Governors of the South-South geopolitical zone on Sunday urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to ignore the summons issued to him by the Code of Conduct Tribunal to come and defend the false assets declaration charges levelled against him.
This is as eminent lawyers and other prominent Nigerians including the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Femi Falana (SAN), condemned the Federal Government for instituting the charges against the CJN. They warned against rubbishing the judiciary.
Among other things, they said the haste with which the Federal Government acted on the petition against Onnoghen was suspicious.
But as the governors were holding their meeting in Abuja, militants from the Niger Delta issued a statement where they threatened to shut down all oil wells in the region if the Federal Government failed to withdraw the charges against the CJN.
The governors after the emergency meeting held at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, said the CJN should shun the summons.
Present at the meeting included the Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson; Nyesom Wike, (Rivers State); Ben Ayade, (Cross River); and Udom Emmanuel, (Akwa Ibom). Delta and Edo states’ governors were absent at the meeting.
Dickson, who read the communique, said while they were not opposed to a genuine fight against corruption, such an action must always be anchored on the rule of law.
He said, “We call on the CJN to ignore this so-called court summons from the CCT and the provocative call for his resignation in some quarters.
“While we are not opposed to a genuine fight against corruption, such an action must always be anchored on the rule of law.”
He stated that the action would not only undermine confidence in the judiciary, it would also erode confidence in the electoral process in view of the pivotal role that the judiciary plays in the process of electoral adjudication.
The governor said they believed that President Muhammadu Buhari had a constitutional responsibility and moral obligation to defend the nation’s democracy.
The governors, Dickson said, considered the step to arraign the CJN as directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the geopolitical zone.
Onnoghen’s trial, he noted, “is totally unacceptable to us as it is reflective of the endless story of the marginalisation and intimidation of the South-South.”
He cited the removal of a former acting Director General of the Department of State Services, Mathew Seiyefa, and his replacement with a northerner to back his claim.
Dickson said the action against the CJN further reinforced the perception that the Buhari administration had no regard for the rule of law and the sentiments of Nigerians in general and those of the people of the Niger Delta in particular.
He alleged that the Buhari administration had a penchant for flagrant disobedience of and disregard for legitimate and valid court orders.
The governor said they expected Buhari to know that democracy could not survive without respect for the constitution, strict adherence to the rule of law, and separation of powers.
Dickson said, “The meeting deliberated on the recent happenings at the Supreme Court involving the Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen and resolved that the action against him constituted a setback to the gains of the nation’s democratic experience of 20 years.
“We note that under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council has ample powers to deal exhaustively with matters pertaining to allegations of misconduct and discipline of judicial officers.
“Specifically, the NJC has the powers and clear procedures for investigating allegations, and recommending appropriate sanctions or disciplinary measures against judicial officials as a matter of first instance before any further step.
“The judicial pronouncements in the cases of FGN Vs Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court (January 9, 2018) and Justice Ngajinwa Vs FGN 2017 at the CCT have given validation to the express provisions of the constitution on this issue.”
He added, “We note that the attempt to drag the CJN to the CCT is also a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of state including the National Assembly and the Judiciary.
“We strongly believe that the regrettable development at the Supreme Court at this critical time, when preparations for the general elections are wobbling (with serious concern about INEC and security agencies) is capable of causing avoidable anxiety, tension and possible breakdown of law and order in the country.
“We affirm President Buhari should know that the continuous assault on critical institutions of state is a defining feature of a dictatorship, and that the President is obliged to live up to his word that he is a born-again democrat, as he assured Nigerians in 2015.”