Nigerians have continued to condemn the suspension of the of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday and his immediate replacement by Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as acting CJN.
Reactions came from senior lawyers, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria and professors of law who condemned the President’s action, describing it as unconstitutional, null and void. Buhari stated that he carried out the suspension on the orders of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which was given on January 23rd.
Buhari defended his action, saying, “A short while ago, I was served with an Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal issued on Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, directing the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen, from office pending final determination of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and several other fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
“Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.”
He added, “Perhaps more worrisome is the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s own written admission to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, citing mistake’’ and forgetfulness’’ which are totally unknown to our laws as defences in the circumstances of his case.” The President argued that
Onnoghen ought to have resigned before now, having admitted mistakes.
But a SAN, Yusuf Ali, stated that the National Judicial Council remained the body empowered by the Constitution to suspend the CJN. He said, “The Constitution is clear on who can remove the CJN and in what circumstance. No person, individually, can remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria, no matter how highly placed. The law is clear on how the CJN can be removed and even how he can be suspended. It is the NJC that can suspend a serving judge or justice.”
SAN and professor of law, Yemi Akinseye-George, described the CJN’s suspension as a coup against democracy. Akinseye-George said, “If it is true, I think it is a misguided action; it’s unconstitutional and it is tantamount to a coup against the Nigerian people and the Nigerian constitution. The President must quickly and immediately reverse himself; he has no power to do it.