An “emergency” move to save the Judiciary has begun.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, will on Monday (today) challenge his suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari in court.
This is just as the National Judicial Council’s 88th meeting in Abuja has been delayed following fears of a possible clash between supporters of Onnoghen and the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed.
A senior advocate, who is a member of Onnoghen’s legal team, told one of our correspondents that it had become necessary to do so as the suspension of a CJN by a President was unprecedented.
He said, “We will be going to court to challenge the suspension of the CJN. The President relied on a CCT order despite the fact that the Court of Appeal had restrained all parties from removing the chief justice.
“The CJN was not even served with the court processes before he was removed by the President. So, all these will be challenged in court. When the processes have been filed, the documents will be made public.”
When asked why the CJN waited for three days before challenging his removal, the source said, “He was suspended late on Friday and you know courts do not sit on Saturday and Sunday.”
Meanwhile, The National Judicial Council (NJC) has summoned an emergency meeting of its members for tomorrow to discuss “developments in the Judiciary”.
Members are expected to arrive in Abuja for the meeting scheduled for 10am.
It was also gathered that the main agenda of the meeting is the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the inauguration of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as acting CJN and the allegation of the code of conduct violation against Justice Onnoghen.
A source said Justice Onnoghen and Justice Muhammad may be excluded from the meeting, because of their involvement in the issues to be discussed.
A source at the NJC said the suspended CJN had allegedly prevented the body from addressing the issues surrounding the charge against him when he used his power as Chairman of NJC to suspend, indefinitely, the body’s meeting earlier planned for January 15.
The source said: “I believe this meeting is meant for members to effectively look at the issues and recent developments in the Judiciary and for them to take a formal position.
“Like the acting CJN said on Saturday, the Judiciary is truly in a trying time. And it is important that the NJC takes a formal position for posterity sake.”
The embattled CJN will know his fate today on whether or not he will face trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Onnoghen’s defence lawyers have challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to put him in the dock on six allegations bordering on alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
If the CCT assumes jurisdiction, the CJN has no choice but to make himself available for trial.
But if the tribunal declines jurisdiction, the case against Onnoghen will be struck out and he will be back to his seat leaving the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed, with no choice but to step down.
Also, if the CCT declares that it has no jurisdiction, the suspension of Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari will automatically amount to nothing.
As at the close of work on Friday, the CCT was yet to receive the Court of Appeal Ruling which ordered it to stay action on the trial of Onnoghen.
There were strong indications last night that the Federal Government may still petition the NJC and submit a heap of evidence against Justice Onnoghen.
According to a source, who spoke in confidence, the decision of the tribunal will determine whether or not the suspension of Justice Onnoghen will subsist.
The source said: “There are two applications before the CCT but the most important is the application by the defendant (Onnoghen) through his lawyers, challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him.
“Once the CCT affirms jurisdiction, the CJN will undergo trial on the allegations against him. But if the tribunal has no jurisdiction, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, will strike out the case against the CJN.
“And any decline of jurisdiction implies that the ex parte order which led to the suspension of the CJN will become a nullity. The tribunal will also not be able to hear the interlocutory application of the prosecution before it.”
As at press time, the CCT was yet to receive the Court of Appeal ruling which ordered it to stay action on the trial of Onnoghen.
The CCT source said: “The Court of Appeal on Wednesday restrained this tribunal from going ahead with the trial of Justice Onnoghen. We have not been served the ruling.
“If we are served the order before sitting, we will, out of respect, obey the order of the Court of Appeal and adjourn the matter to a date. But the tribunal will not adjourn sine die (indefinitely.”
The presidency opted to file an application for ex parte order to suspend the CJN in the light of the provision of Section 231(4) to enable Justice Onnoghen face his trial in CCT and attend to other related cases in court, The Nation learnt.
The section states: “If the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.”
The source said: “The suspension of the CJN is actually meant to allow him enough time to concentrate on his arraignment before the CCT and his applications before other courts, including his likely appearance before the National Judicial Council (NJC).
”Like in other jurisdictions, the CJN cannot remain in office and be attending court sessions here and there. He needs this leverage to be able to answer all the allegations against him.
“Unless the CJN is pretending, his arraignment before the CCT and other issues have distracted him in the last 10 days. He could not even attend the last Council of State meeting. The President decided to take the bull by the horns because allegations of corruption are involved.”
On the tenure of the Acting CJN, the source added: “He will be in charge for at least three months. It is not an absolute appointment.
“Go and read Section 231 (5) of the 1999 Constitution. This action was not based on sentiments at all.”
Section 231 (5) says: “Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, appointment pursuant to the provisions of subsection (4) of this section shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not reappoint a person whose appointment has relapsed.”
Another source also attributed the suspension of the CJN to the abrupt postponement of the 88th meeting of the NJC by Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The source said security reports indicated that the postponement was allegedly a “plot” to prevent the NJC from allowing the government to present a petition to the council for discussion which might lead to the suspension of the CJN.
The 88th meeting was to hold on January 15.
But the NJC’s Director of Information issued a notice of postponement.
The notice said: ”Sir/Ma, I am directed by The Honorable, The Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Hon. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON to inform you that the 88th Meeting of the Council slated for Tuesday 15th, January, 2019 has been postponed to a later date to be communicated to you.
“Any inconvenience this might cause you is highly regretted. Please, accept the assurances of the high.
A government source said: “The Federal Government will submit a petition and heaps of evidence against the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen next week.
“When the NJC takes its decision, the law will then run its full course on Onnoghen. Nigerians will then have the opportunity to have the details of the allegations of corruption against His Lordship, Hon. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON.”
“There was an ambush somewhere to block the wheel of justice by preventing the NJC from sitting. No responsible government will allow that,” the source added.
As at press time, there were indications that the Federal Government may still submit a petition and evidence against Justice Onnoghen to the National Judicial Council (NJC).”
In a related development, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria has called a meeting for Wednesday.
In a statement issued on Sunday by the National President of JUSUN, Marwan Adamu, the union said it would deliberate on the happenings in the Judiciary and take a stand after the meeting.
Adamu described the situation in the Judiciary as unfortunate, insisting that the independence of the Judiciary as enshrined in the constitution “is non-negotiable.”
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