The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has unequivocally rejected and condemned the suspension of the CJN, describing it as “attempted coup against the Nigerian Judiciary and evident suspension of the Nigerian Constitution by the executive arm of the Federal Government.”
The NBA, in a statement signed by its President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), said it portends a slide into anarchy and complete deconstruction of the Rule of Law and due process.
“It amounts to an absolute breach of the Constitution and the usurpation of the powers of the Senate and the Nigerian Judicial Council.
“It is unfortunate that the executive branch of government purports to suspend the CJN on the basis of an alleged ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the same Tribunal that, to the knowledge of the executive, had, only the previous day, Tuesday, 22 January 2019 adjourned its proceedings to Monday, 28 January 2019 and has before it a motion on notice that is yet to be argued, seeking the same reliefs as were contained in the purported ex-parte application, to wit, the suspension of the CJN, amongst others,” NBA pointed out.
Similarly, members of the Coalition of Opposition Political Parties (CUPP) have described the removal of the CJN as a judicial coup that must be resisted by all lovers of democracy.
Spokesperson of the group, Mr. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, stated that by the development, President Buhari has finally overthrown constitutional governance.
The group maintained that Onnoghen remains the CJN, describing the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammed, as a usurper of the exalted position.
CUPP called on lawyers, judges and judicial staffs to down tools immediately, arguing this is the last battle that must be won.
It added: “The NBA should immediately call out all lawyers. All courts must be shut now while nationwide protest against this impunity should also commence.
“The NJC must sack him. Lawyers must ignore him as long as he remains on that seat. The CJN can be removed from office either if he has been convicted or if under section 291 and 292 of the constitution, the Senate affirms a request by the President to remove him by two-thirds majority vote. Buhari has dared Nigerians.
“They filed a charge at CCT with a hurriedly put petition we kept quiet, they filed a motion to remove him from the tribunal but the Appeal court restrained them and, just few hours to the inauguration of the Supreme Court election panel that will hear pre and post- 2019 election litigation, the emperor crushed the constitution and overthrow the leadership of the Supreme Court and appointed his stooge.
“Onnoghen’s illegal removal was aimed at stopping the swearing in of members of the general election petition tribunal.
“We have been vindicated on our earlier alarm that Buhari wants to appoint pro-APC CJN to help use the judiciary to affirm APC candidates in the 2019 pre and post election litigation.
“The CJN must remain in office and disregard this announcement as the President has no power to suspend him.
“The Senate should reconvene now and start impeachment process against the President for acting against the provision of the Constitution he swore to uphold.
“A man who rode to power on the basis of respect for the rule law and fundamental principles of democracy has chosen to play to the gallery of dictatorship to right elections. Let’s see how it goes.
“But we know that this is going to be the beginning of democracy in Nigeria. The democratic institutions will fight back. Trust me it is the beginning of democracy in Nigeria. Out of adversity comes strength.”
A former governorship aspirant in Osun state, Dr. Abiodun Layonu (SAN), who was visibly unhappy over the situation, said the action has surely instigated a constitutional crisis.
He simply said: “Sadly, we are in a constitutional crisis.”
Also, former general secretary, NBA, Mazi Afam Osigwe who expressed shock over the development quipped: “I never thought that I would live to see a day where this kind of thing will happen in Nigeria.”
According to him, there is no constitutional provision that allows the CCT to make such an order.
His words: “As at Tuesday when the matter came before the CCT, we heard the motion on notice and the court adjourned on record before every person to continue next week.
“So at what point did they hear this matter and the parties in the same matter was before the court of appeal yesterday when the court made an order following the normal proceedings?
“If this order was made on Wednesday, is it not alright that the order made by the court of appeal has cut off every other thing by stopping them from taking this action?”
He explained that such action raises the suspicion that the order is procured to achieve exactly this objective. There is no doubt, he said about the fact that they want to remove the CJN and rubbish the judiciary because they don’t want him to appoint justices over election matters.
But Abuja based lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Sani, argued that it does appear that Section 11(1)(b) of the Interpretation Act empowers the President to so act.
The section says: “Where an enactment confers power to appoint a person either to an office or to exercise any functions, the power includes power to remove or suspend him.”
Sani said: “I believe he can, by virtue of Section 11(1)(b) of the Interpretation Act. Section 318(4) of the Constitution provides that the Interpretation Act shall be used for interpreting the provisions of the Constitution
“What is unclear is whether the conditions attached to the President’s power to appoint the CJN under Section 231(1) of the Constitution (i.e., on the recommendation of the NJC and subject to Senate confirmation) also apply to his suspension.”
However, Osigwe disagrees, insisting that the action does not apply to the person whose office is secured by the Constitution because the Constitution has a specific provision on how to remove the CJN.
He stressed that the express provision of section 292(1) of the Constitution ensured that the CJN could only be removed by the president on the recommendation of two-thirds majority of the Senate.