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Onnoghen’s suspension must not stand, Opposition parties insist

Sixty Seven political parties have protested against the suspension of the Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing it as “illegal, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect.”

The parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), said like every other concerned stakeholder and Nigerian, they were very disturbed by the illegal suspension of  the CJN and the swearing in of an acting CJN, saying “both actions are illegal and foreign to our constitution.”

“The CJN, as a judicial officer, can only be removed from office by the President acting on an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.

“Anything contrary to this procedure is unconstitutional and serves only to harm our democracy. Furthermore, the National Judicial Council, (NJC), has not recommended the suspension or removal of the CJN, neither has it exercised any disciplinary action against the CJN. Thus the purported suspension of the CJN by President Buhari must fail”, the 67 parties stated.

The parties in a joint statement in Abuja endorsed by all of them, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to do the right thing and reverse the suspension of the CJN immediately.

The statement reads: “We emphatically state here that the purported suspension of the CJN is unequivocally illegal, indefensible and thus unconstitutional.

The improper process adopted by President Mohammadu Buhari, in suspending the CJN and in appointing Justice Tanko Mohammed as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, is seen by a majority of Nigerians as based on an improperly obtained Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, thus making it illegal.

“Furthermore, it is unconstitutional because it violates and goes against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Painfully, the actions of President Buhari is intended and contrived to precipitate a constitutional crisis in our dear country and further polarize Nigeria unnecessarily.

“It should be noted that the office of the CJN is not a ministerial position, rather it is a creation of Sections 230(1)(a) and 231(1) & (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That office, the CJN, is the head of an independent arm of our tripartite government.

“It should also be noted that the removal of the CJN is addressed in our Constitution in Section 292, wherein a strict process is outlined and must be followed. Generally, the three independent arms of the government must be involved in both instances of appointment and removal of the CJN.

“Thus, the president, in acting alone and unilaterally, lacks the power and authority to suspend the Chief Justice of the Federation.

“President Buhari’s purported suspension of the CJN in reliance on the improperly obtained and improperly issued Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which is actually under the Executive Branch, is to put it mildly, wrong, misplaced, ill-conceived and deserving of immediate reversal.

“It is very distressing that the timing of this illegal act by President Buhari, being so close to the upcoming general elections, has brought suspicion to the intent of the President regarding the fairness of the forthcoming general elections and possibly tainted the elections dispute resolution process, such as the creation of election dispute tribunals.

“As political parties, we therefore reject this illegal act of the President and the unwarranted attack on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“We therefore call on President Buhari to immediately rescind his illegal suspension of the CJN so as to avoid further harm to our nascent democratic institutions.

“We humbly and with a civic duty to the unity of the nation call on all Nigerians to come together and defend our Democracy, our Constitution and our dear country Nigeria.

“In so doing we must not show fear. How we react today will determine the future of Nigeria. It can be the end or beginning of democracy in Nigeria.

“For us it is the beginning of the strengthening of the democratic institutions in Nigeria. For out of adversity comes strength, development and growth.

“We must ensure that the three arms of our budding democracy continue to enjoy independence from one another and act as checks and balances to each other without any further acts of harassment and intimidation from President Buhari.

“We Stand with Nigeria. We Stand with Due Process. We Stand with the Constitution and Rule of Law in all cases no matter the persons involved or the offence allegedly committed.

“This is the only way to strengthen our democratic institutions. Self-help, such as resorted to by President Buhari harms all of us and goes against the foundation of our Constitution.

“Our laws are very clear that everyone is Innocent Until Proven Guilty. No matter what is alleged. No matter what is published. No matter what is rumored.

“Everyone, including the CJN, is innocent until proven guilty. In attempting to prove a person guilty, the Nigerian State must follow a well laid down process.

“It is clear that in this instance the process was not followed. Remember, even in the den of thieves, there are rules to be followed and adhered to. Talk less of a sophisticated society like Nigeria.

“In closing permit us to state that arguments such as the ones we have had recently on this CJN issue bring out the best in our society and lead us all to the right decisions. Hopefully that will be the case in this instance. Thus, Mr. President, do the right thing. Reverse, immediately your illegal suspension of the CJN.”

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