By Uche Mbah
The move by Bukola Saraki, Senate President, to take the suspension, by President Muhammadu Buhari, of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN Walter Onnoghen to the Supreme Court took Nigerians and even the Presidency by surprise.
The suspension of CJ Onnoghen, resulted in outrage by lawyers and the civil society organizations, and words of caution from the International community.
The Senate had announced that it was breaking its break and convening an emergency meeting to discuss the issue. The meeting, scheduled to hold on Tuesday 29th January 2019 was, however cancelled. Instead, the Senate decided to approach the Supreme Court for interpretation of whether the appointment of justice Tanko Muhammed as the CJ conforms with the letters of the law, move which sources said, took the Presidency by suprise. The thinking was that the Senate would reconvene to enable APC Senators destabilise any move to discuss the issue, or indict the President.
In announcing the cancellation, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki’s spokesperson said:
“Following the filing of the case, the matter of the suspension of the CJN which is the main issue for which the Senate had planned to reconvene tomorrow, has become subjudice.
“Therefore, in line with the standing rules of the Senate not to debate issues that are already pending before the court, the reconvening of the Senate tomorrow has been put off. The previous adjournment of the Senate till February 19, 2019, stays.”
The APC Senate Caucus, however, dissociated its members from the suit, saying the Senate never met to take such a resolution.
“It has come to the notice of the Senate APC Caucus that the Senate has approached the Supreme Court for the interpretation of the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen by the President Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,” Ahmed Lawan Senate Leader said on behalf of the Senators under the aegis of the All Progressives Congress, APC. “For the records, the Senate never met to take such a resolution and at no time mandated anyone to approach the Supreme Court on this matter on its behalf. Consequently, the Senate APC Caucus dissociates itself from the said request for the legal interpretation of the suspension.”
But Saraki’s Adviser on new media, Olu Onemola, disagreed with him. According to Onemola, the Senate leadership met to discuss the issue.
“Please note: Issues like going to court on behalf of the Senate has never been a decision taken to the floor or plenary. It is a decision for the leadership of the Senate.The leadership consists of 10 members. The Senate President got the support or consent of a very good majority of the ten on the need to seek interpretation from the apex court.”
APC Senate caucus met with President Buhari behind closed doors on what is believed to be the Onnoghen case. Opposition leaders later alleged that the group was paid about a billion US dollars, and that plans were perfected for the impeachment of principal officers of the Senate and replace them with members of the Caucus. The Presidency has not responded to this allegation.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA has rejected Justice Tanko Mohammed as the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, insisting that Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the CJ. As a protest against his appointment, the NBA declared a two-day nationwide boycott of Courts, starting from Tuesday 29th of January 2019. The boycott will end on Wednesday January 30th.
Onnoghen on his own has denied rumors of his resignation making rounds on Social media, describing it as the handwork of mischief makers.
Meanwhile, the Code of Conduct tribunal, CCT, which started the whole crisis, has postponed the trial indefinitely, citing an Appeal Court judgement that insists that status quo be maintained.
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