As reactions trail the planned trial of Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, on Monday in Abuja, some Nigerians have fingered President Muhammadu Buhari in the travail of the judge as the petitioner is Buhari’s man.
The Code of Conduct Bureau is acting on a petition written by Dennis Aghanya, a former aide of President Buhari and the Executive Secretary of the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI).
The group is accusing Onnoghen of financial mistrust, including operating domiciliary foreign currency accounts, in apparent disregard for the law that prohibits public officials from having such.
Upon this allegation, the Federal Government has asked him to vacate office over alleged corrupt practices.
The trial, if successful, will replace Justice Onnoghen, the first Southerner to attain the position of the CJN in more than 30 years.
The most senior jurist on the apex court bench is Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, from the Northern extraction tipped to become the next CJN.
In firing the first salvo, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said “I stand on the side of the rule of law and believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty and note that a media trial is no trial.
“If Justice Walter Onnoghen is guilty of the charges about to be preferred against him, let his guilt be determined by a competent court of law and not by the Buhari administration. The executive cannot usurp the role of the judiciary. Nigeria is still a democracy and not a fascist dictatorship as President Buhari may wish.”
Abubakar warned “Any attempt to force Justice Walter Onnoghen to vacate his office, 4 weeks to an election for which the unpopular Buhari administration has shown every intention to manipulate is a move pregnant with negative meaning.”
“I, therefore, call on the President to respect the principle of separation of powers and abide by the rule of law on this matter and stop any interference or pressure on Justice Walter Onnoghen or the judiciary and allow the law and the constitution take its full course,” he sought.
Also, Femi Fani-Kayode, a one-time Minister of Aviation, on Saturday tweeted “Buhari has directed the CJN to vacate his seat and prepare for arraignment on criminal charges on Monday.This is all part of a well-crafted script.The bitter truth is that democracy is dead in Nigeria.If anyone thinks that Buhari intends to leave power they need to think again.
“Now that CJN Onnoghen has been ordered to step down, take note that in Nigeria today the Presidency, Fed. Govt., National Assembly, Judiciary, Security Agencies, Military, Intelligence Agencies, INEC and even the leading opposition party are all in the hands of northern Muslims,” Fani-Kayode pointed out.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) wrote “The charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Walter Onnoghen seems to be based on shaky constitutional and legal process and makes a mockery of Nigeria’s criminal justice system. This move could hurt @AsoRock fight against corruption and should be stopped immediately.”
It urged “The speed at which CCB has moved to “file charges against the CJN” is impressive but same promptness must be applied to senior politicians at all levels-president, governors, etc. We’ll start by suing to compel high-ranking officials to publish their assets declaration details.”
Ibu Thomas tweeted on Sunday “This is Aghanya, the @MBuhari’s man that filed petition against the CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen at the CCT. The @MBuhari administration wants to put the CJN on trial in order to force him to do their biddings. Note that the Executive cannot prosecute the CJN except the NJC.”
Meanwhile, 150 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) have signalled interest to appear before the Justice Danladi Umar-led Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday to defend Onnoghen over the allegations against him.
Sabastine Tartenger Hon, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told Daily Trust via a phone conversation.
In another statement released by the senior advocate, he encouraged the CJN to be strong, describing the charges against him as an attempt to muzzle the judiciary.
His words: “While I know that the Chief Justice of Nigeria does not enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, I see this move by the Federal Government as dangerously political and tendentious.
“Suddenly, we woke to see a petition leaked to the informal or social media, allegedly received by the Code of Conduct on 9th January 2019. Suddenly, we are told charges have been filed against the CJN. Suddenly, the presidency is reportedly asking him to step aside! Was he interrogated or interviewed and his reactions obtained?”
Contrary to Hon’s position, Johnson Esezebo, a Lagos-based lawyer, said the CJN should be held accountable if he is found wanting of the law.
He cited a case by Justice Akinola Aguda, who gave maximum punishment to a lawyer accused of wrongdoing because a lawyer ought to have known better.
He reasoned that lawyers must remain the fortress of the people, adding no matter the people’s nomenclature, tribe or religion, “we should be guided by the law.”