The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has rejected the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, describing it as a coup against the Judiciary.
Its President, Paul Usoro (SAN), said President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision amounted to the suspension of the Constitution, describing the swearing-in of Justice Ibrahim Tanko as the acting CJN as an action that cannot stand.
“The Nigerian Bar Association unequivocally rejects and condemns this attempted coup against the Nigerian Judiciary and evident suspension of the Nigerian Constitution by the Executive arm of the Federal Government.
“The action of the Executive portends a slide into anarchy and complete deconstruction of the Rule of Law and due process. It amounts to an absolute breach of the Constitution and the usurpation of the powers of the Senate and the National Judicial Council.
“It is unfortunate that the Executive branch of government purports to suspend the CJN on the basis of an alleged exparte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal – the same Tribunal that, to the knowledge of the Executive, had, only the previous day, Tuesday, 22 January 2019 adjourned its proceedings to Monday, 28 January 2019 and has before it a Motion on Notice that is yet to be argued, seeking the same reliefs as were contained in the purported ex-parte application, to wit, the suspension of the CJN, amongst others. We call on the Federal Government to avert the looming constitutional crisis precipitated by its ill-advised action.
“In particular, the Nigerian Bar Association demands the reversal of the purported suspension of Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S C Onnoghen, GCON. “We also call on the National Assembly to assert its constitutional authority and powers and prevent this slide into chaos and erosion of the Rule of Law.” But, a senior lawyer and multilateral diplomat, Dr. Babafemi Badejo, said it was left for the courts to decide whether Chief Justice Onnoghen’s suspension was proper.
The former University of Lagos lecturer said: “Today (yesterday) is a very dark day in the history of the Nigerian judiciary. As a legal practitioner, it is saddening that the man at the pinnacle of the Nigerian justice system has to be ordered suspended on the basis of the orders of the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Walter Onnoghen, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, definitely has himself to blame.
“In addition, the nation must blame the SANs, who saw nothing wrong with the violation of our Constitution on the head of our Judiciary but pitched their tent on their own interpretation of the law on due process.
“I was shocked that a former head of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was referring to a treaty that does not exist to suggest an immunity that does not exist for the CJN. Which is Treaty of Versailles 1508?
“The history of separation of powers is more complex than that and those who originated that doctrine have never argued immunity for any of the leadership aside from the President and Vice-President.
“Rather than persuade the CJN to step aside, even if without resigning if he thought he was right, the SANs decided to dig in and chose to rely on procedure and not substance.
“Was the CJN wrong in law? They argued that was not important. Procedure is important no doubt but the substance is crucial at the same time.
“It is these legal practitioners wearing silk who should have led the rest of society in standing for probity. They have brought ignominy on our Judiciary. They led the Chief Justice of Nigeria into a cul de sac.
“The President’s statement cannot be faulted even if some Nigerians may read motivations to it. The courts are there to look into issues of whether the President has power to suspend and whether the CCT can issue the order it made.
“Meanwhile, the CJN needs to answer to the current charges and impending ones likely to follow given the matters said to be arising from additional investigations.”