One of Nigeria’s senior lawyers, Mike Ozekhome, has called for a total shutdown of courts across the country to protest President Muhammadu Buhari’s “onslaught against the judiciary.”
Mr. Ozekhome also urged Nigerians to defend the nation’s democracy, adding that a strong judiciary is one of the fundamental platforms for any meaningful constitutional government.
According to him, the Buhari administration is setting the stage to scuttle the nation’s democracy by using strong hand and brute force.
He argued that the government has been consistently intolerant of dissenting voices and had invaded the homes of judges, laid siege on the National Assembly and the residences of Senate president and his deputy.
“It is clear that this government, which protects its own members, however corrupt and despicable, has blown into full maximum dictatorship, totalitarianism and absolutism. Nigerians must say no to fascism,” Mr. Ozekhome stated.
“The latest onslaught is against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, a man of great nobility, erudition and lucidity of thought.
“It has come to light that the government has hurriedly filed charges against Onnoghen, even with a motion (most curiously and unusually), that he should recuse himself from his Chief Justice-ship until the case filed against him is finally determined by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
“This is to force him out of office. The phoney and ridiculous charges are that Onnoghen failed to declare his assets and that he also maintains domiciliary accounts, contrary to the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act,” Mr. Ozekhome said.
He insisted that the charges are political, and designed to intimidate the judiciary ahead of the 2019 presidential election and force out Justice Onnoghen, who, as the CJN, will constitute the Presidential Election Tribunal that will entertain disputes arising from the election.
According to him, many facts support the theory including that the petitioner, committed the Freudian slip by anchoring the petition on “bearing in mind the imminence of the 2019 general elections and the overwhelming role of the judicial arm both before and after…”
The second fact, he said is even after the recommendation of Mr. Onnoghen as CJN by the NJC on October 13, 2016, it took Vice President Yemi Osibanjo to appoint him as CJN on March 1, 2017.
He said the appointment followed outrage by a majority of Nigerians, and at a time the president was abroad on medical vacation.
The third fact is Justice Onnoghen became the first Southerner to be made CJN in 30 years, after the last Southerner, Justice Ayo Irikefe, occupied that exalted office in 1987.
The fourth issue is that Mr. Onnoghen has been CJN for over a year only for the Executive to wake up suddenly and discover his operation of domiciliary accounts years before he was appointed CJN.
He queried not only the speed of the court filings but the efficiency suddenly displayed by security agencies that a petition written by an NGO on January 7, 2019, received by CCB on January 9, 2019, was acted upon with such “automatic alacrity” that by January 11, 2019, charges had been filed against Mr. Onnoghen.
“And wait for it; he will be arraigned on Monday, January 14, 2019, all within one week! What of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Act, which prescribes certain necessary steps to be taken before a charge is filed,” he asked?
He argued that the law provides certain conditions to be met before a person is charged by the CCT.
The conditions, according to him, are set out in Section (3) (d) of the CCBT Act.
He said the above provision was tested when Bola Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State, was charged before the CCT for operating foreign accounts between 1999 to 2007.
The case was dismissed, because, aside from the fact that the charges were defective, the accused had not been invited or confronted with the complaints, and was consequently not afforded the opportunity of admitting in writing, any non-compliance, which ordinarily robbed the CCT of its jurisdiction to try him.
“The position of the law is that a suspect must first be confronted with the allegations by the CCB and be given an opportunity to reply them.
“Facts available in the public domain are that an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) petitioned against the CJN on January 7, 2019, and same was received by the CCB two days later, on January 9, 2019. By January 11, 2019, charges had been filed and arraignment is to be made on the January 14, 2019.
“Everything thus took place in one week! When did prosecutorial agencies in Nigeria become so efficient as to accomplish this 8th wonder of the world within such a short time?
“More significantly is the case of Ngajiwa vs FRN (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), where the Appellate Court held that sections 153(1) (i) (2), 271 (1), 292(1) (a) (ii) and Paragraph 21 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, must be read together to mean that any judicial officer accused of an offence must first be subjected to investigation and disciplinary action by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“It is after this that such a judicial officer can be arraigned in court. It is obvious that this fundamental step that can cloth the CCT with jurisdiction has been ignored by an Executive too much in a hurry to intimidate Onnoghen and undo the judiciary, having unsuccessfully intimidated the Legislature (NASS),” he argued.
He, therefore, called out the judiciary to “close down all courts of law across Nigeria until this blatant mischief and madness against the judiciary are removed.
“This government should at least leave Nigerians in peace if it cannot provide them with good, responsible and accountable governance.”