The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, will on Monday (today) challenge his suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari in court.
This is just as the National Judicial Council’s 88th meeting in Abuja has been delayed following fears of a possible clash between supporters of Onnoghen and the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed.
A senior advocate, who is a member of Onnoghen’s legal team, told one of our correspondents that it had become necessary to do so as the suspension of a CJN by a President was unprecedented.
He said, “We will be going to court to challenge the suspension of the CJN. The President relied on a CCT order despite the fact that the Court of Appeal had restrained all parties from removing the chief justice.
“The CJN was not even served with the court processes before he was removed by the President. So, all these will be challenged in court. When the processes have been filed, the documents will be made public.”
When asked why the CJN waited for three days before challenging his removal, the source said, “He was suspended late on Friday and you know courts do not sit on Saturday and Sunday.”
NJC holds emergency meeting Tuesday
Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council has fixed an emergency meeting for Tuesday (tomorrow) in Abuja by 10am.
The meeting, one of our correspondents learnt, was called over the Friday suspension of Onnoghen by President Buhari.
The spokesperson for the NJC, Mr Soji Oye, confirmed the meeting in a statement on Sunday night.
He said the notice of the meeting had already been sent by the Secretary of the council, Ahmed Saleh, to members.
“The meeting will hold on Tuesday and notice has been sent to members. I can confirm this to you. It is different from the rumour that was in circulation before that a meeting had been fixed for Monday,” Oye said.
In a related development, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria has called a meeting for Wednesday.
In a statement issued on Sunday by the National President of JUSUN, Marwan Adamu, the union said it would deliberate on the happenings in the Judiciary and take a stand after the meeting.
Adamu described the situation in the Judiciary as unfortunate, insisting that the independence of the Judiciary as enshrined in the constitution “is non-negotiable.”
Buhari invites APC senators to Villa over Onnoghen’s suspension
Meanwhile, President Buhari has summoned members of the All Progressives Congress in the Senate to a meeting at the Presidential Villa on Monday (today) over Onnoghen’s suspension.
Onnoghen was suspended on Friday by President Buhari based on an ex parte order granted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
He is facing six counts of false assets declaration filed against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Buhari’s meeting with the APC governors will take place ahead of the Senate emergency resumption on Tuesday (tomorrow) when decisions are expected to be taken on Onnoghen’s suspension by the President.
The APC senators’ meeting with the President, it was gathered, would take a position to counter the expected condemnation of the CJN’s suspension by the members of the opposition in the Senate on Tuesday.
However, the meeting which is going to hold at the Banquet Hall, is being tagged as a dinner. Invitations to the meeting were signed by the Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, who is also the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi.
A source close to the organisers of the meeting who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the national leadership of the APC would also attend the meeting.
He said apart from the senators and the APC leaders, some APC governors had also been invited to the meeting.
He said, “You know that the Senate leadership belongs to the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party. The party on its own has taken a position on this matter.
“Also, the President of the Senate, who is also the Director General of the PDP presidential candidate Council, Bukola Saraki, has taken a position on this matter.
“So, we need to talk to our members in the Senate and impress it on them not to allow Saraki to impose his personal opinion on them.”
APC Reps also to meet
Also, members of the APC Caucus in the House of Representatives have scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday (today).
The Majority Leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, called the meeting, according to a text message circulating among the lawmakers on Sunday.
“Honourable colleagues, there will be a meeting of the APC caucus tomorrow, Monday, at 4pm. Venue is the White House Hearing Room 1. Thank you. Femi Gbajabiamila,” the message sighted by one of our correspondents read.
Meeting meant to bribe lawmakers, PDP alleges
But the PDP has alleged that certain agents of the Presidency were making moves to bribe the APC senators to protect Buhari from parliamentary sanctions for constitutional breaches.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement on Sunday stated that intelligence available to the PDP showed that that was the reason the Presidency had summoned all the APC senators to the Presidential Villa to a clandestine meeting on Monday (today’s) night.
Ologbondiyan said, “President Buhari is not only apprehensive that the Senate might sanction him for violating the constitution and usurping its statutory duties regarding the handling of issues related to a CJN, the parliament may also open an inquest into how President Buhari, who parades himself as Mr Integrity, allegedly procured an order from the CCT upon which he announced the illegal suspension of the CJN.
“There are reports that the said order is suspicious and subject to investigations, being not argued or issued in the open court; following which a distressed Buhari Presidency now seeks to corrupt and undermine the Senate.”
NBA summons emergency NEC meeting, lawyers plan protest
However, the Nigerian Bar Association has summoned an emergency national executive council meeting over Onnoghen’s suspension.
This is as a group, the National Interest Defenders, has planned a protest rally to the NBA National Secretariat for Monday (today).
According to a notice of the rally, the group is made of Lawyers in Defence of Democracy, public interest activists, opposition politicians, good governance activists and civil society organisations, different ethnic and religious leaders.
The NBA NEC meeting follows a statement earlier released on Friday night by the NBA condemning the swearing in of Justice Tanko Muhammad as the acting CJN.
The PUNCH learnt that the meeting was called to consider the strategy to press for a reversal of the action.
A senior member of the bar said, “We are going to have a serious deliberation with a view to engaging the Federal Government.”
