By Jonathan Ugbal and Margaret John
Members of the Calabar, Ikom and Ogoja branches of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Tuesday stormed the Governor’s office in Calabar, the State capital protesting the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The legal practitioners demanded the resignation of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami claiming that his decision to initiate proceedings against the country’s top judicial officer was not a “reflection of his level of professional competence.”
They were led by the Vice Chairman, Calabar Branch of the NBA, Mr. Julius Idiege who read a communique issued by the three branches of the NBA in the State after an emergency meeting held on Monday at the headquarters of the Cross River State judiciary in Calabar.
“We are not convinced that the initiation of proceedings in the CCT by the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation is a reflection of his level of professional competence. We rather perceive the actions of the Attorney General to be dubious and blatant mischief, far below the person and the office of the Chief Law Office of the federation. We therefore call on the Honorable Attorney General to resign from his office to afford the President the opportunity of proper legal guidance in the conduct of State affairs,” the lawyers said.
They added that: “We find the actions of the Code of Conduct Tribunal perfidious and fraudulent. The various infractions in the processes filed, and the conduct of proceedings by the CCT, reflect a gross abuse of court process and judicial rascality. Curious still is the fact that the Chairman of the CCT considered aforesaid ex-parte motion suo motu and granted the orders without the motion being moved by the applicant.”
The legal practitioners who condemned the act by Mr. Buhari, described the ex-parte motion relied upon as “a black market ex-parte order.”
They wondered why Justice Tanko Mohammed, “submitted himself to be sworn in as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, thereby subscribing to this abuse of the constitution,” and advised him to, “retrace his steps, decline any further pretensions to the office of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, and apologise to the legal community and the Nigerian people.”
Also, they advised President Buhari to “immediately retrace his steps,” and reinstate Justice Onnoghen in a bid to “preserve the constitution which he swore to uphold,” adding that: “Unless this abuse of the constitution is redressed immediately, the rule of law will be in jeopardy and this will drive the country towards anarchy. The constitution of Nigeria must remain supreme and sacrosanct.”
The lawyers were received by the Deputy Governor, Professor Ivara Esu who acknowledged the efforts of the lawyers in bringing to light the provisions of the constitution as regards the suspension.
“We’ve noted all the efforts you have made from the day this news broke to this point and we also have seen the reaction all over the country. I want to thank you sincerely and of course I’m not a lawyer, you know best. And we have been learning a lot about the constitution and every other thing since this story broke. And apart from what we read about the various sections of the constitution, the interpretation and other things of course you people carry on.” He said.
Ivara Esu ensured the legal practitioners that their message as contained in the communiqué will be submitted to the Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade, who will in turn pass on the message to the president, Muhammadu Buhari, whose visit is expected in the state capital on Wednesday.
“I assure you, his Excellency is not around at the moment; I assure you that as soon as he comes back, I will hand over this communiqué to him, which I know will also be forwarded to Mr. President.”
It will be recalled that President Buhari had last weekend, announced the suspension of Justice Onnoghen and swore in Justice Mohammed as acting CJN claiming he was relying on the orders of the CCT. Onnoghen is facing trial at the CCT over allegations of false asset declaration.
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