Buhari : Nigeria Unlucky President As Onnoghen Loses At Appeal Court

By Stephen Ubanna

President Muhammadu Buhari may not have been that lucky in ruling Nigeria despite his good intentions to make the country a corrupt-free society. Political watchers believe he has been the most misunderstood  Nigerian political leader.

 Recall that when Ibrahim Babangida, a retired Army General and former military President, mobilised his military  loyalists  to overthrow his government in 1985 , there was jubilations in all nooks and corners of the country as Nigerians trooped out to the streets. This is because , Nigerians did not see anything good in him because of hardship . They accepted the populist government  of Babangida and were ready to support him to succeed.

The return of Buhari in 2015, as an elected President , may have galvanised all the forces against the Katsina born Nigerian President to return to the trenches. Paul Nathaniel, a Lagos based political analyst noted that ”never had the country and the international Community  been  so united against one man  than now. 

Buhari may have created the problem for himself by going ahead to suspend   Walter Kanu Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria on Friday, January 25, 2019, over alleged undeclared Assets. He had replaced him with Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, as the acting CJN.

 At present , he may appear to be alone as many notable  members  of the All Progressive Congress, APC, including  political appointees  who are not happy with  the suspension of the CJN  but could not confront him to reverse the decision may  have tactically withdrawn from advising him. They feared he may not accept their advise because of the strong believe in his superior arguments.

It was therefore , not surprising why they may have allowed him to take the unpopular decision of suspending Onnoghen,a southerner, and replacing him with Mohammed, a northerner. As a prelude to show the anger of Nigerians over the suspension of the embattled CJN, without following due process, 25 aggrieved Constitutional Lawyers, were said to have dragged  him to Court to  challenge what they described  as ”illegal suspension  of the  CJN”.

The Bukola Saraki led Senate which was supposed to have reconvened on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, to deliberate on the Onnoghen suspension was said to have filed a suit  before the Supreme Court, presided over by Mohammed , the acting CJN. The Senate suit , among others is ” asking the Court for an order to reinstate  the suspended CJN.

The Lawmakers may have agreed to reschedule  plenary session to February 19, 2019, after the February 16, 2019, Presidential election because of the backlash effect. Yusuf Olaniyonu, the Special Adviser Media to Saraki, the Senate President who responded to enquiries on why the Senate cancelled the initial scheduled  plenary disclosed that ”it  was due  to the last minute decision by the leadership  to seek judicial interpretation  to the CJN suspension by Buhari.

 According to Oloniyanu, the Senate is asking  the apex Court  to ”declare  the suspension  of Onnoghen, the CJN,  without the support of  two-third majority of the upper legislative chamber as a violation of the Constitution”.  The suit, he further stated is asking the Court  to issue an order  restraining  Buhari and Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General and minister of Justice,  from  continuing or repeating the violation of the Constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect to suspension of the CJN.

Many Nigerians and the international Community are awaiting to see how Mohammed would handle the case. This is because if it is decided in favour of the Senate, it means he would lose his exalted position  which he may not be willing to do, an indication that he has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The question on the lips of most people is : will  he  be dancing to the beating of the drum of the Presidency or stand and the part of Justice and damn the Consequences by  not allowing the country to be thrown into Constitutional crisis?. A Presidency source told the Value News that the Senate suit was a masterstroke to the government. The Cabal in the presidency, according the source, were surprised that Saraki, could influence the Senators to file a suit at the apex Court over the suspension of the CJN. This may have distablised the calculation of the cabal and the Buhari Presidential Campaign Council.

Onnoghen, the CJN, who is not ready to allow his 50-year meritorious records of being in the Bench to be unceremoniously removed from office was said to have appealed against the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, challenging his suspension.  According to the Appeal,  the Cross river state born suspended CJN, pleaded with the Court to declare that Danladi Umar, Chairman, CCT, and Julie Anabor, a member of the Tribunal,  ”erred in law and violated the Constitution when they ordered his suspension”.

He was said to have also  claimed  that ”they violated  his right  to fair hearing by not giving him opportunity to defend himself”.  Convinced that he was wrongfully suspended by the President on the recommendation of the CCT, he was said  to have asked the Court  to ”set aside the Judgment  of the Tribunal asking him to step aside as CJN and Chairman of National  Judicial Council, NJC.  The Presidency may have given Onnoghen a soft landing to run to the Court and argue out his case, since the President had people to believe that it was a legal and not a political matter.

