President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday evening, suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and appointed Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as Acting CJN.
The president said he took the decision after being served an Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal issued on Wednesday January 23, 2019, directing the suspension of Onnoghen from office pending final determination of the cases against him at the CCT and several other fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers
Buhari said security agencies have traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to Onnoghen’s personal accounts, “all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.”
Buhari added: “Whether deliberately or inadvertently, we have all seen the full weight of the Chief Justice of Nigeria descend on the tender head of one of the organs of justice under his control. There is simply no way the officers of that court, from the Chairman to the bailiffs, can pretend to be unaffected by the influence of the leader of the Judiciary.
“Not only the trial court, but others have been put on the spot. Practically every other day since his trial commenced, the nation has witnessed various courts granting orders and counter-orders in favour of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, all of them characterised by an unholy alacrity between the time of filing, hearing and delivery of judgment in same.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned Buhari’s action, descrbing it as a “coup against the Nigerian judiciary and suspension of the Nigerian constitution”
The body’s statement signed by its president, Paul Usoro (SAN), reads:
- The news media has been awash this evening with the news of the purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S C Onnoghen, GCON by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR and the swearing in of Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. We are told that this was pursuant to an Ex-Parte Order that was issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Wednesday, 23 January 2019.
- 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 Nigerian Judicial Council.
- It is unfortunate that the Executive Branch of Government purports to suspend the CJN on the basis of an alleged ex-parte 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.