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Published On: Sat, Jan 12th, 2019

CJN: Outrage greets Buhari’s quit order to Onnoghen … it’s an attempt to truncate our democracy – Hassan, NBA chair.

Onnoghen

By OBINNA EZUGWU

President Muhammadu Buhari has, since assuming office in 2015, displayed what many have described as unprecedented level nepotism in handling the affairs of the country, and it is hardly surprising that his decision to order the Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen to resign his job as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Saturday, has continued to generate angry reactions, with many insisting that the president is, by his action, looking further his Northern agenda and to compromise the upcoming election by tempering with the judiciary.

“It’s important to note that the next in line for CJN is a Northerner, so that gives the whole thing a new meaning,” said Bar Oladotun Hassan, chairman Nigerian Bar Association, Lekki Forum. “So as it is, the IGP is from the North, the Chief of Army Staff is from the North, the Attorney General is from the North and so on, now we are going to have a CJN who is also from the North.

“We had a case where an Acting DG is DSS who is from the South South was removed in a matter of days and a retiree from the North brought in to replace him. That is crass nepotism. We cannot continue like this.”

It had taken months of delay and persistent agitation by opinion leaders and legal practitioners for Justice Onnoghen to be named Chief Justice of Nigeria by the Buhari administration in February 2017, instructively too, it was Professor Yemi Osibanjo, the country’s Vice President, who did so while Buhari was away in London.

The president himself, who for many, has continued to display deep suspicion for Nigerians of Southern origin, as evidenced in his appointments and pronouncements, had conveniently avoided naming Onnoghen as CJN, even though he was indeed the next for the job in line with the long established succession arrangement of the National Judicial Council (NJC), with many attributing it to the simple fact that the 68-year-old Onnoghen is a Southern Christian from Cross River State.

Osibanjo’s decision to do the right thing in February, however, brought an end to the ensuing controversy. Onnoghen was confirmed by the Senate on March 1, 2017 and was subsequently sworn in on March 7.

But as Chief Justice in Buhari administration, he was perhaps always going to end badly.

On Friday, rumours emerged that the government had perfected a plot to remove him because they could not trust him to do their bidding in respect to possible possible post election litigations, especially because he has not particularly favoured the ruling party in judicial cases leading up to the polls. He has tended to stay neutral.

On Saturday, the rumours would eventually come true. The Buhari government ordered the Chief Justice to immediately vacate his job as Head of the Nation’s judiciary over alleged asset declaration.

In a move seen as an attempt to justify his ouster from office, the Federal Government decided that on Monday January 14, 2019, he will be arraigned before the Justice Danladi Yakubu led  Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja on charges of failures to declare his assets as required by law and for allegedly operating Bank Domiciliary Foreign Currency Accounts.

The charges were filed and served on him Friday at his official residence in Abuja preparatory for his appearance at the tribunal.

The Federal Government says the Chief Justice refused to declare his assets in breach of the provision of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act. He is also being accused of maintaining Domiciliary foreign currencies account which comprised Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account which are alleged to be contrary to relevant laws, especially for public office holders.

But it’s a charge observes say is most probably politically motivated, and aimed at weakening the judiciary ahead of the alleged important February polls.

“Let me put it this way, since it is a matter already before the tribunal. When he was to be nominated, confirmed, sworn in … all these things became protracted to the extent that lawyers became embarrassed. Because succession to the seat of CJN is well-known and well respected,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, senior lawyer and president emeritus, Aka Ikenga, an Igbo thing tank.

“We have a National Judicial Council that takes care of things like this. Let’s wait and see. First they came first the president of Nigeria Bar Association, some people jubiliated. Now, they have gone for the Chief Justice, some people will still jubiliate. But they should also remember what Martin Niemöller: ‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.'”

Hassan insists Buhari is turning the country into a dictatorship and says all men of good conscience should speak out.

“It is unfortunate that we are running a system where law and morality is relegated to the background and meritocracy rejected,” he says.

“We appear to be living the dictum that power corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely under Buhari government.

“The government continues to infringe on the rights of other arms of government. In democracy, there is checks and balances and every arm of government is designed to operate independently. But the Buhari government has committed some anomalies in the time past by arresting judges and at the end of the day, the allegations against them turned out to be unfounded.

“If it were in a saner clime, that is an impeachable offense. He used the DSS to arrest and harass judges, now he is going a step further to use the CCT to remove the CJN. That to us, is an ambush. It is an attempt to truncate our democracy and we cannot continue to shy away from the truth.

“This is dictatorship. This is another means of subverting justice ahead of 2019 election. We are foreseeing that the president wants to ensure that the judiciary is ambushed so that people won’t get fair hearing. It’s instructive that the same Buhari has refused to act against his loyalists involved in corruption.”

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