- Twenty five Nigerian constitutional lawyers are in court against President Muhammadu Buhari's suspension of Walter Onnoghen
- The lawyers, who filed the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, argue that the suspension of CJN Walter Onnoghen is illegal
- The lawyers want the court to determine some of its questions relating to the suspension of Onnoghen
Twenty five Nigerian constitutional lawyers have taken President Muhammadu Buhari to the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja as they challenge the alleged illegal suspension of the chief justice, Walter Onnoghen.
Vanguard reports that the team led by human rights activist, Johnmary Jideobi, are looking at two legal issues for the determination of the court.
These include: “Whether by the combined interpretation of section 153(1) (i) paragraph 21(a) of the 3rd schedule and sections 271, 291, 292 and 231 of the amended 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [and especially in view of the Supreme Court decision in Elelu-Habeeb vs. AGF (2012) 13 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 1318);], there exists any authority in the 1st defendant (Buhari) to suspend the 4th defendant (Onnoghen) as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Whether by the combined interpretation of section 153(1) (i) paragraph 21(a) of the 3rd schedule and sections 271, 291, 292 and 231 of the amended 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [and especially in view of the Supreme Court decision in Elelu-Habeeb vs. AGF (2012) 13 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 1318);] the purported suspension of the 4th Defendant as the Chief Justice of Nigeria by the 1st defendant on the 25th January, 2019 is not unconstitutional.”
The plaintiffs also want the court to hold that President Buhari lacks the constitutional power to suspend Onnoghen as the CJN.
These include: “A declaration of this honourable court that by the combined interpretation of section 153(1) (i) paragraph 21(a) of the 3rd schedule and sections 271, 291, 292 and 231 of the amended 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [and especially in view of the Supreme Court decision in Elelu-Habeeb vs. AGF (2012) 13 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 1318);] the purported suspension of the 4th Defendant as the Chief Justice of Nigeria by the 1st Defendant on the 25th January, 2019, is of no legal force, unconstitutional and a nullity.
“An order of this honourable court quashing and setting aside [as being unconstitutional and of no legal force] the purported suspension of the 4th Defendant by the 1st defendant.
“An order of this honourable court restoring the 4th Defendant forthwith to his office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“An order of perpetual injunction of this honorable court restraining the 1st Defendant or any other person acting on his behalf or at his direction from further suspending the 4th Defendant from his office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria”
The defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/113/2019 also include the National Judicial Council, NJC, the Acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, and the suspended CJN, Justice Onnoghen.
The plaintiffs argued that President Buhari acted beyond his powers by suspending Onnoghen without recourse to the NJC.
“I know as a Nigerian trained legal practitioner that the circumstances under which an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria could be appointed for the Nigerian federation are limited and do not include the suspension of the holder of that office by an ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal emerging from whatever circumstances.
“I know as a fact that the 1st defendant abused his powers and exceeded his constitutional authority when he purported to have suspended the 4th defendant as the Chief Justice of Nigeria without having recourse to [or by short-circuiting] all known constitutional provisions enclosing the discipline of Judicial officers.
“I know that the unconstitutional conduct of the 1st defendant in purporting to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria and unilaterally appointing and swearing in an acting chief justice without the recommendation of the National Judicial Council is extremely offensive to and spiteful of the grundnorm of Nigeria [that is the constitution], sets a destructive precedence, reeks of utmost bad faith, gravely endangers democracy, undercuts fidelity to rule of law, sets a new record in elevated-impunity and desecration of the constitution with condescending arrogance.
“I know that the unconstitutional conduct of the 1st Defendant being impugned herein has set off manifold reaction and shocked the conscience of democrats across the globe as exemplified by the reactions of European Union Mission, United Kingdom and United States of America Missions in Nigeria who issued statements expressing deep concerns regarding the grave development has drawn wide-spread criticisms by Nigerian citizens.
“I know as a fact that there is the urgent need for this honourable court to speedily review and pronounce on the constitutionality or otherwise of the actions of the 2nd Defendant which are now threatening the foundation of our democracy.
“I know as a fact that despite the unconstitutionality/illegality of the 1st defendant’s action from which the 3rd Defendant is benefitting from, the 3rd Defendant has commenced performing functions pertaining to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by purporting to have sworn in Two Hundred and Fifty (250) Election Petition Tribunal Judges on 26th day of January, 2019.
“Being a lawyer and a Nigerian citizen, I know as a fact: That the actions of the 1st defendant being challenged is capable of destroying all what an independent judiciary stands for, create and blossom the culture of impunity and recklessness in public governance and ultimately compromise electoral justice.
“That the action of the 1st defendant that eventuated in the present suit is a grave affront on the sacred doctrine of separation of powers trenchantly consecrated in our constitution.
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“In the event the law loses its respect and becomes incapable of commanding obedience (which the action of the 1st Defendant herein precipitates), our Judiciary will fall into odium and disuse thereby opening the floodgate of anarchy, large-scale impunity and erosion of fundamental human rights of citizens.
“The actions of the 1st defendant being impugned herein is capable of putting the Nigerian democracy on a dangerous cliff and eroding the confidence of a common man in the hallowed institution of the judiciary as his last hope.
“If our democracy crumbles, the plaintiff’s only source of livelihood (which is the legal profession) will be eclipsed, the courts will close down, citizens will have no place to get reliefs against executive impunity, lawlessness and high-handedness.
“There is extremely compelling urgency for this honourable court to swiftly intervene to clear the cobwebs by making decisive and clear pronouncements as to the extent of the powers of all the 1st defendant as it relates to the disciplining of judicial officers in Nigeria.
Legit.ng earlier reported that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), on Monday, January 28, ordered all lawyers in Nigeria boycott the courts across the nation for two days between Tuesday, January 29, and Wednesday, January 30, to protest the crisis in the judiciary.
The action, according to the NBA, is protest what it called the alleged constitutional infractions in the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Time is of the essence of this application.”
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