The Calabar, Ikom and Ogoja branches of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Cross River State have accused the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government of attempt to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, through the backdoor.
The three branches of the NBA in the state leveled the accusation against the federal government yesterday in Calabar when they joined other groups and individuals across the country to condemn moves by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to try Onnoghen over allegations that he did not declare some of his assets as demanded by law.
Addressing journalists at the premises of the state high court in Calabar, the Chairman of the Calabar branch of the NBA, Mr. Emmanuel Egbe Idaka, who read a communiqué on behalf of the three branches, said: “We are aware that these attempts are intended to precipitate the unlawful removal from office of The Honourable Justice of the Federation, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, as the CJN, which position they originally did not want him to occupy.”
The lawyers, who spoke after they rose from a joint emergency meeting of the branches, warned the federal government not to take the judiciary for granted, saying in its fight against corruption, the federal government should not intimidate and desecrate the judicial arm of government.
The lawyers said rather, the federal government should follow due process in handling its fight against corruption and the moves to arraign the CJN.
The groups said: “We condemn in its entity the unlawful manner in which the federal government and its agencies have assaulted, ridiculed and degraded the revered office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and indeed the judiciary in the country by the orchestrated media trial of CJN, Onnoghen.
“While not condoning corruption in all its ramifications, we insist that the rule of law must be followed by the federal government in its avowed fight against corruption, especially as it has to do with the proposed arraignment of the CJN or any other judiciary officer in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The lawyers said the CJN cannot be arbitrarily removed from office because there are laid down procedure for such action to be taken.
Citing a case, Nganjiwa versus Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017), LPELR-43391 (CA) in the Court of Appeal to buttress their argument, they stated that “any misconduct attached to the office and functions of the a judicial officer must first be reported to and handled by the National Judiciary Council (NJC) pursuant to the relevant provisions of the law.”