and the Nigerian constitution.
“The courts should not sit until Justice Muhammad is barred from parading himself as the CJN and Justice Onnoghen promptly reinstated. The National Assembly should pass a resolution condemning this violation of the Constitution and ensure that the President’s action was reversed with immediate effect. It must be emphasized that the National Assembly is a microcosm of the peoples of Nigeria and every section of this great country has, because of adult suffrage, delegated its voice to her.
“The NASS is now at a particular unique junction at this time of our history, when we now face real issues of the nation, which currently stands on the edge of precipice. She has the legislative empowerment, as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), to take the necessary actions that can reverse this ugly trend.
“Well-meaning Nigerians irrespective of political divide should rise against this monumental absurdity of the century until it is reversed,” the regional body said.
Issues raised by PANDEF for President Buhari, include “When was the motion that led to the infamous CCT order moved? Was it taken after the Tribunal adjourned on January 23, about 3p.m.? Is it possible that after the court had adjourned, the Tribunal reconvened to take a motion ex-parte after the defendants had been served on notice? Or was the order made the next day of business on January24, 2019 after the Court of Appeal granted a restraining order against the Tribunal?
“From the above posers, it is clearly evident that the Tribunal circumvented the process to empower and misled the President by backdating the order to January 23, whereby it was signed by only two member – Danladi Umar and Julie Anabor of the Tribunal. What happened to the third member?
“The President acted on a fraudulent order, emanating from an inferior court without jurisdiction to remove the CJN. He acted on the order procured by a tribunal, which blatantly and flagrantly chose to disobey a subsisting court order even when the defence copiously referred the Tribunal to Supreme Court decisions, which upheld the sanctity of respecting all courts orders of superior courts of record.
“Clearly, the judicial arm which is the pillar of integrity upon which our democracy rests is under siege; Separation of Powers and rule of law is threatened. Indeed the independence of the judiciary shall be subjugated and consumed if this brazen action is allowed to stand.
“The principles and tenets for rule of law, and judiciary, being the hope of the common man is being jeopardized. This also brings to mind the invasion of the National Assembly by hooded security operatives of the DSS, last year, that caused the nation untold embarrassment before the rest of the world. It is a dangerous precedence, and must be resisted by all well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians.
“PANDEF further considers it as part of the unfair treatment, unnecessary persecution and discrimination being meted against persons from the South-South geopolitical zone and the Niger Delta region by the President Muhammad Buhari -led federal government since its inception in 2015,” the group said.
Onnoghen’s suspension, an impeachable offence — Ikpomwen
Also, former Provost of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd) yesterday in Benin City said the action of Buhari in suspending the CJN, Justice Onnoghen was an impeachable offence and urged members of the National Assembly to look in that direction just as he urged Buhari to rescind his decision.
His words: “As a lawyer and a bureaucrat, an administrator, a strategic thinker, I have looked at this matter very deeply from different angles; constitutional angle, the legal angle and I am unable to find any justification for this kind of action, this kind of sudden removal of the CJN.
“It is therefore completely an abuse of the constitution, assault on the constitution for the president on his own remove the CJN. It sounds like a reminder of what we has been hearing in the past allowing the crooked cord of discretion to prevail over the sanity of the rule of law that is what appeared to be re-enacted. Remember this government once said the rule of law will be subordinated to national security, a theory which cannot be interpreted other than being antithetical to the rule of law.
“Nobody, not even the president has the power to act contrary to the constitution. Violation of the constitution is an impeachable offence because it is a gross violation. I am worried that at this point in time when many Nigerians are already worried whether we can be rest assured of a transparent free and fair election in the next three weeks that things of this nature being done that will further put the hope of the average Nigerian in complete frustration. That is not to say that an offence committed should not be handled but there must a legal way in our laws. I am not saying that the action of the CJN is plausible but the legal process must be followed.”
Sanusi, Onnoghen’s cases dissimilar — Ozekhome
Also, lawyer and rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, yesterday, said that contrary to insinuations that he backed the removal of ex-CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido by former President Goodluck Jonathan and that the Onnoghen case are similar, “there is no equivalent section under the CCB/CCT Act, permitting the President to capriciously and whimsically hire and fire the CJN as he wishes, as he could do under the CBN Act.”
He said those equating the case of former Court of Appeal President, Ayo Salami to the present travails of the CJN, Justice Onnoghen are trying misinterpret the constitution.
Ozekhome said, “My attention has just been drawn to my statement made in 2014, currently, flying about in the social media. “It is to the effect that I am now contradicting myself from my earlier stand that the then President, GEJ, could suspend the then Governor of CBN, now Emir Sanusi, by invoking section 11 of the Interpretation Act, on the ground that he who can hire can also fire and also suspend.
