Femi Fani-Kayode, a senior member of Nigeria’s main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on Friday called on the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceeding against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Fani-Kayode, a former federal minister, said Mr Buhari has now removed all doubts that he is “a fascistic monster” for suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria without clear constitutional basis to do so.
The president on Friday afternoon suspended Mr Onnoghen, who has been facing false asset charges for two weeks. He said the judge had become a taint on the judiciary and he was compelled to take radical measures to ease him out of office.
Mr Buhari said he relied on an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal asking him to suspend Mr Onnoghen from office. The CCT is an arm of the presidency, and its judges are appointed by the president.
Mr Onnoghen denied allegations of asset declaration fraud but acknowledged forgetting to declare some asset. Mr Buhari said the judge’s admission was enough to remove him from office. He said someone of his stature should not be making a claim of ignorance, which is deemed inconsequential in criminal defence.
Legal experts are divided on the matter, with many saying the president has no powers to suspend a chief justice. Some lawyers, however, argued that the president was relying on a valid court order and could also have suspended the chief justice even without a court order.
But none of the lawyers supporting the president cited any legal power for him to discipline the chief justice. The president himself did not cite any legal basis for his action. He said he only complied with an ex-parte order of the tribunal.
It was also unclear whether the tribunal could use an ex-parte ruling to suspend the chief justice. An ex-parte is an order granted by a judge before a defendant in a suit is able to enter defence, and it is often provisional.
Mike Ozekhome, a senior lawyer, urged Nigerian judges and lawyers to shun further activities as was done when former Pakistani President Perves Musharraf removed the country’s chief justice in 2007.
“This recent act is a big scandalous shame on the Buhari government, assuming it still knows anything called shame. It has tainted it with the paintbrush of odium, obloquy and international derision,” Mr Ozekhome said.
Mr Fani-Kayode, adding his voice to a flurry of reactions that have poured in since the development was made public Friday afternoon, said the action was unacceptable. He called on the legislature to begin impeachment process against the president.
“For a president in a democracy to suspend the CJN is totally unacceptable, a clear breach of the rule of law and the Constitution and a manifest violation of the principle of separation of powers. If anyone thinks that we are practicing democracy in Nigeria that person needs to have their heads examined,” Mr Fani-Kayode said.
“I call on the Senate President and the Speaker of the House to stop playing games to show courage and to begin impeachment proceedings against Buhari.
“That is the only way to stop this man from totally destroying our country and leading us to a civil war that may never end,” Mr Fani-Kayode said.
He also alleged that Mr Buhari was plotting to declare himself the winner of the presidential elections on February 16.
Mr Buhari’s controversial action comes barely three days after former President Olusegun Obasanjo said the president was plotting to perpetuate himself in office. He said his latest tactics bore the markings of the brutal and inglorious dictatorship of Sani Abacha in the 1990s.
Okechukwu Nwanguma of the Network for Police Reform in Nigeria also condemned the president’s action and called for immediate interventions from lovers of democracy
“The action subverts the Constitution and the principle of separation of powers. It undermines the independence of the judiciary and above all puts Nigeria’s democracy in peril.
“The credibility of the 2019 election will be compromised and democracy imperiled in the absence of an independent and responsive judiciary,” Mr Nwanguma said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES Friday night.
However, Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State and a key ally of Mr Buhari, said the president’s action was appropriate, praising the president for the timely intervention.
Mr El-Rufai said Mr Onnoghen has shown traits of corruption and should not be allowed to maintain a seat as the nation’s chief justice.
“SANITY NEEDS RESTORATION: About time this institutional gobbledygook and regionalization to justify admitted wrongdoing are confronted. Justice must not give way to legal gymnastics and absurd technicalities. I am solidly with PMB on this, as always!!” the governor wrote on his verified Twitter handle.
SANITY NEEDS RESTORATION: About time this institutional gobbledygook and regionalization to justify admitted wrongdoing are confronted. Justice must not give way to legal gymnastics and absurd technicalities. I am solidly with PMB on this, as always!! https://t.co/vS9owyiuqL
— Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai (@elrufai) January 25, 2019
The president removed Mr Onnoghen despite a Court of Appeal ruling halting further actions against the top jurist by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The Nigerian Constitution at Section 292 said a Supreme Court judge can only be removed with the concurrence of two-thirds of the Nigerian Senate, which has a total of 109 members. But the legislature has not heard any matter about Mr Onnoghen, much less take action towards his removal.
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