Abuja – The Forum of Presidential Candidates and Political Parties for Good Governance has said that the suspension of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari is proper and timely.
The Chairman of the Forum and Presidential Candidate of the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), Alhaji Mohammed Shittu, said this at a news conference on Monday in Abuja.
Buhari had on Jan. 25 suspended Onnoghen, pending the completion of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and swore in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the most senior Supreme Court Justice, as the acting CJN.
The president said that the suspension was as a result of the ongoing trial of Onnoghen by the CCT and subsequent order of the tribunal directing him to suspend the CJN pending the completion of his trial.
Shittu expressed astonishment at the reactions to the alleged offence committed by Onnoghen, which were coming mainly from senior legal practitioners, and which were not based on the law, but premised on emotions, sentiments and political affiliations.
The ADPA presidential candidate said that by virtue of the Interpretation Act, the President had the right to suspend any public officer from office.
“Those who oppose the step being taken by the Federal Government have advanced basically three arguments. First, they claim that the independence of the judiciary is paramount.
“They have, however, forgotten to differentiate between the person of Justice Onnoghen as a Nigerian who is not above the law and who could commit offence,’’ he said.
Shittu added that the second reason being put forward by defenders of Onnoghen was that the timing of the arraignment was suspect.
“According to them, the proposed charge is akin to an attempt by the ruling political party to compromise Election Petitions. This argument is untenable.
“An offence can only be reported and tried whenever discovered. The suspended CJN must be prepared to face and stand trial,’’ adding that the burden was on Onnoghen to prove his innocence.
“The Forum of Presidential Candidates and Political Parties for Good Governance believes strongly that Buhari’s suspension of Justice Onnoghen as CJN is proper and timely.
“Majority of Nigerians have now realised that but for the pre-emptive move by the President, Onnoghen would have proceeded to constitute the Election Petition Panels.
“No wonder some interested elements are shocked that their game plan has been punctured. Desperate disease needs a desperate treatment. President Buhari acted in the overall interest of the people of Nigeria.
“So much is required from the judiciary since they hold the power of life and death. Judges are therefore expected to live above board and be incorruptible.
“It would have been unfair to Nigerians to have someone who is carrying a clear baggage of corruption on his head to continue to preside over a sensitive arm of government like the judiciary,’’ he said.
Shittu said that members of the forum came to the conclusion that the offence allegedly committed by Onnoghen was not judicial that could have warranted the intervention of NJC.
He added that the constitution recognised the holder of the office of CJN as the first public officer in Nigeria, adding that the suspension of the CJN cannot be equated with removal as envisaged in the 1999 Consitution ( as amended).
“ The suspension by the President does not, therefore, require the input of the NJC and the National Assembly.
“We also came to the conclusion that we do not believe the action taken by the President will have any negative effect on the forthcoming general elections,’’ he said.
The chairman called on politicians and interest groups to desist from misinforming the people on the patriotic move by the President.
“Nigerians and the international community should appreciate the need for the bold action by our government.
“We should give the needed support to ensure that the country evolves an unblemished and egalitarian society where all citizens are treated equally and fairly, irrespective of their status,’’ he said.(NAN)