The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja, has suggested ways Nigeria can avert a constitutional crisis over the controversial suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Buhari’s appointment of Ibrahim Muhammed as the acting CJN has been condemned and rejected by the opposition and several Nigerians who are concerned about the independence of the judiciary and the fate of constitutional democracy in the country.
The opposition has accused Mr Buhari of paving way for the rigging of the forthcoming general elections, with the suspension of Mr Onnoghen, who is facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false declaration of assets.
The president is seeking a second term in office in a crucial election holding on February 16. His main challenger is Atiku Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and former vice president of Nigeria.
Weighing in on the controversy, the CDD said in a statement issued on Sunday that President Buhari “should immediately retrace his steps and withdraw the illegal appointment of Tanko Mohammed as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
The CDD also called on Mr Onnoghen to resign his position as the CJN.
“Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen has serious charges levelled against him, and it is morally reprehensible for him to continue to stay in office until all matters are judiciously dispensed with, CDD, therefore, call on Justice Onnoghen to immediately step down and convene the National Judicial Council to meet and make a determination on the way forward,” the CDD said in the statement signed by its director, Idayat Hassan.
The CDD, which expressed concern about the “entrenched culture of corruption and impunity in the country”, said, however, that President Buhari’s actions over the Onnoghen matter were “delegitimising” the forthcoming elections.
It said the president was aware he has no power to suspend the CJN and therefore found justification by claiming he was obeying a directive from the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The tribunal too, the CDD said, has no such powers to direct the president to suspend the CJN.
“The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) strongly avers that the President must backtrack from his action as a prerequisite for resolving the predicament we find ourselves in as a country,” the statement said.
The statement added, “It beholds on the National Judicial Council to ensure justice is not just done but seen to be done in the CJN matter.”