Does Buhari Have The Power To Suspend Onnoghen? By Timothy Ola Bamgboye

1. The president purportedly suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) acting on an ex parte Order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

2. Instructively, the Order was not made suo motu by the Tribunal but upon an application by the Prosecution, on behalf of Mr President’s Government. Also, the application did not afford the defendant an opportunity to respond to the allegations as it was brought by a Motion Exparte.

3. Whilst the discretionary powers to grant an Ex parte Order is incidental to the powers of a judge, such powers should be excercised judicially and judiciously, and must not be ultra vires or unconstitutional.

4. There is no provision of the Constitution that speaks about the suspension of judicial officers, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

5. S. 292 of the Constitution that is being bandied around speaks about the REMOVAL and not the suspension of judicial officers.

6. Assuming without conceding that that section of the law applies to SUSPENSION, an address supported by two-third majority of the Senate is a condition precedent for the declaration of the suspension of the CJN by the president to be valid.

7. Moreover, the REMOVAL (or suspension for the purpose of argument) of a judicial officer must be as a result of “inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.” However, allegation or standing trial for these wrongs cannot be exalted to the status of conviction, as it is the same constitution that safeguards the presumption of innocence of a defendant. The Code of Conduct Tribunal has yet to reach a decision on the guilt of the CJN regarding declaration of his assets.

8. There is an ancillary argument in the public that he who has power to hire also has power to fire. Apparently, this argument is spurious in this circumstance. The CJN is NOT an exclusive appointee of the President like a Minister. The CJN though appointed by the President can only be so appointed on the recommendation of the NJC subject to confirmation by the Senate. If this argument is therefore to be followed to its logical conclusion, then the CJN’s suspension should be preceded by the NJC’s recommendation and confirmed by the Senate before it can take effect.

9. The principle of Separation of Powers, one of the foundational principles in a democracy, was conceived to prevent a situation where an arm of Government would be subject to the whims and caprices of another, as evidenced in this case.

10. If the President’s team wants to hide under the inapplicable provision of S 292 to suspend the CJN, they should also be just and equitable enough to give the order of the Court of Appeal restraining the CCT from removing the CJN a purposive interpretation to cover his suspension.

11. At any rate, the purported swearing in of Honourable Justice Tanko is unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, as the CCT made an unconstitutional order which was unconstitutionally executed by the president.

12. The office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is not vacant and there is nothing to show that Hon. Justice Mister Onnoghen is unable to perform the functions of the office, which could have necessitated the appointment of the most senior justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions by the president pursuant to S. 231 (4).

13. The political context of this illegal, unconstitutional, and anarchistic move is clear. The president who feigned ignorance about the prosecution of the CJN has now purportedly suspended the CJN, following an application initiated by his hatchmen.

14. The Chairman of the CCT, who boasted in open court that it is easier to remove the CJN than to remove a CCT judge, has found the nerve to order his suspension in flagrant disregard to the clear provisions of the Constitution. It is an open secret that the Chairman is liable to blackmail by the President following the threat of prosecution for a similar offence hanging over his head.

15. The purported suspension of the CJN by the president is therefore both illegal and immoral. It is a violent rape of our nascent democracy, and should be roundly condemned by every well meaning, right thinking Nigerian.

Bamgboye is a legal practitioner


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