BY OBUTE JAMES
The Nigerian Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki has described the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Onoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari, as a coup against democracy and a deliberate attempt to endanger the nation’s hard-won democracy.
Onneghen who was expected to swearn in Electiom Petition Tribunal Members on Saturday 26 January was however suspended today, January 25 while Justice Tanko Mohammed was Sworn-in in actimg capacity by President Buhari.
Saraki, in a statement personally signed by him stated that the suspension was another act of desperation by President Buhari. He noted that by the suspension of the CJN, Buhari has acted outside the provision of the constitution, has exercised the powers which he does not have and that this action amounted to gross misconduct.
“This is an action aimed at undermtining the nation’s judiciary, subverting the constitution, intimidating judges of all the courts of record, and creating uncertainty in the electoral process, thereby laying the foundation for influencing the outcome of litigations that might arise from next month’s elections.
“There are already the general belief that this hasty action was taken to pre-empt the already scheduled inauguration of election petition tribunals by Hon. Justice Onoghen and to destroy national institutions that are perceived to be unco-operative in his bid to manipulate the electoral process leading to next month’s general elections.
“By unilaterally suspending the CJN without following the provision of the constitution, President Buhari has taken an action which amounted to gross misconduct. He has simply sent a dangerous signal to the entire world that Nigeria is no longer a democratic nation and that we have returned to the old, jaded era of military dictatorship .
“Our constitution makes no provision for suspension of the nation’s highest judicial officer. The constitution provides a clear process for removal of the CJN and specify the roles of the three arms of government, beginning from the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and lastly, the Presidency, have different roles to play in that process. There is no condition under which the President can usurp the powers of other arms of government. I do not know where the President and his advisers got this idea of suspending the CJN on the so-called order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal but this is novel, disingenuous and alien to our laws.
“The President and his team must have seen this so-called suspension as a short-cut to getting Hon. Justice Onnoghen out of the way since the appellate court has eventually stopped the CCT from continuing with the trial of the CJN. It is strange that President Buhari is claiming to be taking orders from a Tribunal which has been ordered by a superior court to halt all actions on the trial.
“With this action, President Buhari has initiated a process the consequence of which nobody can predict. They have precipitated a constitutional crisis.
“At this point, all democratic institutions in the country, the international community and democrats across the world should rise against this blatant act of impunity. We should jointly condemn this retrogressive, uncivilized and despotic measure”, Saraki stated.
He however called on President Buhari to immediately reverse this decision and allow the due process of law to take its natural course in determining the guilt or otherwise as well as the suitability of Hon. Justice Onnoghen to continue as the head of the nation’s judiciary.