Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mr Walter Onnoghen, has condemned the recent attack by armed hoodlums on a High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, warning that the act, if not checked, could endanger the nation’s democracy.
Onnoghen also called on the public to condemn the act and preserve the judiciary, which he said remains the last hope of the citizens.
His condemnation came just as the River State House of Assembly resolved to write to the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth of Nations to save the people of the state from the hands of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government.
The reactions came after the attack and closure of the High Court complex last Friday by armed thugs believed to be members of a faction of Rivers APC while the police looked on.
The thugs were alleged to have attacked the High Court to stop it from making a pronouncement on a suit filed by another faction of APC led by a senator, Mr Magnus Abe, which sought to stop APC local government congresses in the state.
Despite the attack on the court premises, Mrs Chiwendu Nwogu of the High Court granted an interlocutory injunction stopping APC from going ahead with the local government congresses, but the faction led by former Rivers State governor and Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, ignored the order of the court and went ahead with the congresses last Saturday.
Speaking on the attack on the High Court yesterday, the CJN, in a statement by his media aide, Awassam Bassey, described the attack as disturbing.
He wondered if such level of violence could be unleashed on the judiciary over intra-party elections, what would happen during the 2019 general election.
The statement read: Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr Walter Onnoghen, has been informed of an attack on Port Harcourt High Court complex on Friday, 11th May, 2018.
“According to the reports, this attack took place as judges, magistrates, staff and lawyers reported for duty at the said Rivers State High Court complex in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
“Judicial and non-judicial staff were denied access to the complex as all the gates had been padlocked and buildings surrounded by hoodlums.
“These hoodlums, said to be heavily armed, reportedly inflicted bodily harm to judicial officers and other staff of the judiciary going about their lawful duties and destroyed some properties belonging to the judiciary.
“This action was aimed at stopping the court from sitting and delivering a ruling in an intra-party dispute of All Progressives Congress (APC) in respect of the local government congresses of the party in the state.
“This latest act of intimidation of the judiciary and the unwarranted violence against a peaceful institution of an arm of government is quite disturbing. More importantly, such show of shame ought not to be encouraged by right-thinking members of the Nigerian public.
“If the enemies of our peace and democracy succeed or get away with what occurred at the High Court in Port Harcourt, it would be a source of encouragement to them to do same to the Court of Appeal, and ultimately, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, whenever any one of them perceives that a judgment may be delivered against any of them or the interests they represent.
“The judiciary remains the last hope of man, and our judges and judicial officers are called upon to remain true to their oath of office. They must remain focused, resolute, and courageous, regardless of the effort at intimidating them.
“The Nigerian public is urged to continue to have faith in the judiciary of the nation. Any person with a legitimate complaint against another person, organisation or institution is advised to employ the civilized and legal mode of redress as contained and guaranteed by our Constitution.
“Whoever is dissatisfied with the outcome of decisions of our courts of law has the right of appeal as constitutionally guaranteed. The judiciary will never fail in its duties.
“Violence, the type visited on the judiciary of Rivers State, is alien to any civilized society and therefore condemnable.
“CJN, therefore, strongly condemns this attack on the judiciary and notes with grave concern that this magnitude of violence could be visited on the judiciary during a ward/local government intra-party primary election, and wonders what the situation would be during the forthcoming general election in 2019?
“The chief justice, however, commends the security agencies for bringing the chaos under control, thereby allowing the judge to go ahead and deliver the ruling on the matter, but warns that attacks on the judiciary are a disaster that would end democracy in Nigeria as parties would resort to self-help in the absence of the judiciary or confidence in the judiciary as an arbiter.
“The CJN also seizes this opportunity to reiterate the commitment of the judiciary to the expeditious hearing of all political matters to avoid escalating political tension in the nation.
“The CJN finally advises judicial officers to go about their lawful duties without fear or favour.”