Uproar greeted the news of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday. The President made the announcement at the Council Chambers, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
In his place, he named Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, who is from Bauchi State. The President followed it up by inaugurating Mohammed as the new CJN.
Reactions came from senior lawyers, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria and professors of law who condemned the President’s action, describing it as unconstitutional, null and void.
Buhari stated that he carried out the suspension on the orders of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which was given on January 23.
The new CJN had, prior to the ceremonies, arrived at the Forecourt of the Presidential Villa at about 4.28pm.
Buhari defended his action, saying, “A short while ago, I was served with an Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal issued on Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, directing the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen, from office pending final determination of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and several other fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
“The nation has been gripped by the tragic realities of no less a personality than the Chief Justice of Nigeria himself becoming the accused person in a corruption trial since details of the petition against him by a Civil Society Organisation first became public about a fortnight ago.
“Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.”
He added, “Perhaps more worrisome is the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s own written admission to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, citing mistake’’ and forgetfulness’’ which are totally unknown to our laws as defences in the circumstances of his case.”
The President argued that Onnoghen ought to have resigned before now, having admitted mistakes.
He noted, “One expected that with his moral authority so wounded, by these serious charges of corruption, more so by his own written admission, Mr Justice Walter Onnoghen would have acted swiftly to spare our judicial arm further disrepute by removing himself from superintending over it while his trial lasted.”