By CLEMENT NWOJI, Abuja
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, on Monday witnessed harvests of protests over the trial and suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, over alleged false declaration of assets.
While most of the protesters contend that due process was breached in the trial of Onnoghen by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and that President Muhammadu Buhari also violated constitutional provisions in the suspension of the CJN and subsequent appointment of the acting CJN, Tanko Mohammed, other skeletal protesters maintained that the CCT trial and his suspension were in order.
The pro-Onnoghen protesters comprised of Coalition of Pro Democracy Groups, Students and Youth Activist, National Interest Defenders, Lawyers in defense of democracy, Opposition Coalition CUPP and Save Democracy coalition.
The protesters who vowed to continue mass action until Buhari reverses the “illegality”, shut down Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Headquarters, UK/US Embassies and UN Hqrs in Abuja over what they called “President Buhari’s iIlegal suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria and swearing of Factional Chief Justice, Tanko Mohammed.”
The protesters, among other things “insist on total shut down of all Nigerian Courts by Lawyers and Judicial staff and the sacking of Justice Tanko by the NBA; want Buhari impeached by NASS and Malami barred by NBA from practising law; demanded for Visa and travel restriction on Danladi Umar, AGF Malami and Justice Tanko Mohammed”
The further raised alarm over alleged move by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo to threaten CJN lawyer Wole Olanipekun to drop his defense for the CJN.
The full text of the address delivered the Co-convener of the protesters, Ugochinyere Ikenga Imo, is as below:
SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE CO CONVENER OF THE NATIONAL INTEREST DEFENDERS , SAVE DEMOCRACY COALITION, LAWYERS IN DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY , CSOs AND YOUTH/STUDENT ACTIVIST AT THE JOINT RALLY OF THE GROUPS PROTESTING AGAINST THE UNILATERAL REMOVAL OF JUSTICE WALTER ONNOGHEN AS THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA BY PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI AT THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION NATIONAL SECRETARIAT, UK/US EMBASSIES , UN HQRS AND NJC HQRS ABUJA ,THIS 28TH JANUARY, 2019
Comrades and Compatriots
Today is the day that marks the beginning of civil action by Nigerians to reclaim our country from the grip of political barbarians and buccaneers who have treated our constitution with disdain, our principles of Constitutional governance with scorn and our democratic ethos with contempt and derision.
Today marks the day the Nigerian people are willing to show the world and particularly those who dare us that our faith is unwavering, our resolve unflinching and our commitment to salvaging our country is unshakable.
We have gathered here today from far and near because we believe that in troubled and uneasy times like this, the hope of the people lies in those who see something wrong and revolt against it actually and not just verbally. Hence to everyone here , I say to you, you are the hope and the conscience of Nigerians; the bearers of the consciousness of the citizenry who cannot be cowed and the heroes whose names history will forever remember for standing up successfully against a rampaging dictator. We shall not stop until we recover all that we have lost.
It is shameful that President Muhammadu Buhari relied on and used a forged and fictitious Tribunal Order to purport to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria and appoint a factional Chief Justice while knowing that the Order was forged and fictitious.
Nigerians will recall that the Petition served on the Code of Conduct Bureau against the Chief Justice of Nigeria was received by the Bureau on the 9th January, 2019. The purported Tribunal Order on which the President claimed he relied upon is also dated the same 9th January, 2019. The Motion on Notice seeking the same prayers as the purported Motion Exparte is dated 10th January, 2019, the Charge filed was dated 10th January, 2019 while the statement of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in answer to the petition was on the 11th of January, 2011.
From the above dates, it will appear clearly that upon receipt of the Petition, the first action of the Bureau was to file a Motion Exparte asking that the Chief Justice should leave office and that Justice Tanko Mohammed be sworn in even before commencement of investigation into the matter, even before the Chief justice was approached to make a statement and even before charges were filed against him.
But this was not the case. Our sources inform us that there was actually no exparte motion filed on 9th January, 2019 in the Tribunal. What we have been informed that happened was that following the several orders of the Federal High Court, the FCT High Court and the National Industrial Court all of which the Tribunal claimed to have overruled on its last sitting on 22nd January 2019 and the order of the Court of Appeal on the 24th January, 2019 directing the Tribunal to stay proceeding, the Presidency directed that the Motion Exparte be filed and backdated and put in the file of the Tribunal and an order drafted immediately and served on the President immediately. Our source says the entire processes of the filing, hearing and granting of the order of the Tribunal were started and ended from Thursday 24th January, 2019 to Friday 25th January, 2019.
