The Leader

Pan–Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, umbrella body of traditional rulers, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, weekend, raised four key posers for President Muhammadu Buhari over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, an act it strongly denounced, demanding his immediate reinstatement.

PANDEF in a statement by the National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, also called on the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to boycott the Courts “until this illegality is reversed.”

“Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad should be sanctioned by the National Judicial Council, NJC, for his willful participation in this ‘coup’ against the office of the CJN and the Nigerian constitution.

“The Courts should not sit until Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad is barred from parading himself as the CJN and Honourable Mr. Justice Walter Onnoghen promptly reinstated.

“The National Assembly should pass a resolution condemning this violation of the Constitution and to ensure that it is reversed with immediate effect. It must be emphasized that the National Assembly is a microcosm of the people of Nigeria, and every section of this great country has, because of adult suffrage, delegated its voice to her.

“The NASS is now at a particular unique junction at this time of our history, when we now face real issues of the Nation, which currently stands on the edge of precipice. She has the legislative empowerment, as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), to take the necessary actions that can reverse this ugly trend.

“Well-meaning Nigerians irrespective of political divide should rise against this monumental absurdity of the century until it is reversed,” the regional body said.

Recalling the current travails of Onnoghen, PANDEF raised the following four puzzles for President Buhari:

“When was the motion that led to the infamous CCT order moved? Was it taken after the Tribunal adjourned on the 23 January at about 3 pm? Is it possible that after the Court had adjourned, the Tribunal reconvened to take a motion exparte after the defendants had been served on notice? Or was the Order made the next day of business on 24 January 2019 after the Court of Appeal granted a restraining Order against the Tribunal?

The South-South group stated, “From the above posers, it is clearly evident that the Tribunal circumvented the process to empower and misled the President by backdating the Order to 23 January whereby it was signed by only two member – Danladi Umar and Julie Anabor of the Tribunal. What happened to the third member?

It noted, “The President acted on a fraudulent Order, emanating from an inferior Court without jurisdiction to remove the CJN. He acted on the Order procured by a tribunal, which blatantly and flagrantly chose to disobey a subsisting Court Order even when the Defence copiously referred the Tribunal to Supreme Court decisions, which upheld the sanctity of respecting all Courts Orders of Superior Courts of Record.”

According to PANDEF, “Clearly, the Judicial Arm which is the pillar of integrity upon which our democracy rests is under siege; Separation of Powers and Rule of Law is threatened. Indeed the independence of the judiciary shall be subjugated and consumed if this brazen action is allowed to stand.”

“The principles and tenets for rule of law, and judiciary, being the hope of the common man is being jeopardized. This also brings to mind the invasion of the National Assembly by hooded security operatives of the DSS, last year, that caused the nation untold embarrassment before the rest of the world. It is a dangerous precedence, and must be resisted by all well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians.

“PANDEF further considers it as part of the unfair treatment, unnecessary persecution and discrimination being meted against persons from the South-South geopolitical zone and the Niger Delta region by the President Muhammad Buhari -led federal government since its inception in 2015,” the group said.

Reading preconceived notion in President Buhari’s action, PANDEF said, “We wish to recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had overtly demonstrated reluctance in appointing Justice Walter Onnoghen as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria by delaying the forwarding of his name to the Senate for confirmation, following his recommendation for the position by the National Judiciary Commission (NJC), being the most senior member of the apex bench at the time.”

“It was only after an avalanche of condemnation of the delay by leaders of the South-South/Niger Delta region, and other patriotic Nigerians, including some federal lawmakers that Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, then acting President, transmitted his name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“Also recall that Mr. Matthew Seiyefa was appointed in acting capacity as Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS), being the most senior officer in the Service, following the sack of Lawal Daura, the former DG-DSS by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was acting President at the time, over the disgraceful siege at the National Assembly in July last year.

“Surprisingly, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to confirm Matthew Seiyefa, an indigene of Bayelsa State, as substantive DG. But instead Mr. President replaced him with a retired officer from Kano State, less than a month of his return from vacation,” it said.

It restated, “The action of Mr. President in suspending the CJN, relying on a purported court order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is so sad, unfortunate a show of brigandage and sheer demonstration of institutionalization of illegality. It is akin to suspending the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and enthroning dictatorship, anarchy and principle of self-help.”

The group asserted, “It is important to recall that PANDEF had raised concern that the hasty arraignment of Honourable Mr. Justice Walter Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, coming barely one month to the general elections, was politically motivated, and was a ploy to force the CJN out of office without recourse to due process of law.”

It said the irregularity was “to make way for enthronement of their own person, in this case, the Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, to their bidding,” adding, “the speed with which this whole process was rail waded is alarmingly unprecedented.”

Its words, “The machination commenced with a said petition from a suspect NGO, which leveled allegations against the CJN regarding assets declarations.”

“The petition dated 7th January 2019 was lodged at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) on the 11th January 2019 and the CCT preferred charges against the CJN without any investigation or reference to the National Judicial Council (NJC). On 14 January 2019, CCT listed the case of the CJN for arraignment.

“The matter could not go on because the CJN has not been properly served. The court adjourned for proper service to be effected and for motions of both the prosecution and defense to be taken.

“On 23 January 2019, there was proof that the CCT had been served with four court orders restraining the CCT from taking any further steps until the respective substantive matters had been heard and determined.

“Notice of the proceedings by the Court of Appeal court was also brought to the attention of the Tribunal. Arguments from both counsel for the Defendant (CJN) and the Prosecution were taken.

CCT ruled that the orders from the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court and the FCT High Courts were not binding on it. The Tribunal however admitted that any order from the Court of Appeal would be binding on it, since appeals lie from the Tribunal to the Court of Appeal.

“The matter was adjourned to Monday, January 28th, 2019 for the motions challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to hear and entertain the matter filed by the Defence and the motion seeking an order of the Tribunal requesting the CJN to ‘step aside’ from the office of CJN to be heard.

“On the 24th of January 2019, the Court of Appeal having heard the pending motion on notice before it, ordered the Tribunal to stay any further action pending the determination of the substantive Appeal and to maintain status quo.

“It is therefore a travesty for President Muhammadu Buhari to announce to Nigerians and the entire world that he had suspended the CJN.

“Curiously, Mr. President predicated his unlawful action on a questionable and flawed Court Order of the Tribunal, which is purportedly dated 23rd January, 2019 when over 43 Senior Advocates of Nigeria witnessed the proceedings of the tribunal on 23 January.

“Until it was adjourned to Monday, January 28, 2019 for the motions to challenge its jurisdiction and to suspend the CJN were to be taken,” PANDEF said.

It restated that the people of the Niger Delta region, South-South and PANDEF “shall not tolerate the lawlessness and continued persecution of our people by this Buhari-led Federal Government.”

“We shall employ all legitimate means to demonstrate our insistence and demand on the reversal of the illegal removal of CJN Walter Onnoghen. This country belongs to all of us, and we are critical Stakeholders in the Nigerian state,” it said.

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