Some 67 political parties on Monday rejected the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, describing the federal government’s action as illegal and unconstitutional.
The parties, which included the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) have consequently called on President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the decision.
The parties, which protested against the suspension of the CJN, further described the federal government’s action as “illegal, unconstitutional, null, void, and of no effect.”
The parties, in a joint statement, said the CJN can only be removed by the president after securing the two-thirds majority of the Senate.
It also noted that they were very disturbed by the controversial suspension of the CJN and the swearing-in of an acting CJN. They said “both actions are illegal and foreign to our constitution.”
The jointly signed statement also said: “The CJN, as a judicial officer, can only be removed from office by the president acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
“Anything contrary to this procedure is unconstitutional and serves only to harm our democracy.
“Furthermore, the National Judicial Council, (NJC), has not recommended the suspension or removal of the CJN, neither has it exercised any disciplinary action against the CJN.
“Thus, the purported suspension of the CJN by President Buhari must fail”, it said and urged the president to reverse the suspension.
“We emphatically state here that the purported suspension of the CJN is unequivocally illegal, indefensible and thus unconstitutional.
“The improper process adopted by President Muhammadu Buhari, in suspending the CJN and in appointing Justice Tanko Mohammed as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, is seen by a majority of Nigerians as based on an improperly obtained Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, thus making it illegal.
“Furthermore, it is unconstitutional because it violates and goes against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Painfully, the actions of President Buhari is intended and contrived to precipitate a constitutional crisis in our dear country and further polarize Nigeria unnecessarily.
“It should be noted that the office of the CJN is not a ministerial position, rather it is a creation of Sections 230(1)(a) and 231(1) & (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That office, the CJN, is the head of an independent arm of our tripartite government.
“It should also be noted that the removal of the CJN is addressed in our Constitution in Section 292, wherein a strict process is outlined and must be followed. Generally, the three independent arms of the government must be involved in both instances of appointment and removal of the CJN.
“Thus, the president, in acting alone and unilaterally, lacks the power and authority to suspend the Chief Justice of the Federation”, it said claiming that the President Buhari’s reliance on the ex parte order is wrong, misplaced and should be immediately reversed.
“President Buhari’s purported suspension of the CJN in reliance on the improperly obtained and improperly issued Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which is actually under the Executive Branch, is to put it mildly, wrong, misplaced, ill-conceived and deserving of immediate reversal.
“It is very distressing that the timing of this illegal act by President Buhari, being so close to the upcoming general elections, has brought suspicion to the intent of the President regarding the fairness of the forthcoming general elections and possibly tainted the elections dispute resolution process, such as the creation of election dispute tribunals.
“As political parties, we, therefore, reject this illegal act of the President and the unwarranted attack on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We, therefore, call on President Buhari to immediately rescind his illegal suspension of the CJN so as to avoid further harm to our nascent democratic institutions,” the statement concluded.