The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, criticised the Nigerian Bar Association on Tuesday for failing to speak up when President Muhammadu Buhari suspended former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Abaribe said the Senate waited in vain for the NBA and the judiciary to act in order to save the situation because the law did not allow the President to unilaterally remove the CJN without recourse to the Senate.
He said it was regrettable that the judiciary deliberately sat on the judgment on the propriety of Onnoghen’s trial at the CCT and waited till he left office before pronouncing that the trial was wrong in the first place.
Abaribe spoke at the Rule of Law Symposium at the ongoing NBA Annual General Conference in Lagos.
He spoke on the topic: ‘Independence of the judiciary beyond letters of the law’.
He said, “The question we ask is, with apologies to Wole Soyinka, if the Bar association is a tiger, where is your ‘tigritude’? And the reason we ask this question is simple, we find the Bar association blowing muted trumpet when the judiciary is under pressure.
“In the matter of Onnoghen, we waited for the Bar association, nothing happened; we waited for his fellow judges, nothing happened and everybody was looking at us. And what were we waiting for? The law is very clear that you can’t remove the Chief Justice without coming to the Senate. Yet, it happened and nothing was done.”
Asked why the Senate did not rise to the occasion when the NBA and the judiciary failed, Abaribe said, “The law does not give the Senate any right to go beyond the constitution and the constitution is very specific. The President will send to the Senate the name of the person that they want to remove and the Senate will debate on that and decide whether the person should be removed or not.
“I said it earlier, there was a subsisting litigation and some people sat on the judgment and waited until the CJN retired before they brought out the judgment and said that it was wrong for him to have been tried in the first place because the Saraki case was already with us and we were waiting for the court to make that pronouncement, it was not done. And so, nobody should blame the Senate.”
A former NBA President, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), who moderated the session, said he agreed with Abaribe.
Agbakoba said, “The Onnoghen case was unfortunate, very unfortunate. It has happened and it is something I hope we will use as a reference point. Senator, thank you, sir.”