Elementary knowledge of law teaches that when the jurisdiction of any Court or Tribunal is challenged, it cannot take any other steps until it rules that it has jurisdiction. How then can the Chairman of the Tribunal claim to have granted the Order removing the Chief Justice on 23rd January,2019 when on 22nd January he already set down for hearing a motion challenging his jurisdiction and also a motion on notice for the same purpose as he purportedly granted in the Exparte. As far as there was a Motion challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, it had absolutely no jurisdiction to hear any other Motion let alone grant same without first dispensing with the Motion challenging its jurisdiction. Anything done by a Court or Tribunal without first deciding on whether it has jurisdiction or not is ultra vires, unlawful and done without requisite jurisdiction and cannot stand. The Presidency could have only gotten the Tribunal Chairman to do this by drawing the leash they have on his neck which is the criminal charge filed against him at the Federal High Court. That charge is now their weapon they utilize to get the Tribunal Chairman to do anything and everything they want, no matter how despicable.
The President has viciously, brutally, ferociously and gruesomely violated the Constitution which he swore to uphold. This is an act that amounts to gross misconduct and it most certainly warrants his removal of office.
The National Assembly should as a matter of urgency, national importance and patriotism commence without any delay the impeachment process of the President.
These political invaders rejoice for they say they have conquered the media. They rejoice for they say they have conquered the security agencies and can get them to do anything, they rejoice for they say they have conquered the INEC, they rejoice for they say they have conquered the judiciary, our last hope! They rejoice for they say they now knock on the door of our last symbol of democracy, the Parliament, which they will pull down its door if we do not open the gates and hand the Chambers over to them! Nothing is sacred to them anymore. Nothing is consecrated! Nothing is sacrosanct! They rejoice on the sweat of citizens and the blood of our heroes past. They bring nothing but pain and anguish, they hold no promise of peace and progress. Everything for them is for bread, everything for them is power.
Fellow compatriots, I implore you this day, stand firm for we shall overcome. We shall recover our country. They have judged us wrongly. They have misjudged the strength of our character and our resilience. They shall realize that the power of the people is mightier than the people in power. They have desecrated our judiciary! They have violated our last hope! They have defiled our temple of justice. With a stolen order, with a forged paper they hurriedly invaded the sanctuary, but we shall not let them.
We call on the Nigerian Bar Association and the National Judicial Council NJC today to answer us. Should we let this impunity stand? Should we all go home and wait till it is our turn to be consumed by this behemoth? We kept quiet while the media fell! We kept while the Civil Society was overrun! We kept quiet when Deji Adeyanju was sent to Golgotha in Kano Prisons. Gani Fawehinmi (may his soul rest in peace) will be wondering what type of law we practice in Nigeria today.
The Bench cannot speak but the bar which can speak is now dumb! Arise NBA, this is the moment! This is the time for action! Beyond this point there is no other. The invaders are here already in our midst. They want to take away whatever we have sanctified. The International Community has spoken out! The justices of the Apex Court have stayed away. What else are we waiting for? Nigerians are urged to brace up, be vigilant and know that this illegality will not stand.
The swearing in of a factional CJN called Tanko Mohammed was an act of treason , the Tribunal order purportedly used was a forged document issued by Danladi Umar and backdated to even a date before the main charge was filed
The NJC and NBA must order the shutdown of the courts until the illegal suspension of the CJN is lifted and the impostor CJN justice Tanko Mohammed made to vacate the office.
The NJC must expel Justice Tanko Mohammed from the bench for accepting an illegal appointment in violation of the constitution and the NJC rules of engagement.
The NBA must direct lawyers to boycott the Code of Conduct Tribunal presided over by Danladi Umar until disciplinary action is served on Umar for issuing a fake order that paved the way for impunity.
We however remind Justice Tanko Mohammed that he risks spending some time in jail as any attempt to parade himself as the factional CJN will be in contempt of a live and valid order of the Federal High Court and we shall not hesitate to proceed against him in contempt.
