Fact check: Did Buhari remove a CJN during his military regime?

Fact check: Did Buhari remove a CJN during his military regime?

Thousands of Twitter users have been sharing a tweet claiming that two Chief Justices of Nigeria have been 'removed by fiat' in the history of the country.

The tweet further claimed that the two CJNs were from the southern part of Nigeria and were replaced by northerners.

Lastly, the tweet claimed that the two CJNs were removed by President Buhari.

These claims are FALSE, according to Legit.ng's findings.

Only one CJN was removed by a military government and it was Muritala/Obasanjo regime in 1975, not Buhari-led administration.

The second CJN to be sacked was not removed by fiat. He was removed after being found guilty of non-declaration of assets by the CCT. The legality of the CCT's ruling has, however, been questioned.

Also, only one of the two removed CJNs was replaced by a northerner.

The tweet already has 1,111 shares (retweets), 1, 406 likes and 152 comments as at the time of publishing these findings.

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Claim 1: Two times in the history of Nigeria a CJN has been removed by fiat

Legit.ng’s findings show that it is true that Nigeria has witnessed the removal of a CJN two times. However, the removal happened in two different circumstances.

The first CJN to be removed from office was Justice Taslim Elias. He was removed by a military government.

The second CJN to be removed from office is CJN Walter Onnoghen. Unlike Elias, Onnoghen was removed under a democratic system. He was removed on Thursday, April 18 by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) after the tribunal found him guilty of the charges of non-asset declaration instituted against him by the federal government.

Onnoghen was the first CJN to be subjected to trial. He was arraigned, prosecuted, and now sentenced for the violation of the code of conduct law, an offence he pleaded not guilty to.

Though Onnoghen had allegedly resigned before the final trial on Thursday, the CCT chairman, Lanladi Usman, after finding him guilty of the charges of false and non-declaration of assets preferred against him, ruled that:

"1. The defendant is hereby removed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and also as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council.

"2. That the defendant has also been banned from holding any public office in Nigeria for the next 10 years.

"3. That all monies in the five accounts which were not declared by the defendant be confiscated, seized and forfeited to the federal government as they were all acquired illegally by the defendant."


While it is TRUE that two CJNs have been removed in the history of Nigeria, the claim that the two CJNs were removed by fiat is FALSE.

Claim 2: The two CJNs removed were from the Southern part of Nigeria and were replaced by northerners

Justice Teslim Elias was born into the traditional aristocracy of Lagos, southwestern Nigeria, on 11 November 1914.

Also, Justice Onnoghen was born on the 22 December 1950 at Okurike Town, Biase local government area of Cross River state in the south-south part of the country.


The claim that the two removed CJNs were from the southern part of the country is TRUE. However, the other claim that they were replaced by northerners is FALSE.

While Justice Onnoghen was truly replaced with a northerner, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Elias was not.

Rather, he was replaced by an outsider from the Supreme Court, Darnley Alexander, a long-time Caribbean resident in Nigeria who at that time was the Chief Judge of Cross River state.

Alexander was born in Castries, St Lucia on 28 January 1920.

Claim 3: The two justices were removed by President Buhari

President Buhari, before emerging as Nigeria’s civilian president, ruled the country as military head of state between 1983 and 1985.

The CJN during the period was Chief George Sodeinde Sowemimo.

Sowemimo was appointed CJN in 1983 to succeed the late Justice Atanda Fatai Williams. He retired in 1985 having attained the statutory retirement age.

Justice Elias, the first CJN to be removed, was controversially sacked in August 1975 by General Murtala Muhammed/Olusegun Obasanjo regime. Murtala, deputized by Obasanjo, came into power after the July 29, 1975 coup.

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When the military government announced his removal on August 20, 1975, it cited his health as reason for the action; a claim Elias later debunked.

Elias, respected as one of Africa’s greatest jurists, had been appointed CJN only three years earlier in 1972.

After sacking him, the military government eventually made amends by promoting his election to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague two months later.

Until Onnoghen’s removal by the CCT, Elias was the only CJN removed from office.

Other former holders of the office left upon their attainment of the retirement age, which now stands at 70 years.

Also, to claim President Buhari removed CJN Onnoghen is erroneous. The exCJN was removed through a legal process – arraigned, tried, and convicted by the CCT.

However, the legality of the CCT's ruling has been heavily criticised while the former chief justice has also appealed the judgement.

The unprecedented judgement by the Lanladi-led CCT drew widespread reactions from Nigerians across all divides.

While some applauded the judgement, seeing it as a victory for President Buhari's anti-corruption crusade, others condemned it; describing it as a witch-hunt of the former CJN.


The claim by Brian Efa that two CJNs were removed by President Buhari is FALSE.

Sowemimo was the CJN during the Buhari-led military government and was not removed as Efa claimed. He retired in 1985 having attained the statutory retirement age.

Also, the claim that ex-CJN Onnoghen was removed by fiat is FALSE.

NAIJ.com (naija.ng) -> Legit.ng: Same great journalism, upgraded for better service!

Onnoghen's Trial is Politically Motivated - APRJ | Legit TV

Source: Legit Nigeria

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