Case against Buhari’s suspension of CJN, Onnoghen

President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen has continued to draw comments from within and outside the shores of Nigeria.
President Buhari had on Friday last week, announced the suspension of the CJN, reportedly relying on an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal regarded in some quarters as “an auxiliary judicial panel that addresses assets filings of public officials” rather than a regular or full- fledged court.
Prior to his suspension Friday, Justice Onnoghen was dragged to the Code of Conduct tribunal over allegations of non declaration of some of his assets which include domiciliary bank accounts reportedly containing substantial amount of foreign currencies. The suspended CJN-Onnoghen, was also reported to have admitted not declaring some of the said bank accounts saying that he forget to do so.
President Buhari, relying on the said order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, has already sworn-in Justice Tanko Mohammed as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Those supporting the decision of President Buhari in suspending Justice Onnoghen based their decision on the Code of Code Tribunal order. This however, has been countered by those who believe in the supremacy of the constitution.
Notwithstanding the statement reportedly credited to President Buhari that he only suspended Onneghen rather than removing him, the main opposition political party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, condemned the action and declared that, it was suspending its presidential election campaign for 72 hours in solidarity with the suspended CJN. While the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar described Buhari’s decision to suspend Justice Onnoghen as “the suspension of the constitution”.
The United States authorities reportedly took a swipe on the action saying it “was a mockery of Mr. Buhari and other Nigerian politicians’ commitment to a free elections exercise next month”.
U.S said: “We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch”, a statement reportedly read. It also urged immediate resolution of the impasse to prevent escalation.
The European Union, EU, like the U.S said “the decision to suspend the Chief Justice has led to many Nigerians including lawyers and civil society observers groups to question whether due process followed.
“The timing, just before the swearing-in of justices for Electoral Tribunal and the hearing of election-related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice”. EU reportedly stated.
Many legal luminaries are also said to have flayed the president’s action alleging that it failed to comply with laid down procedures for removing a federal judge. Meanwhile a presidential candidate, Olawepo Hashiri was reported as criticizing Buhari’s suspension of Onnoghen as “unconstitutional”, and calling for “international action against…. Buhari and his administration’s officials”. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki and some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, have equally joined in the widespread condemnation of Buhari’s suspension of Justice Onnoghen.
Some questions begging for answers in the Onnoghen brouhaha include inter alia: To what extent the National Judicial Commission, NJC, was involved in the decision of the President to axe Onnoghen? What is the provision of the Code of Conduct Act on the issue? Finally, can the president sack a justice of the Supreme Court on the order of a tribunal rather than on the advice of the NJC as constitutionally provided?

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