The Online Publishers of Nogeria (OPAN) has described the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as an illegality that must not be allowd to stand.
The body, in a statement signed by its Vice President, Emmanuel Asiwe, said “the Chief Justice does not enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, the move by the federal government is dangerously political and tendentious, coming on the eve of the 2019 Presidential election where the CJN was expected to play a major role, setting up a presidential election tribunals.”
It called on the National Assembly to “act expeditiously in defence of Nigerian democracy” in the matter.
The full statement reads:
The Online Publishers of Nigeria (OPAN) is deeply concerned over escalating attacks and executive actions by the Federal Government that violate due process, undermines the rule of law and create an atmosphere of intimidation and persecution of other branches of government.
We are troubled by the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari, ostensibly on the recommendation of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), where the CJN faces charges bordering on alleged non-declaration of assets.
We strongly condemn this act of judicial brigandage and witch-hunt orchestrated against the leadership of the judiciary, as totally unacceptable as it represents a clear and present danger to the democracy Nigerians fought hard to win and preserve. OPAN therefore calls on the National Assembly to act expeditiously in defence of Nigerian democracy.
The rule of law distinguishes democracies from dictatorships. It’s based on three fundamental principles and President Buhari’s action violates every one of them. The first is that no person is above the law, not even the president. Which means the president cannot act ultra vires – beyond the powers of his constitutional competence. The second principle is that the president cannot prosecute political opponents or critics. Decisions to prosecute alleged criminal wrongdoing must be made by prosecutors who are independent of politics. The third principle of the rule of law is that a president must be respectful of the independence of the judiciary. Buhari has done just the opposite, and his action cannot be said to be in the public interest.
Although the Chief Justice does not enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, the move by the federal government is dangerously political and tendentious, coming on the eve of the 2019 Presidential election where the CJN was expected to play a major role, setting up a presidential election tribunals. Also, Justice Onnoghen’s removal outside the constitutionally prescribed process is a usurpation of the powers of the Senate and the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC). It is also an illegality that violates Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution; and reinforces Nigeria’s image as a country with highly dysfunctional institutions where bizarre things can happen. OPAN therefore, unequivocally reject and condemn this subversion of the constitution and coup against the judiciary arm of government by Mr. President.
After unsuccessful attempts to rein in the National Assembly using the CCT, that the same tactics is now being employed against the Judiciary is a huge disservice to Nigeria and an unbelievable national shame.
OPAN calls on the National Assembly to assert its constitutional authority and act decisively to reverse the suspension of the Chief Justice and avert the looming constitutional crisis. Buhari should purge himself of arbitrariness.
This blight on the toga of Nigeria’s floundering democracy is indeed lamentable, signposting as it does; the institutionalization of dictatorship and the abusive use of state power for partisan political advantage, that has become the official currency of governance of the Buhari administration. It is a mockery to Nigeria and all her pretenses to being a democracy. It is also an assault on the rule of law that is unacceptable. A trend in which the President sees himself above the law portends to dictatorship.
Emmanuel E Asiwe