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What Femi Falana Said About Onnoghen’s Suspension

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Human rights attorney, Femi Falana, says it is “unfortunate that the Bar and the Bench have played into the hands of the sponsors of incipient fascism” in Nigeria in reaction to the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).

Naija News had reported earlier that President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Onnoghen on Friday and immediately appointed Tanko Mohammed as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Giving reasons for his decision in his speech which was obtained by Naija News, the President said there was an order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, asking him to wield the big stick.

President Buhari said the order demanded that the CJN be suspended depending on the determination of his ongoing trial at the tribunal.

Apparently displeased with the development, Falana lamented that it is intriguing that the 12 lawyers in Buhari’s cabinet (Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo inclusive) did not dissuade Buhari from carrying out the “illegal suspension.”

His words: “In line with decided judicial authorities I had wanted the National Judicial Council to investigate the allegations,” Falana said.

“Unfortunately, the 88th statutory meeting of the National Judicial Council scheduled to hold on January 15, 2019, which could have deliberated on the matter and take an informed position was postponed indefinitely on the directive of the embattled chief justice.

“Thus, at the 15th annual Gani Fawehinmi lecture which held in Lagos on January 15 2019, I was compelled to warn against the dangerous trend. Regrettably, the warning fell on deaf ears. Curiously, in an act of brazen impunity, the Executive procured an ex parte order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the immediate suspension of the Chief Justice from office.

“In his purported compliance with the ex parte order, President Muhammadu Buhari has announced the suspension of Justice Onnoghen as the chief justice and appointed Justice Tanko Mohammad as the acting chief justice.

“It’s intriguing that the 12 lawyers, including three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in the federal cabinet did not deem it fit to dissuade President Buhari from carrying out the illegal suspension of the Chief Justice on the basis of an ex parte order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

“It is unfortunate that the Bar and the Bench have played into the hands of the sponsors of incipient fascism in the country. For reasons best known to them, the stakeholders in the legal profession stood by and allowed the office of the chief justice to be completely desecrated.”

Citing the case of Elelu-Habeeb v AGF (2012) 40 WRN 1, the senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) argued that the heads of the judicial arms of the state and federal governments in the country cannot be removed without a prior investigation conducted by the NJC.

“The National Judicial Council should convene and constitute a committee to investigate the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice and make appropriate recommendation to the relevant authorities,” he said.

The lawyer urged the legal team of Onnoghen to challenge his suspension at the tribunal or at the appeal court.

“Despite the gravity of the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice the illegality of the suspension should not be allowed to stand,” he said.

“The ex parte order is a suspect document as the motion ex parte on which it was predicated was allegedly filed on January 9, 2019, while the substantive charge against the Chief Justice was filed at the registry of the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 11, 2019. Furthermore, the counsel who argued the motion is not indicated in the ex parte order,” Falana added.

Meanwhile, President Buhari’s decision to suspend Onnoghen has been greeted by a storm of reactions from Nigerians as well as the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union as reported earlier by Naija News.