The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) rose from its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja yesterday, calling on its members nationwide to boycott all courts for two days. The action billed to begin today is a protest against the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari.
A statement at the end of the meeting reads in part: “NEC resolved that members should boycott all courts for the next two days starting from 29th to 31st of January, 2019.”
The meeting ratified the constitution of a three-man committee (which may be expanded) made up of former Presidents Wole Olanipekun (SAN), A. B. Mahmood (SAN) and President Paul Usoro (SAN) to interface on the issue.
The committee adopted and ratified all actions and statements earlier issued by the NBA president on the prosecution and suspension of the CJN.
The body yesterday summoned an emergency meeting of all its executive members following the suspension of Onnoghen.
In a statement it issued at the weekend, the NBA decried Buhari’s “outright disrespect for the constitution” in the suspension of Justice Onnoghen.
The embattled Onnoghen yesterday described rumour of his purported resignation as fake news.
A statement issued by his media aide, Awassam Bassey, said the fake news was being circulated by mischief makers.
“Mischief makers are still circulating this fake news. Once again, no truth in it whatsoever. The Hon CJN, Hon Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, has not resigned,” Bassey said.
Senate sues President Buhari to Supreme Court for the illegal suspension
The NBA met as the Senate took President Buhari to the Supreme Court for “illegally” suspending Onnoghen.
The upper legislative chamber is seeking the interpretation of the apex court “on whether President Buhari acted within the provision of the constitution in his suspension of the CJN or whether the action of the president does amount to usurpation of the powers of the Senate as provided for in Section 292 of the constitution.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, yesterday, explained that an emergency sitting of the Senate tomorrow was no longer required since the rules of the upper legislative chamber are against debating matters pending before the courts. Thus, the previous adjournment of the Senate till February 19, 2019 stays.
Also yesterday, lawyers, human rights activists, students and others across the country protested against the suspension of the CJN, describing the action as unconstitutional.
In Abuja, members of the National Interest Defenders (NID), Lawyers in Defence of Democracy (LDD) and other human rights groups, who jointly protested, converged at he headquarters of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to demand, among other things, that the association rise in defence of democracy.
They also urged justices and judges across the country to shut down courts in solidarity with the CJN.
Addressing the protesters, the convener of the NID, Mr. Ikenga Ugochinyere, alleged that President Buhari relied on and used a forged and fictitious tribunal order to suspend Justice Onnoghen.
“Nigerians will recall that the petition served on the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) against the CJN was received by the bureau on January 9. The purported tribunal order which the president claimed he relied on was also dated the same January 9. The motion on notice seeking the same prayers as the purported motion ex parte was dated January 10, the charge filed was dated January 10 while the statement of the CJN in answer to the petition was dated January 11,” he stated.
Ugochinyere observed that “from the above dates, it appeared that upon receipt of the petition, the first action of the bureau was to file a motion ex parte, asking Onnoghen to vacate office for Justice Tanko Mohammed to be sworn in even before the commencement of an investigation into the matter, before the CJN was approached to make a statement and even before charges were filed against him.”
NBA to ask lawyers to boycott courts
By this, the group accused Buhari of violating the constitution which he swore to uphold.
“This is an act that amounts to gross misconduct and it must certainly warrant his removal from office. The National Assembly should as a matter of urgency, national importance and patriotism, commence without any delay the process of impeaching President Buhari.
“We also call on the NBA and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to decide whether the impunity should be allowed to stand. The NJC and NBA must order the shutdown of the courts until the illegal suspension of the CJN is lifted and the impostor CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed made to vacate the office.
“The NJC must expel Justice Mohammed from the Bench for accepting an illegal appointment in violation of the constitution and the NJC rules of engagement.
“The NBA must direct lawyers to boycott the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) presided over by Danladi Umar until disciplinary action is served on Umar for issuing a fake order that paved the way for impunity.”
The protesters urged the National Assembly to commence action for the removal from office of Umar, “who, having criminal charges against him, still sits in office and dumped Nigeria in a state of constitutional hiatus.”
The protest was disrupted by another group of people in support of President Buhari’s action.
In Enugu, residents of the south east zone yesterday took to the streets to protest against Onnoghen’s suspension.
The placard-carrying protesters, under the aegis of Coalition of Southeast Voters’ Voice, marched to Enugu Government House, state and federal high courts as well as the House of Assembly. They called on the National Assembly to immediately convene and consider a motion for the impeachment of President Buhari whom they alleged had acted contrary to the oath he swore to uphold, by the suspension of Onnoghen
Some of the inscriptions on the placards carried by the protesters, who wore black attires, read: “Coalition of Southeast voters call for immediate impeachment of President Buhari”, “Osinbajo has failed as a judicial officer”, “Southeast governors, stop romancing with a tyrant”, “ Muhammed Tanko should resign now’, and “Stop desecrating our judiciary.”
The coordinator of the protesters, Mr. Sunday Umeha, said they were “worried over the latest episode in the series of undemocratic and constitutional recklessness that has become the hallmark of the Buhari’s administration.”
He stated that though they had found that it had become difficult for the Buhari administration to conform to minimum standards of civil rule, given how it had allegedly undermined democratic governance, they never knew “it would extend its brigandage to the hallowed temple of justice to whom we owe the preservation of our hard-fought democracy.”
The group, which said that it was not defending the suspended CJN, argued that the country “is a constitutional democracy where every action of government must be done according to law, otherwise it will be null and void abinitio.”
Former Vice President and Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, condemned the move against Onnoghen, calling on Nigerians to be more vigilant against further breaches of the constitution by the Federal Government.
At the popular Shehu Yardua Centre in Abuja, Atiku reviewed the mood of the nation regarding the challenges faced by democracy and accused the presidency of taking undemocratic actions.
He commended Nigerians and the international community for rising against the attack on democracy.
“How we react to this challenge in the following days will determine the fate of our democracy, which has been brought to great peril by this needless crisis engineered by a government that is unwilling to subject its conducts to the requirements of our constitution.
“I need to state that this latest action by General Muhammadu Buhari falls squarely within the pattern of executive lawlessness that has now been firmly turned into statecraft by the APC government,” he noted.
According to Atiku, “The serial disregard of court orders, and consequent violation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights of our citizens confirm beyond all doubt that General Buhari and his government would rather obey their own whims and operate by separate rules outside the well-established constitutional order and the rule of law. It scarcely requires emphasis that this behaviour is alien to democratic rule and more in line with that of a military dictator.”