Nigeria may be on the brink of a constituional crisis as the governors of Nigeria’s South-South have asked Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen not to appear when the trial opens at the tribunal on Monday morning.
The governors said this in a communique after an emergency meeting in Abuja on Sunday, condemning the move to prosecute the CJN for alleged asset declaration offences as vindictive and persecutory.
The governors called all lovers of democracy to also condemn Onnoghen’s proposed trial.
The meeting, which was chaired by Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, took place at his guest house in Maitama and had in attendance Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Ben Ayade of Cross River and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa was not present due to flight delays, but he sent a message that the outcome of the meeting would be binding on him.
The meeting was however shunned by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, who is the only All Progressives Congress (APC) governor in South-South and fiercely loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The rest five are all members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Read the full text of the Communique below:
An emergency meeting of the governors of the states of the South South geopolitical zone, held at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja on Sunday, January 13, 2019.
The meeting, called at the instance of the Governor of Bayelsa State, the Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, who is also Chairman of the South South Governors Forum, was attended by the Governors of Cross River State, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Delta States.
The meeting deliberated on the recent happenings at the Supreme Court involving the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen and resolved that the action against him constitutes 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 steps.
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.
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 believe that the President, Muhammadu Buhari has a constitutional responsibility and huge moral obligation to defend our democracy.
Therefore, we consider this step, which is directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the region, as totally unacceptable as it is reflective of the South South story of endless marginalization and intimidation. The unceremonious removal of former Acting Director General of the Department of State Service, Mathew Seiyefa and his replacement is still very fresh.
We note that the unfortunate action against the CJN further reinforces the perception that the Buhari administration has no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians, in particular the people of Niger Delta, and the rule of law
It is a fact that this administration has a penchant for flagrant disobedience of and disregard for legitimate and valid court orders.
We expect President Buhari to know that democracy cannot survive without respect for the constitution, strict adherence to the rule of law, and separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution.
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 note further that the action undermines confidence not only in the judiciary but also the electoral process that has already commenced, in view of the pivotal role that the judiciary plays in the process of electoral adjudication.
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.
Based on the foregoing, we hereby call on the President:
1) To condemn without any equivocation, this assault on the CJN and the judiciary especially coming after similar assaults on the National Assembly, to save the country from this embarrassment and global contempt.
2) We call on the CJN to ignore this so-called Court summon from the CCB 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.
We also decry the massive buildup of arms by APC leaders and members across the Niger Delta with the intent to cause mayhem and a general breakdown of law and order during the elections.