Acting CJN justifies Onnoghen’s suspension

cting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Muhammad has justified President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of erstwhile CJN Walter Onnoghen.

He said that the step taken by the President on the January 25 ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) was right.

Justice Muhammad argued: “Any public officer found guilty of the breach or violation of Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) can be ordered to vacate the office he is holding as the consequence of the breach or violation of the code of conduct.”

He contended that President Buhari did no wrong by relying on the CCT order to suspend Justice Onnoghen.

Besides, Justice Muhammad averred that he committed no offence by submitting himself to be sworn in as acting CJN following the order of the CCT and to prevent the vacuum that would have been created by Onnoghen’s suspension.

The acting CJN made his position known on Onnoghen’s suspension and eventual conviction in his response to a suit filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja, by the Incorporated Trustees of Malcom Omirhobo Foundation.

The reliefs sought by the plaintiff include; a declaration that Justice Muhammad “is not a proper and fit person to be recommended by the second defendant (the Federal Judicial Service Commission) to the first defendant (the NJC) and by the first defendant to the fifth defendant (President Buhari) for appointment to the Office of the CJN”.

The plaintiff argued that by accepting to be sworn in as the acting CJN, while Onnoghen was unlawfully suspended, Justice Muhammad “conducted himself in a manner that cast a doubt of confidence in his integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary and having made himself a tool used in the violation of the Constitution of Nigeria”.

The National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), Justice Muhammad, the Federal Government, President Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Senate were listed as co-defendants to the suit.

In a counter-affidavit filed for him by his team of lawyers, led by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Justice Muhammad insisted that President Buhari breached no law or procedure in suspending Onnoghen, based on an ex-parte order by the CCT.

The acting CJN, who noted that Justice Onnoghen has since resigned after his suspension, argued that neither him, nor the President, did any wrong in their handling of the Onnoghen case.

Justice Muhammad added: “The fifth defendant (the President) has the power to remove or suspend any person occupying the office of the Chief of Nigeria, being the appointing authority.

“As at January 25, 2019, the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal also directed the fifth defendant to swear in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“It was pursuant to the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the fifth defendant appointed the third defendant as the Acting CJN.

“In the circumstance, I know as a fact there was no need for a recommendation of the second defendant (FJSC) to the first defendant (NJC) or of the first defendant to the fifth defendant (Buhari) before the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria could be suspended from office.

“There was also no need for the fifth defendant to approach the seventh defendant for support by majority of two-thirds votes before the erstwhile CJN could be suspended from office.

“The fifth defendant followed due process of law in the appointment of the third defendant as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“There has not been any negative impact on the Nigerian Judiciary as there is renewed belief by the common man in the Judiciary as his last hope.”

When the matter was mentioned on Monday, Justice Inyang Ekwo directed parties to file all necessary processes and adjourned till today 7 for hearing.