CJN: More haste less speed

Political leaders should bear in mind the adage that; “Elders’ do not fight in public, otherwise who will the people run to when they quarrel?” The suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen by President Buhari just weeks to the general elections has raised tension and political elders are preparing to set about themselves with gloves off. All opposition parties have decried the development as have South-South Governors.

The British and US governments along with the European Union (EU), civil society groups, election observers, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the Nigerian public have all expressed alarm. Everyone is at pains to understand why it was so important to remove the CJN with alacrity and create this mess at such a crucial moment in time? The snail pace of Nigeria justice system is legendary, but somehow this matter proceeded at the speed of light! Sensible explanations are urgently required to calm frayed nerves and prevent the situation from descending into a theatre of the absurd. It’s difficult to swallow the stpry that it’s about the anti-corruption war.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has several pending corruption petitions pre-dating the CJN’s against All Progressives Congress (APC) Chairman Oshiomhole, and many other key members of the President’s re-election campaign team, yet they have remained unmolested. As Oshiomhole said publicly once you join APC your sins are forgiven! Furthermore in the case of Babachir Lawal the President umseemingly prevaricated saying the man could not be fired over mere allegations. How come that doesn’t apply to the CJN? The President claimed the suspension of the CJN was based upon recommendations of the CCT. This is a rather curious assertion because the CCT’s enrolled order states that the CJN is to “step aside”.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has no provision for a “suspended” CJN and “Acting” CJN at the same time. Nowhere in the enrolled CFR order was anybody authorized to “remove or suspend” the CJN. The CCT was in complete breach of Court procedures by entertaining an ex-parte motion after having adjourned the matter and ruled that the issue of jurisdiction must be determined first before considering the motion to ask the CJN to step aside. The enrolled order has been described as simply a “back-door” arrangement in which corruption was used to fight corruption! also defies logic that an anti-corruption government would act upon the recommendation of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) presided over by Justice Danladi who himself has had various corruption allegations by the EFCC hanging over him for years.

The Office of the CJN is a creation of Sections 230(1) (a) and 2312(1) and (2) of the Constitution. The provisions are so devoid of vagueness or ambiguity that even a layman can clearly understand them. There is nowhere the President is given the power to on his own to remove the CJN whose appointment requires the compulsory involvement of the three arms of government. His removal can only be done by acting upon an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate. Irrespective of the gravity of the allegations against the CJN due process and the law must be followed because one illegality cannot be cured by another. The Senate President has described the whole affair as a “coup against democracy”. Not all coups happen with guns. Some happen through an unconstitutional and undemocratic act of confusion cum desperation. It’s imperative that all those in leadership positions take a deep breath before they speak or act otherwise the situation may deteriorate drastically.

Democratically elected governments cannot afford to ignore the Constitution and rule of law because willfully acting contrary to them for political gain simply endangers law and order. There is also the question of whether or not the new Acting CJN declared his assets and liabilities before performing the functions of that office”? Hopefully he is not also guilty of the very same non-declaration of assets? Lastly Government’s attempt to try the CJN in the media is reprehensible. The way he has been castigated over unproven allegations is reminiscent of the manner in which innocent Nigeria citizens are lynched and set on fire in the market pace simply because someone shouted thief! Nothing has been said about whether his wealth came from compromising the wheels of justice or doing contracts?

At the moment the government explanation is full of holes. It gives the impression that citizens are not important enough to be owed an intelligent explanation. Subversion of due process is the greatest form of corruption. Instead of preparing to bulldoze their way through the impending mess, government needs to simply retrace their steps. The petition against the CJN was never investigated the charges never prosecuted and the ex-parte order never moved in Court. It’s hard to understand how come the Executive don’t know that this isn’t the way to proceed. Almost everyone else does.

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