Buhari has power to remove, suspend CJN - Acting CJN

Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr Tanko Muhammad, has said President Muhammadu Buhari, as the appointor of Chief Justice of Nigeria, has the power to remove or suspend any person occupying the office.

Muhammad stated this in defence of Mr Buhari’s suspension of erstwhile CJN, Mr Walter Onnoghen, on January 25, 2019, and his immediate appointment by the President as Acting CJN.

This is contained in a counter-affidavit which he filed to oppose a suit seeking to stop him from being appointed as substantive CJN.

The suit was filed before Federal High Court in Abuja by Malcom Omirhobo Foundation, through its lawyer and promoter, Mr Malcom Omirhobo.

It prayed for, among others, a declaration that Justice Muhammad “is not a proper and fit person to be recommended by the 2nd defendant (Federal Judicial Service Commission) to the 1st defendant (NJC) and by the 1st defendant to the 5th defendant (Buhari) for appointment to the Office of CJN.”

This, the plaintiff said, was because Muhammad in accepting to be sworn in as Acting CJN, “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.”

The seven defendants to the suit are National Judicial Council, Federal Judicial Service Commission, Muhammad, Federal Government, Buhari, Attorney-General of the Federation, and Senate.

In his response contained in the counter-affidavit filed on his behalf by law firm of Lateef Fagbemi, Muhammad maintained that Buhari, acting on an ex parte order of Code of Conduct Tribunal, rightly suspended Onnoghen.

The counter-affidavit was deposed to by Sadiq Ahmad, a lawyer in Fagbemi’s law firm, who also stated that he with “the 3rd defendant (Muhammad) carefully studied the plaintiff’s application for interlocutory injunction.”

He also said he did not commit any wrong by submitting himself to be sworn in in acting capacity following the order of CCT and the vacuum left behind by Onnoghen’s suspension.

He recalled that Onnoghen had subsequently, after his suspension by the President, resigned from office.

On April 18, 2019, CCT convicted Onnoghen on charges of false and non-declaration of assets, and as punishment, ordered his removal from office, barred him from holding public office for a period of 10 years and ordered forfeiture of proceeds of the bank accounts he was said to have failed to declare.

Muhammad stated that apart from the constitutional procedure for the removal of a person from the office of CJN based on age or retirement or by an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate, “any public officer found guilty of breach or violation of code of conduct can be ordered to vacate the office he is holding as consequence of the breach or violation of the code of conduct.”

He added that the President also has the power to remove or suspend any occupant of the office of CJN.

“I also know as a fact that the 5th defendant has the power to remove or suspend any person occupying the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria being the appointing authority,” the affidavit read in part.

Justifying Onnoghen’s suspension by Buhari, the counter-affidavit stated, “That I also know as a fact that as at January 25, 2019 the order of Code of Conduct Tribunal also directed the 5th defendant to swear in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“That it was pursuant to the said order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the 5th defendant appointed the 3rd defendant as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“That 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.”

It stated that Buhari “followed due process of law in the appointment of the 3rd defendant as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria,” adding that “there has not been any negative impact on Nigerian judiciary as there is renewed belief by the common man in the judiciary as his last hope.”

Mr Inyang Ekwo, the presiding judge, has fixed Friday for hearing of the suit.



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