Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen


Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN, yesterday took a swipe at President Muhammadu Buhari over the illegal and unconstitutional removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Walter Onnoghen, saying the action marks the beginning of Nigeria’s descent into constitutional anarchy.

The President had following the purported suspension of the incumbent CJN, appointed Justice Mohammed Tanko on an acting capacity, which he claimed was pending the determination of the suit at the Code of Conduct Tribunal CCT.

The human rights lawyer and social justice activist also described the action of the President as the most brazen assault on Nigeria`s constitutional history, arguing that President Buhari may have obviously not listened to the advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami or that the Attorney General misadvised him or both.

According to a statement issued by the office of the former NBA President, there are at least six pending cases in superior courts in the country on the allegation of non-declaration of asset by Justice Onnoghen, one of such cases being in the Court of Appeal.

He argued that all these cases ruled that Justice Onnoghen should remain in office pending when all cases against him are resolved, which he argued bind the President of Nigeria. He also cited section 292 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which sets out the procedure for removing or suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria, arguing that the power to suspend or remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria rests on the Senate, the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly.

The statement reads in part: “President Buhari claims that the suspension of the Chief Justice Onnoghen is pending the determination of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT is simply not true. The CCT itself adjourned proceedings in respect of Justice Onnoghen`s matter in order to determine if it had jurisdiction to try Justice Onnoghen. The President`s decision contravenes the Ruling of the CCT.

“For all these reasons the purported suspension of Chief Justice Onnoghen is the gravest insult to Nigerian constitution in history. It is difficult to understand how President Buhari will expect my vote of confidence in the February polls if he wantonly denigrates and desecrates our Constitution”.

While strongly condemning the purported suspension in the strongest terms, he called on all Nigerians to take the strongest possible view of the President`s conduct, adding that Justice Onnogen should also refuse to be pushed out of office.

He however expressed shock that Justice Mohammed Tanko would offer himself to be sworn in as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria while urging  judges across the country, Civil Society Organisations and in deed all well-meaning Nigerians to rise against this conduct, which he insists is potentially the beginning of the country’s descent into constitutional anarchy, which will not do anyone any good.