(Chima Ubani Centre, Onitsha Nigeria, 29th Jan 2019)-The CJN saga has again introduced an alarming and shocking dimension into the Nigerian legal system and profession; whereby personal legal opinions and biases of some lawyers have taken over the operations and functions of the Constitution and constitutionalism in Nigeria, to the extent that the Constitution and its provisions are brutally relegated and personal legal opinions and biases elevated in place of the Constitution and constitutionalism as the new laws of Nigeria.
Intersociety had in the past warned and specifically called on the likes of Femi Falana, Itse Sagay and Yemi Osinbajo and foremost criminologists like Femi Odekunle and Abdulrahman Dambazzau to always relegate and quarantine their personal “learned” opinions and biases to their private intellectual orchards and allow the Constitution and constitutionalism to operate and function. They were further reminded that until the 1999 Constitution is impeached by the Peoples of Nigeria, it remains the country’s grand norm or primus inter pares of the country’s body of laws. They were respectfully advised not to toe the lines of the “Russian Anarchists” of the medieval age.
Intersociety is deeply concerned and alarmed and had empirically observed that almost all the blunders and governance misdeeds including state butchery perpetrated and perpetuated in the present central Government of Nigeria are linked to elevation of personal legal opinions and biases and brutal relegation of the country’s Constitution and constitutionalism. The architects of these constitutional impeachments are also the intellectual brains behind the skewed or selective application or enforcement of the Constitution especially where and when it suits the whims and caprices of the ruling Government and its cabal brigade.
In the recent executive coup against the Nigerian Judiciary: per unconstitutional and illegal suspension/removal of the CJN (Walter Onnoghen) and its aftermath, same has brazenly played out. When a Federal High Court ruled against the incumbent Governor of Abia State in a tax evasion case, same group of lawyers mounted campaigns harassing the Governor and ordering him to vacate office when they know as lawyers that the Governor has right of appeal up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and has not declined to exercise same in the referenced case. These they did and still do with reckless abandon using saintly and compromised private electronic media houses and ors though their various personality participatory programs.
Intersociety’s attention has specifically been drawn in the instant case (Onnoghen’s illegal impeachment) particularly with respect to opinions of Mr. Femi Falana and ors. From our social media and other media commentary checks, it is widely held that Falana probated and reprobated. Some said he toed the line of the ruling government and misrepresented facts in his various comments. Others faulted him on his statements or utterances concerning CJN Onnoghen and his handling of NJC meeting and alleged admission of guilt by the CJN possibly “before God” as well as the Apex Court position on tenability or un-tenability of restraining orders against the CCT in the course of its trial proceedings.
For instance, Intersociety and others faulted Falana on his statement that the “CJN postponed the NJC meeting indefinitely scheduled for 15th Jan 2019”, possibly to scuttle his investigation by NJC. Our faulting him stems from the fact that (1) Falana did not tell Nigerians or show evidence that CJN said so either to him or in the public, (2) Falana is not a member of NJC and has never been the President of NBA, (3) there is also no evidence that Falana was hired professionally or invited to the purportedly postponed NJC meeting, (4) there are no records showing that Falana lodged a petition to NJC against the CJN over the subject matter.
Others: (5) there are no records, too, showing that Federal Government, before now, lodged a complaint against the CJN at NJC; it only did same yesterday, 28th Jan 2019 which was widely reported in the media, (6) such grossly belated lodgment may most likely have been done with intent to seek and possibly obtain retroactive recommendation from NJC for retroactive legitimization of the President coup against the Judiciary, (7) NJC cannot assume jurisdiction over a complaint not formally filed or brought before it, (8) the CJN cannot stop NJC meeting especially if a complaint is formally filed against him before the NJC, (9) as was the case in 2011 in Alu-Salami Case, there is a provision in the rules or convention of NJC for the next most senior JSC to preside over the NJC meeting as “the Deputy Chairman of NJC” if the CJN is accused of wrong doing, (10) where both CJN and second in command or next most senior JSC are accused, the third most senior JSC shall in principle preside.
On the issue that President Buhari acted wrongly or unconstitutionally in removing the CJN; as recently strengthened by the Supreme Court decision in Hon. Justice Raliat Elele-Habeeb vs-AGF (2012) 40 WRN 1, Falana was right. Falana was wrong on the other hand by asking the CJN to “resign or consider resigning after the President lifts his removal or suspension”. This is because Section 36 presumes him not guilty until proven otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. He who alleges must proof conclusively and judicially.
The Supreme Court decision cited by Falana on un-tenability of restraining orders against CCT in the course of its trial proceedings may have been correctly cited but wrongly situated or compared with CJN Onnoghen’s absenteeism and non-arraignment before the CCT. This is because no trial commenced at the CCT or will commence until the CJN is bodily arraigned and voluntarily takes plea of not guilty or otherwise.
On the issue of the CJN admitting guilt as accused, Falana was wrong and one-sided as he might have relied on unsubstantiated and unproven State position and failed to tell Nigerians that he also heard same from the CJN. Besides, Falana did not tell Nigerians where the CJN did the admission; was it in his bedroom or in Falana Chambers or before the CCT or CCB or before the Police? Was the CJN ever or properly investigated and by who? Was he accorded fair hearing if investigated? Above all, courts of competent jurisdiction are constitutionally rested with powers in Nigeria to determine who is guilty or not, sentenced or acquitted.
We join other millions of Nigeria to demand that Falana, Sagay, Osinbajo, Odekunle, Dambazzau and ors should allow the Constitution and constitutionalism to operate and function above personal legal opinions and biases in Nigeria.
For: Intl Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law
Emeka Umeagbalasi (B.Sc. (Hons) CSS, M.Sc. PRC)
Principal Official/Board Chair
Obianuju Joy Igboeli, Esq., (LLB, BL)
Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law Program
Chinwe Umeche, Esq., (LLB, BL)
Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program
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