Suspension of CJN: Lagos lawyers express mixed reactions

President Buhari this afternoon swearing-in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Some lawyers in Lagos have expressed mixed reactions to Friday’s suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnogen, by President Muhammad Buhari over his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

While some said the president lacked the power to suspend the CJN, others believed Onnogen ought to quit voluntarily to save the judiciary from further embarrassment.

Onnoghen, who was accused of failure to declare his assets as required by every public servant, went to court seeking injunction to stop the CCT from arraigning him.

Consequently, the Federal Government on Friday suspended him as the CJN, citing an order from CCT and replaced him with Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed as acting CJN.

Mr Seyi Sowemimo (SAN), in his opinion, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the president does not have the powers to remove the CJN.

“The only powers for removal is vested in the Senate

“However, the suspension of the CJN is not specifically provided in the Constitution, it is the National Judicial Commission (NJC) that is vested with the powers to suspend judges,” Sowemimo said.

He added that there was no previous decision of the courts in such a situation so “it is only the courts that will resolve this issue

“This is the first time the executive is suspending a CJN, therefore, we are totally in an uncharted territory; the courts will have to resolve the matter”.

Sowemimo, however, said the way the judges handled the matter would either give the citizens confidence that the judiciary is a body with great integrity or whether it is a body that will only act in its own self interest.

Mr Chibuikem Opara, a Lagos-based lawyer, said that the suspension of the CJN is unconstitutional and could lead to constitutional crisis.

“There is no constitutional provisions for a president to suspend a CJN,” Opara said.

In his own opinion, Mr Ogedi Ogu, said: ” We have expected the CJN to step aside on his own, based on his own defence in the alleged failure to declare assets.

“The CJN lacks the morality to continue in that office because ignorance on its own is not an excuse.

“As the chief custodian of the judiciary, saying he forgot to declare his assets, is an admittance to the allegation, he should have stepped aside honourably”.

Ogu also said that whether the executive had powers to suspend the CJN should be contested in the court since there is no express provision to that effect.

He however blamed Onnoghen for not abiding by the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA in his own case which he had applauded.

Ogu said that a provision of ACJA stated that no question to the jurisdiction of the court should be entertained until the prosecution had closed its case.

“Same CJN who applauded the provisions of the ACJA is going about ‘forum-shopping’ filing injunctions to stop the CCT from arraigning him.

“I believe that the FG was circumstantially compelled to suspend him,” Ogu said.