As it is often said, you cannot put something on nothing, as the something would definitely fall, since it stands on nothing. This clearly depicts the futility of the purported suspension from office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, yesterday, 25th January, 2019 by His Excellency, President Mohammadu Buhari.
Section 292 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) spells out the procedure for removal from office of the CJN, and this section does not require much of interpretation because of the clear wordings applied by the drafters of the Constitution in framing the section.
The President and his handlers in their desperate bid to remove the CJN from office without due process of law now seek to rely on a purported order of the CCT to justify the suspension from office of the CJN. The said order of the CCT if it ever exists raises many legal questions.
I was at the CCT sitting on Monday, 21st January, 2019, when the trial of the CJN was adjourned to Monday, 28th January, 2019, after the Chairman of the CCT had ruled that he was not bound by orders made by the FCT High Court, the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court. On adjourning the matter to 28th January, 2019, the CCT Chairman ruled that arguments will be taken on the Defence application challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to entertain the Charge against the CJN as presently constituted at the next adjourned date of the matter. Although the CCT Chairman displayed obvious bias when he said in the course of the CCT proceedings that he will proceed to hear the application on notice filed by the Prosecution requesting the CCT to make an order that the CJN step aside and the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court sworn into office as CJN after the determination of the issue of jurisdiction, the question to be answered is whether the CCT Chairman has powers to proceed to make orders on an application on notice which has already been fixed for hearing for a specific date without the parties to the application being present and argument for and against the merits and demerits of the application considered by the CCT. Did the CCT Chairman decide the application alone by himself in chambers without the parties to the application being present to proffer argument for and against the application? Who moved the application before the CCT Chairman? Is it the same Aliyu Umar SAN (Prosecutor) who was present at the CCT during the proceedings of Monday, 21st January, 2019 when the matter was adjourned to 28th January, 2019 or one of the lawyers that appeared with him in the matter? Does the CCT possess the powers and indeed the jurisdiction to make the orders that President Buhari now seeks to rely on in suspending the CJN from office when the CJN has not been arraigned before the CCT to enable the CCT exercise jurisdiction over the CJN? In any event, this is a criminal trial, so to say, with the burden of proof on the Prosecution and the presumption of innocence in favour of the Defendant. Assuming the Defendant is found not guilty at the end of his trial, what happens in the face of this obvious injustice? Being a criminal offence, so to say, are there no sanctions in the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act to deal with the alleged offences when the Defendant is found guilty at the end of the trial?
Let me ask President Buhari and those involved in this unholy act a pertinent question, what and where is the urgency in this matter, that we cannot wait for the due process of law to be applied through the established course of justice under our constitutional democracy?
I wish to categorically state at this stage that the action of the President is a rape on our fledgling democracy and a crass display of executive lawlessness that must not be allowed to stand by all well-meaning Nigerians and lovers of our democracy. It is indeed a dangerous precedent being unwittingly set by the Executive arm of government which may ultimately be applied against the executive arm of government in no distant time. Yes, this is so, because in circumstances such as the present situation we find ourselves in our great Country Nigeria, nothing stops the Legislative arm of Government from convening and also purporting to impeach the President after an order to that effect has been obtained from a Sharia Customary Court sitting in Dutse. President Buhari obviously has been misadvised and it is not too late in the day to apply a face-saving measure by reversing this obvious wrong in the interest of our democratic institutions and justice. This would save Nigeria from being further ridiculed at the international level and also minimize the obvious damage that has been done. It would also save our Country a great deal in terms of foreign investments as no sane and prudent investor would invest in an economy where the Executive arm of Government freely interferes with the hallowed institution of justice.
God Bless Nigeria.
By SYLVA OGWEMOH, SAN