NEWS DIGEST – The National Judicial Council has given the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, and the acting CJN, Tanko Muhammad, seven working days to respond to petitions against them.
The council gave the ultimatum at its emergency meeting held in Abuja on Tuesday. The two men did not attend the meeting.
A former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umar Abdullahi, presided over the meeting as the interim chairman.
President Muhammadu Buhari had suspended Onnoghen on Friday based on an ex parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which ordered him to step aside.
The President swore in Muhammad in his place in an acting capacity.
The NJC also referred a petition against the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, to the Federal Judicial Service Commission.
According to a press release by the NJC’s Director (Information), Soji Oye, the council took the decisions after considering four petitions filed at its secretariat.
The statement explained that the petition against Onnoghen was by Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civil Education while two petitions against Muhammad came from Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, and Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
It added that the petition against Umar was authored by the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
The statement added, “Council referred the petition against Honurable Danladi Yakubu Umar to the Federal Judicial Service Commission, which is the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with it.
“In line with its procedure, council also forwarded the petitions against Honourable Justices W.S.N. Onnoghen, (GCON) and I. T. Muhammad (CFR), to them for their responses.
“In view of the gravity of the matters involved, council abridged the usual response period from fourteen (14) to seven (7) working days for the honurable Justices to respond.”
Oye said the council would reconvene on February 11.
Meanwhile, Onnoghen, has asked the Court of Appeal in Abuja to nullify the CCT’s ex parte order which formed the basis for Buhari’s decision to suspend him last Friday.
Onnoghen, in his four grounds notice of appeal filed later on Monday, argued among others that the CCT’s order dated January 23, 2019, and signed by two out of the three members was issued without jurisdiction.
He also argued that the CCT erred in law in issuing the order, adding that the order was unlawful and violated his right to fair hearing.
He added that it remained null and void as it amounted to prematurely passing on him the final punishment imposable by the tribunal upon conviction, when his plea to the six counts preferred against him had not even been taken.
Onnoghen through his lawyers, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), in his appeal, faulted the CCT’s ex parte order issued without first hearing him.
He prayed in his appeal before the Court of Appeal, “an order of this honourable court allowing the appeal.
He prayed for an order setting aside the order of the tribunal made on January 23, 2019, directing him to step aside as the CJN.
He added, “The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and members have a duty to hear the appellant before making the orders.
“The orders made by the Chairman and a member of the Code of Conduct are null and void.”
In another grounds of appeal, the appellant argued that the CCT’s order “occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice” as “parties have joined issue on similar application on notice.”
He explained further that “the Chairman and a member of the Code of Conduct Tribunal made the orders when there was pending before the tribunal a motion on notice with similar prayers as the one granted by the tribunal.”
He added that the CCT, by its order, prematurely granted a relief which the law prescribed as final punishment for violation of the prohibited acts under the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.”
In the fourth grounds, Onnoghen argued that the CCT chairman and member “acted without jurisdiction” when they made the order.
Meanwhile, the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said Buhari was fair and balanced in his approach by suspending Onnoghen.
He said those who were faulting the President’s decision, particularly Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, apparently did not know the difference between suspension and sacking.
Tinubu said this in a statement he personally signed, tagged “Reply to Atiku’s state of the nation” and made available to journalists.
He said, “Buhari actually exercised considerable restraint in this matter. He has reasonably balanced concerns about the integrity of the judiciary with concerns for the individual rights of the accused.
“Nothing has been taken from the CJN that cannot be restored if the facts warrant such restoration.
“Thus, President Buhari conditionally suspended the CJN. By doing so, this allows for the case to move forward without the CCT or others fearing the CJN might use his position to unduly interfere with proceedings.
“If the CJN is exonerated, then he will return to his position. If not exonerated, then a more permanent discipline awaits him.
“This is an imminently fair and balanced approach, especially given the fact that the constitution and other laws really do not provide clear and unambiguous guidance on how to proceed in a case whether the CJN is the defendant under this unique fact pattern.
“While Atiku rails against Buhari because of this act of restraint, we can but imagine the tact Chief Obasanjo and Atiku would have taken if they presided over this situation.”
Also, the APC National Chairman, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, on Tuesday said Nigeria was no longer a colony of any superpower.
Speaking with State House correspondents, Oshiomhole noted, “The thing is that Nigeria is not a colony. I think we all have to be careful. We must defend the sovereignty of our country. We welcome collaboration, we welcome peer review, we can compare notes, we welcome people who are interested in sharing experiences with us whenever the need arises, whether it is capacity building, making useful suggestions on how we can continue to improve on our electoral process.
“Those are very valuable contributions that we appreciate. But Nigeria is not a colony. We will not accept any foreign interference in the internal affairs of Nigeria.”
Oshiomhole argued further that Onnoghen admitted to have committed the alleged infractions he was accused of by the CCB