His expectation in the Appeal Court may have been dashed as his suit  seeking a stay of execution  on his  on-going trial at the Tribunal was said to have been dismissed on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. The Court had ruled  that the ”’ nature  of the charges  leveled against Onnoghen warrants  that proceedings at the CCT continues. This is bad news for Onnoghen, the CJN, who had expected  to be reinstated by the Appeal Court.  For now  his hopes of regaining his lost position lies  with NJC which have taken over the case. to reinstate him or  be forced to retire.

Given that the Presidency has said there is no political motive to the CJN suspension but based on an order from the CCT, the NJC, which had been silent appears to have woken up to their responsibility. The Council , after a recent emergency meeting chaired by Umaru Abdullahi, a former President of the Appeal Court, has given, Onnoghen and Mohammed, the acting CJN, one week to respond to  petitions  written against them. This is because of the urgency of the matter, an NJC source said.

The suspended CJN is to respond to a petition by one Zikhvillahi Ibrahim, of Resource Center for Human Rights and Civil Education while Mohammed had been petitioned   by the Center For Justice and Peace Initiative,Olisa Agbakoba,a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, office of the Attorney General and minister of Justice over alleged breach of NUC rules . Onnoghen and the acting CJN were said to have been absent from the all important NJC meeting which was held to  decide on their  fate in the Supreme Court.

Justice Umaru Abdullahi: Former President, Court of Appeal, Chaired NJC Meeting

Umar, the Chairman of CCT, who had recommended the suspension of Onnoghen, the CJN, to the Presidency  on Wednesday, 23, January, 2019 , the NJC said also has a case to answer because of the petition written against him to the  Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC by the Center for Justice and Peace Initiative.The NJC, may have taken over the case to give Buhari a breather because of the rising opposition against him both locally and overseas  for taking the  decision to suspend Onnoghen, the CJN. Indeed, he may have hands up to allow the institutions do their work without any interference.

Even a presidency source informed that he has assured the NJC officials of non interference in their work, promising to act on their recommendations. This should gladden the heart of Onnoghen, the suspended CJN, who is optimistic  of being reinstated through the legal process.  

Nigerians and the international Community are waiting for the verdict of the NJC  when it reconvenes on Monday, February 11, 2019,  to look into the petitions against Onnoghen and Mohammed, the  top judicial officers. Soji Oye, the NJC, Director of Information, reportedly said the Council would handle matter with dispatch to calm tension in the country.  It could not be ascertained what the petitions against the duo were centered on as  NJC, has made it a closely guided secret.

 Note that it was  the alleged petition from one Dennis Aghaya, Executive Secretary of an Abuja based Anti-Corruption Data Base Initiative and Research, against Onnoghen over undeclared Assets and operating different domiciliary Accounts at Standard Chartered Bank of Nigeria, Wuse , Zone 2, Abuja branch, to the CCT, that he was forced to appear before the CCT and his subsequent suspension from office.

 There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the trio which had put the Judiciary where it is today may be asked to step aside for peace to reign in the country and to save Buhari’s image.  This may disappoint those who may be anticipating that there would be problem after the February 16, 2019,  if there was no clear winner or Buhari, the APC , Candidate wins and the closest rival in the election, over alleged cheating , and decides to take the case  to the three-man Presidential election Tribunal at the Supreme Court for adjudication for the judgment to be accepted by the parties without complain.

The intervention of the NJC on the Onnoghen case, should encourage the leadership of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, to mobilise their members to return to Court. The Nation Executive of the Association led by Paul Usoro, SAN, has ordered a total shutdown of Court proceedings between Tuesday and Wednesday, January 30, 2019, to protest against the illegal suspension of the erstwhile CJN. The NBA nec directive may not have,  been effective on the first as there was no total compliance. This is evident by the Court proceedings in Abuja, Jigawa and other parts of the north. There may not have been total compliance on the NBA order because of the insistence of Ibrahim Husani, the Chairman of the Association in the state that they need to support the government anti-corruption war, fueling that the presidency may have penetrated the ranks of NBA, to cause division and to ensure that the plot to abandon Court proceedings for two days would not totally effective.

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1 thought on “Buhari : Nigeria Unlucky President As Onnoghen Loses At Appeal Court

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