FORMER President Obasanjo recently said that it was clear from all indications that President Muhammadu Buhari is putting into practise the lessons he learned from Abacha, adding that he has intimidated and harassed the private sector, attacked the National Assembly and now unconstitutionally and recklessly attacked and intimidated the judiciary to cow them to submission. With this submission, it is clear that the ousted Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen has been harassed from office and prosecuted for non-declaration of his assets without following the constitution and the law of the land.
No visionary President would take the fateful steps of subverting constitutionalism, scarifying both the CCT Chairmen and the acting CJN for life, and opening the country up to all sorts of desperate political and judiciary scheming. It can only be because his government is used to trying cases on media platform.
President Buhari anchors his suspension (which in Nigeria is tantamount to removal) of the CJN on the order of the CCT and his reading of the judiciary process, or as he sums it, judiciary travesty. Section 231 (1) of 1999 constitution affirmed the appointment of a person to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, which shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judiciary Council (NJC), subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate. Subsection (2)(3) further that the appointment of a person to the office of a Justice of the Supreme Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judiciary Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.
But subsection (4)(5) added that if the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office his resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Supreme court to person those functions.
But for the fact that our constitution is faulty, that is why well-meaning Nigerians are calling for the overhauling.
Nobody of course is signifying that the CJN has no case to answer, despite the President’s malicious inferences. However, the constitution is abundantly clear how to deal with the situation, if it arises, who has the power to suspend him-in this case not the President-and by what due process he could be removed-in this case too-and the constitution, particularly the role of the National Judiciary Council (NJC), is to the intent that the CJN could not be tried while still a Judiciary officer. It would be anomalous.
Even though the constitution is clear on what should be done if and when a CJN is accused of misconduct, politicians and lawyers may, however, refuse to agree on how to proceed. What undermines the fight against corruption and other ills in Nigeria, as the Justice Ayo Salami case proved in 2011, is not so much the provisions of the law as the inability of those in high offices to summon the character, principles and intellect needed to fight these evils in lawful, sophisticated ways that do not damage the fabric or reputation of the country.
Ademola Orunbon, Epe
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