“I perfectly stand by that statement. I also hereby affirm my present informed argument and my present stance, as both the Onnoghen and Salami’s cases are not in any way related at all. My 2014 argument related to the interpretation of the Constitution and the CBN Act, under which the President can hire and fire as he wishes, subject to Senate’s approval. He could therefore, also suspend, going by the Interpretation Act.
“There is no equivalent section under the CCB/CCT Act, permitting the President to capriciously and whimsically hire and fire the CJN as he wishes, as he could do under the CBN Act. Whereas appointment of the CBN Governor under the CBN Act involves only the President and Senate, (President nominates and Senate confirms by 2/3 majority), sections 153, 158, 3rd Schedule (parts 1 & 2), sections 291 and 292 of the Constitution were NOT in issue then. They are now.
“The sections of the CBN Act only relates to the President’s power to hire, or fire (and suspend under the Interpretation Act), the CBN Governor. Oil and water do not mix. So, I stand by that my 2014 argument as regards the then CBN Governor.
“However, under the Constitution, the CJN, like President of the Court of Appeal, High Courts and Federal High Court, Chief Judges, Grand Khadis and President of the Customary Court, enjoy a special space in our constitutional organogram.
“For them to be hired or fired, the entire three arms of government are involved under Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Constitution, in sync with the famous doctrine of separation of powers, ably propounded in 1748 by the great French Philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu.
“Unlike under the CBN Act (under which Sanusi’s case came up), the NJC in the Onnoghen saga must first recommend; the Senate must first approve; before the President can then hire or fire. Were the present issues based alone on a mere Act such as the CBN Act, then PMB would have had the power to also suspend. Unlike under the CBN Act, the three arms of government must be involved in the case of the CJN.
“They have not, in this instance, which is the kernel of my present stance. But, even the CCT ex parte order PMB purportedly relied upon, didn’t permit the President to suspend Onnoghen. The order directs Onnoghen to “step aside”.
“Has he stepped aside? No. Has Senate ever met at any time to decide to remove or suspend Onnoghen by 2/3 majority votes? No. Can the President appoint an Acting CJN to a position that is not vacant since the incumbent has not stepped aside? No.
“So, a CCT that had, by itself, adjourned proceedings to January 28, 2019, for argument on the issue of jurisdiction, suddenly remembered that there existed a motion ex parte somewhere in its files, dusted it up and issued an ex parte order based on it, at a time the issue of jurisdiction was already pending before it, and after it was adjourned for hearing by the very CCT itself.
“The only jurisdiction a court or tribunal whose jurisdiction has been duly challenged possesses is jurisdiction to determine whether or not it has jurisdiction. Nothing more. It cannot make more or further orders on the substance of the case as erroneously done by the CCB. The ex parte order therefore cannot stand in law. All these issues never occurred in the Sanusi case at all.
“There were no court proceedings to be interpreted; no court order; no jurisdictional issues raised; and no three arms of government involved. So, the two scenarios are worlds apart. Some have also referred to the Justice Ayo Salami Saga. It is again totally different from the Onnoghen matter.”
It’s war on Nigerians — OGBONNIA
Similarly, erstwhile All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential aspirant, Dr. S.K.C .Ogbonnia, said Buhari has declared war on Nigerians with the suspension of Justice Onnoghen.
In a statement, Ogbonnia said: “I support the war against corruption, without minding whose ox is gored. I am on record to have strongly supported President Buhari when, at the beginning of his regime, he authorized the prosecution of the head of the Legislature, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on corruption allegations, believing that we have to start somewhere.”
“It is true that the judiciary has become a clog in the wheel of the anti-corruption vehicle and, ordinarily, I would have equally endorsed Buhari’s current move to prosecute the head of the third arm of government, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen for failing to declare his assets.
“But I cannot in good conscience do so. He who comes into equity must come with clean hands. Buhari’s war against corruption has become dangerously selective. The executive arm of the government, for instance, appears to have become a safe haven for notorious corrupt kingpins in the country. Consider that the pace and content of Buhari’s second term bid is being dictated by a team featuring a bevy of notorious politicians facing serious corruption charges.
“In the eye of the executive arm of the government, members of the ruling party are innocent until proven guilty while members of the opposition or other arms of the government are guilty until proven innocent just as headship of vital national agencies has become the sole province of people from a section of the country.
“This pattern of partiality or injustice is indefensible. In short, it must be resisted by all Nigerians, regardless of political, religious or tribal affiliations. This calls for other patriotic leaders from the ruling APC to join to condemn the action of the president. The fundamental principles of equity and justice are universal. Equity will not grant relief from a self-created hardship,” he said.