Abuja, Nigeria: The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders forum has described the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari as a coup against constitutional democracy.
In a statement signed by Chief E K Clark (South South), Ayo Adebanjo (South West), Chief John Nwodo (South East) and Dr Pogu Bitrus (Midddle Belt), the leaders in a statement titled ‘Constitutional Crisis As Buhari Illegally Suspends CJN’ , the leaders said they have checked through the constitution and found out that President Buhari lacks the power to suspend the CJN unilaterally except by 2/3 of the National Assembly.
The statement reads: “The attention of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders has been drawn to a coup against Constitutional Democracy in Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari by the Suspension of CJN Walter Onnoghen this evening and swearing in a replacement.
This is a constitutional crisis foisted by desperation and morbid desire to foist rule of thumb.
“We have checked through the constitution and the President has no power to unilaterally suspend the CJN.
“Section 292 of the amended 1999 Constitution is clear that the President can only remove the CJN with 2/3 of Senate resolution.
“To us what has been done is resort to self-help after the Court of Appeal issued an order stopping the trial of the CJN by the CCT presided over by a man answering charges in court over corruption allegations but still in office.
“The latest action is a clear suspension of the constitution and enthronement of full blown dictatorship.
“We reject the illegal suspension and demand its immediate reversal.
The suspension is null and void and of no effect whatever.
“An emergency meeting of the Forum holds shortly on this total aberration.
We call on all Nigerians to wake up to the reality that our democracy is now under threat and use all constitutional means to defend it.
We must not surrender to this authoritarian rule.”
A constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) has described the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as illegal and unconstitutional.
Ozekhome in a statement on Friday he said the provisions of the constitution on appointment and removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was clear and was not followed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The provisions of section 292(2) of the 1999 Constitution are quite clear on how the CJN can be removed from office. Aside sections 153,158 and parts 1 and 2 of the 3rd schedule to the Constitution, which provide that a judicial officer can not be removed from office until he has first been tried and dealt with by the National Judicial Council (NJC), Section 292(2) makes it clear that the president can only remove the CJN from office before the age of his retirement when “acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate”. When did the Senate meet to donate this power to the president?” Ozekhome asked.
He said Nigerians “should brace up, come out enmasse, to protest against this illegality.
He also said Nigerian lawyers and the NBA (Nigeria Bar Association) should shut down all courts in Nigeria until the CJN is returned to his seat.
He said this was achieved even under military dictatorship in Pakistan, when former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf illegally removed from office the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on 11th March, 2007.
“All the lawyers went on strike,from 15th March, 2007, shut down the courts and protested on the streets for months, until a panel of 7 members of the Supreme Court sat and held that the removal was illegal and reinstated the Chief Justice.
He said the “NASS (National Assembly) should also shut down in protest.’
Profile of the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Mohammed.
It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari suspended the former chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Nkanu Onnoghen earlier today over corruption allegations.
Acting CJN Mohammed was a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and formerly a justice of the Nigerian Court of Appeal.
He was born on December 31, 1953, at Doguwa-Giade, a local government area in Bauchi State, northern Nigeria. He attended Government Secondary School, Azare where he obtained the West Africa School Certificate in 1973 before he later proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University where he received a bachelor’s degree in Law in 1980.
He later obtained master and doctorate (Ph. D) degrees from the same university in 1984 and 1998 respectively.
In 1989, he was appointed as Chief Magistrate of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory till 1991 and became a judge at the Bauchi State Sharia Court of Appeal in 1991.
He served as Judge of the Sharia Court for two years and was appointed to the bench of the Nigerian Court of Appeal as justice in 1993. He was there for 13 years before he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2006. He was sworn in on January 7, 2007.