—Suspension of the Chief Justice Onnoghen and the Political Legalities,by Aroghalu Chidozie
YBTC News—Currently, the hottest argument in the Nigerian space is that bothering on the suspension of the Nigerian Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen.
With many reactions and outrage, one can understand the importance of this singular action by President Muhammad Buhari.
Many see it as an onslaught on the judiciary while others see it as a political onslaught especially with the 2019 Elections in sight.
It is more controversial owning to the fact that the Chief Justice who was suspended would have set up an election petition tribunal today but for his suspension.
Many say the suspension failed to follow due process while Many are concerned about the suspected lack of respect for the rule of law and separation of powers .
While many reactions have followed , I would take us to what the law says about the removal of the Chief Justice of the federation and the cases there-in.
Section 292 of the Nigerian constitution is concerned with the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
One of the dilemmas is that this section does not stipulate expressly requirements for temporary removal (suspension) and permanent removal (Outright Sack) , so by interpretation, it is valid for both instances.
Quoted below is the word by word statement in the constitution.
“A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances
(a) in the case of –
“Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.”
(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State,
Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct;
(b) in any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
From the above , it is clear that the removal of the Chief Justice of the country has to go through the Senate and a two-third majority must be gotten.
As far as I know, the matter on the removal of the Chief Justice has not been debated in the floor of the Senate.
The above analysis brings us to core issues surrounding the removal.
For a President that stated fully that he would not sign the electoral bill into law because it may distort the election , why would he be in a hurry to sack the person who is incharge of the tribunal that decide election petitions just three weeks to the election, is that not calling for election distortion?
Also, when judges of the calibre of the Chief Justice of Nigeria are at the mercy of the President who can fire them at will, where is the independence of the judiciary?
Do we still have separation of power or the judiciary is an extension of the Executive?
The law of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent untilproved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”, the trail at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has not even being decided before the Chief Justice was found worthy of suspension, what is the use of hearing a case when you have nailed the person even before the judge does?
While I am not against fighting corruption, I believe strongly that the process of fighting any wrong or perceived wrong should not be faulty itself.
Nigeria cannot afford to return to anarchy or afford to return to the days of the millitary dictatorship because a government without the law is not democratic and a government that fails to respect the judiciary is nothing but heading towards downfall.
I would also want lawyers to rally round this situation, it is the Chief Justice today, who is next? If we fail to demand due process then we are opening ourselves to complete professional ridicule and mockery.
Would we be bold to stand firm this time?
Aroghalu Chidozie Law
Writes in From Abuja
He can be reached via
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