Asked what strategy was in the offing, the member said, “That will be like putting the cart before the horse. We will consider all options allowed in law, the independence of the judiciary must be secured.”
The NBA President, Paul Usoro (SAN), confirmed the meeting to one of our correspondents.
He, however, refused to divulge the agenda of the meeting.
He said, “Yes, we are having our NEC meeting Monday. Why not wait till then for further briefing.”
PDP leadership meets senators
Also, the national leadership of the PDP met members of the party in the Senate at an undisclosed location in Abuja on Sunday night.
The meeting, which was attended by the members of the National Working Committee of the PDP led by its National Chairman, Uche Secondus, was said to have also deliberated on the alleged plan by the Presidency to move against Saraki and Dogara as presiding officers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
A source close to the party said the meeting was aimed at countering the outcome of the meeting expected to be held by President Buhari with the APC senators tonight.
Also on Sunday, the PDP in the House of Representatives hailed The PUNCH, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and others who criticised Onnoghen’s suspension.
In a statement on Sunday, the opposition lawmakers assured Nigerians that they would stand against anti-democratic forces that were desperate to “subvert Nigeria’s constitution, short-circuit the legal process and truncate our democracy out of sheer desperation to cling to power at all costs.”
Buhari’s action can cause voter apathy, says TMG
Similarly, the Transition Monitoring Group has accused the President of taking advantage of his control of state apparatus to override the judicial system.
The TMG said the action against the CJN had created the perception in the public that Buhari was not committed to his promise to ensure the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in 2019.
The group, in a statement by its chairperson, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said, “In our view, the onslaught by the Presidency against the judiciary, a pillar in the democratic process, is ill-advised and poorly timed. The TMG finds it worrisome that the clear interference by the President in another arm of government portends dangers for the nation’s democracy, and specifically, the 2019 electoral process.”
Prosecute Lawal, Oke too, HEDA tells AGF
But, a non-governmental organisation, Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre, commended the Attorney General of the Federation for the prompt prosecution of Onnoghen,” on false asset declaration charges.”
HEDA’s Chairman, Olanrenwaju Suraju, however, called on the AGF to, in the same manner, immediately commence the prosecution of the sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the sacked Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke, for alleged corruption.
Buhari planning to remove Saraki, Dogara – CUPP
Meanwhile, opposition political parties alleged that it had uncovered plans to illegally remove the leadership of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
It said the plan, which it claimed had received Buhari’s approval, was meant to be implemented on Tuesday.
The coalition’s first national spokesperson, Imo Ugochinyere, stated this in a statement in Abuja.
Ugochinyere said, “The judicial coup which they believed was supposed to be more difficult went very easily beyond their imagination, hence the need to complete the takeover of the National Assembly immediately so that the distraction of the election campaigns will be put to use.”
Ugochinyere further claimed that to ensure the success of the plan, the Federal Government had allegedly earmarked $70,000 for each senator and $40, 000 for each member of the House of Representatives.
CNPP backs Buhari on Onnoghen’s suspension
But the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties in Ekiti State said the bravery displayed by Buhari in suspending Onnoghen was an indication that he had capacity to end corruption.
The CNPP state chairman, Olu Akomolafe, in a statement in Ado Ekiti, said, “Onnoghen as a chief law officer in the country was supposed to have stepped aside or resigned to allow for a free, fair and unbiased trial since the beginning of the imbroglio that led to his abrupt departure as the CJN in order to uphold the sanctity of the judiciary in Nigeria.”
I didn’t condemn CJN’s suspension – Aisha Buhari
Meanwhile, the President’s wife, Aisha, in a statement by her Director of Information, Mr Suleiman Haruna, on Sunday denied that she condemned Onnoghen’s suspension by her husband.
She said, “It is important to inform Nigerians that the wife of the President has not made any public statements on the matter and therefore the commentary is untrue and fake. This is highly condemnable and we therefore advise the purveyors of such news to recant and desist henceforth.”
Buhari now jittery after US, UK warning – Atiku
Meanwhile, the Presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, says President Buhari and the cabal running his government have become jittery following the condemnation of Onnoghen’s suspension by the US, the UK and the EU.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Public Communications, Phrank Shuaibu, Atiku urged Buhari to ensure that next month’s elections are free and fair or face the consequences.
He said, “Buhari’s cabal is unhappy with the statements from the US, the British and the EU because they know that these world powers have agreed to re-route their latest and most technologically sophisticated spy satellites including the NAOL-47 satellite to provide comprehensive coverage for the February 16 presidential election.
“The photographs these satellites will deliver cannot only show someone reading a newspaper but also which newspaper they are reading.”
We’re not for any candidate, says US
But, the United States of America has said that it is not supporting any candidate, but only interested in a free, fair and credible polls.
The US Consul General, Mr John Bray, made this remark during the ‘Vote, Not Fight’ mega peace concert organised by 2Baba Idibia Foundation in conjunction with Youngstars Development Initiative in Port Harcourt on Sunday.
Bray said, “We are not supporting anybody. We are here to support a peaceful process. You are lucky because the highest number of voters in Nigeria is within 35 years. So, you can decide who will be your leader with your votes.”