The National Assembly should also immediately commence action for the removal from office of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Umar, who having criminal charges against him and still sits in office dumped Nigeria in a state of constitutional hiatus by criminally ordering the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
No provision in Sections 157 and 292 of the 1999 Constitution as amended supports the President in purporting to suspend the CJN or swearing in an acting CJN. The whole idea of a limited government is that the President’s powers is limited by law and it is ultra vires his powers to act in the absence of explicit legislative authorization. That is representative democracy at its best which our 1999 Constitution as amended guarantees.
We also want to raise alarm of plot to manufacture petitions against the 3 most senior justices of the Supreme Court to ensure their removal through the back door, to pave way for the final annexation of the Supreme Court.
We are aware of ongoing pressure on the Appeal court judges hearing the Appeal of the CJN Justice Walter Onnoghen to stop them from quashing the fake dark order issued by the Danladi Umar Tribunal upon which the assault on our Nations judiciary was based. We call on the Appeal Court judges to stand firm and do the right thing.
Let it be known that there is a Federal High Court order restraining the President, AGF, Tanko Mohammed, Danladi Umar etc from swearing in Tanko Mohammed as Acting CJN or suspending the CJN Onnoghen which was delivered by Justice Ekwo on the 21st of January 2019 before the fake Exparte order was issued.
The order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and swearing in of a factional CJN was an act of contempt and treason which is dead on arrival and must be resisted.
We are in desperate situations and we can only but deploy desperate measures. The sacred institution of the judiciary must be protected. The independence of the judiciary must be restored. Once they take that away, this house will collapse on all of us. Let all lawyers stay away from the Courts; let all judicial workers down tools. No lawyer or staff should recognize or reckon with anything done by the usurper. The world must not be in doubt as to how robustly we stood and fought.
The purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria must be reversed. When that is done the rule of law will then be observed. We are a constitutional democracy and the rule of man must not prevail over the rule of law.
Justice Tanko Mohammed, we warned you to stay away from this poisoned chalice. We warned you to stand on the side of the people. But your unbridled greed has led you down this road to infamy. You now walk around with the obnoxious smell of a lonely betrayer. You are now the traitor within. For just three pennies you conspired to burn down the entire house. You can now live the rest of your life in shame and misery.
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, you are the closest this noble profession has gotten to the seat of power. Yet you are the worst we have gotten in the annihilation of the independence of the judiciary. You happily stood by while this invasion happened. You gave insider information and advice on how the invaders will succeed. You have even begun the process of persuading the freely chosen lead counsel of the Chief Justice to withdraw from further representation of the Chief Justice. How far are you yet willing to go? The house you swore to protect and defend, you have now set ablaze.
Nigerians have taken a stand! This gate shall not fall. This house shall not crumble. They shall not take over the judiciary; they shall not take over the legislature. They shall not make us slaves in our fatherland. We shall defend our democracy and shall overcome!
To our citizens, we must now heed the warning of the Irish lawyer cum orator, John Philpot Curran who said, “the condition upon which God had given liberty to man is eternal vigilance: which condition if he breaks, servitude is at once the consequences of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt”. Despotism can only prosper in Nigeria if good men and women do nothing.
Why we are here?
1. Let it be known that we reject in its entirety the purported and unconstitutional suspension of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we demand that all legal process must be followed to ensure that this Constitutional breach is reversed.
2. We resolve that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), should commence a total boycott of all courts in the land, that the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and indeed all lovers of democracy and constitutional governance shut down all the Courts until these political barbarians are returned to their senses.
3. That the Attorney General of the Federation and the Vice President be called upon to resign for being complicit in the Constitutional breach.
4. That the Attorney General of the Federation and the Vice President should face Disciplinary Committee of the Bar for disciplinary actions; and
5. That in line with the precedent laid during the Abia State Chief Judge saga, that the NJC should dismiss the purported Acting CJN who presented himself to be sworn in, in circumstances that were less than noble.
We also call on all lovers of freedom and democracy all over the world to rise to the occasion and demand of this Government and the President to halt the march to anarchy and bedlam: which dictatorship promotes. The world has an experience in this and it must not allow this unmitigated disaster on Nigeria before it acts to restore sanity.
As of today, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives has written, Nigeria is now Germany in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire. Our democracy is on fire; ignited by the very people who swore to protect and defend it. That this fire must not convert the Chancellor to Fuhrer as it happened in Germany in 1933 depends on our collective response and that of the international community.
We must not bow our knees to dictatorship: not now, not ever again.
Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere