Onnoghen: Nigeria now under dictatorship – Saraki

Senate President, Bukola Saraki
Senate President, Bukola Saraki

Senate President Bukola Saraki has described the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari as a coup against democracy.

In a statement he personally signed, the Senate President said the suspension was another act of desperation by President Buhari.

Mr Saraki said Mr Buhari acted outside the provision of the constitution and that the action amounted to gross misconduct.

Mr Buhari in a statement on Friday said he suspended Mr Onnoghen based on a Code of Conduct Tribunal order.

Shortly after the suspension, the president swore in a new CJN, Ibrahim Mohammed, from Bauchi State.

The removal has continued to elicit reactions from Nigerians who believe the president has no such powers to remove a CJN from office.

PREMIUM TIMES’ checks indicate a sitting CJN can only be removed from office by the president after at least two-thirds majority members of the Senate support such a move as enshrined in section 292 of the Constitution. No such matter has been debated in the Senate.

In reaction, the Senate President said the country has returned to the days of military dictatorship.

“This action is capable of undermining the nation’s judiciary, subverting the constitution, intimidating judges of all the courts of record, and creating uncertainty in the electoral process.

“By unilaterally suspending the CJN without following the provision of the constitution, President Buhari has sent a dangerous signal to the entire world that Nigeria is no longer a democratic nation and that we have returned to the old, jaded era of military dictatorship.

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“Our constitution makes no provision for suspension of the nation’s highest judicial officer. The constitution provides a clear process for removal of the CJN and specifies the roles of the three arms of government, beginning from the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and lastly, the Presidency, have different roles to play in that process. There is no condition under which the President can usurp the powers of other arms of government. I do not know where the President and his advisers got this idea of suspending the CJN on the so-called order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal but this is novel, disingenuous and alien to our laws. It is strange that President Buhari is claiming to be taking orders from a Tribunal which has been ordered by a superior court to halt all actions on the trial.

“With this action, President Buhari has initiated a process the consequence of which nobody can predict. They have precipitated a constitutional crisis.

“At this point, all democratic institutions in the country, the international community and democrats across the world should rise against this blatant act of impunity. We should jointly condemn this retrogressive, uncivilized and despotic measure,” Mr Saraki said.

Mr Saraki called on President Buhari to immediately reverse this decision and allow the due process of law to take its natural course in determining the guilt or otherwise of Justice Onnoghen.

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