Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Muhammad has justified President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of erstwhile CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen upon the January 25, 2019 ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Muhammad argued: “Any public officer found guilty of the breach or violation of code of conduct can be ordered to vacate the office he is holding as the consequence of the breach or violation of the code of conduct.”
He contended that President Buhari did no wrong by relying on the CCT order to suspend Onnoghen.
Justice Muhammad stated he committed no offence by submitting himself to be sworn in acting capacity following the order of the CCT and to prevent the vacuum that would have been created by Onnoghen’s suspension.
The Acting CJN made public his positions on Onnoghen’s suspension and eventual conviction, in his response to a suit filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja by the Incorporated Trustees of Malcom Omirhobo Foundation.
The reliefs sought by the plaintiff include a declaration that Justice Muhammad “is not a proper and fit person to be recommended by the 2nd defendant (the Federal Judicial Service Commission) to the 1st defendant (the NJC) and by the 1st defendant to the 5th defendant (Buhari) for appointment to the Office of the CJN”.
The plaintiff argued that, by accepting to be sworn in as the Acting CJN, while Onnoghen was lawfully suspended, Justice Muhammad “conducted himself in a manner that cast doubt of confidence in his integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary and having made himself a tool used in the violation of the Constitution of Nigeria”.
Listed as defendants to the suit are the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), Justice Muhammad, the Federal Government, Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Senate.
In a counter-affidavit filed for him by his team of lawyers led by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Justice Muhammad insisted that President Buhari breached no law or procedure in suspending Onnoghen based on an ex-parte order by the CCT.
The acting CJN, who noted that Onnoghen has since resigned after his suspension, argued that neither him, not the President did any wrong in their handling of the Onnoghen case.
Justice Muhammad added: “The 5th defendant (the President) has the power to remove or suspend any person occupying the office of the Chief of Nigeria being the appointing authority.
“As at January 25, 2019 the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal also directed the 5th defendant to swear in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“In the circumstance, I know as a fact there was no need for a recommendation of the 2nd defendant (FJSC) to the 1st defendant (NJC) or of the 1st defendant to the 5th defendant (Buhari) before the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria could be suspended from office.
“There was also no need for the 5th defendant to approach the 7th defendant for support by majority of two-third votes, before the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria could be suspended from office.
“The 5th defendant followed due process of law in the appointment of the 3rd defendant as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria”, adding that “there has not been any negative impact on the Nigerian Judiciary as there is renewed belief by the common man in the Judiciary as his last hope.”
When the case was mentioned on Monday, Justice Inyang Ekwo directed parties to file all necessary processes and adjourned till June 7, 2019 for hearing.