Governors from the South South geo-political zone have asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen not to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) today, or resign as demanded.
The governors of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, Emmanuel Udom, (Akwa Ibom), Ben Ayade (Cross River), Nyesom Wike (Rivers) and Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta) who held an emergency meeting yesterday in Abuja, with Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State in absential resolved that the move against the CJN was dangerous for the survival of the nation’s democracy.
Addressing a press conference at the end of the meeting which ended last night, Governor Dickson of Bayelsa State who is Chairman of the South South Governors’ Forum said the action against the CJN further reinforced the perception that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians and the Niger Delta people in particular.
He also decried what he described as the “massive build-up of arms by APC leaders and members” across the Niger Delta which he claimed was aimed at causing mayhem and a general breakdown of law and order during the February 16, and March 2, general elections.
Governor Dickson noted that the attempt to drag the CJN to the CCT was a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of state, including the National Assembly and the judiciary, hence Onnoghen should not honour the summon.
The governor who read through a communiqué signed by all the governors present said they considered the step, which he argued was directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the South South region, as totally unacceptable.
He argued it was reflective of the South South story of “endless marginalization and intimidation”, adding that the “unceremonious removal” of former Acting Director General of the Department of State Service, Mathew Seiyefa and his replacement was still very fresh in their memory.
“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 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 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 ina ` 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 believe that the President, Muhammadu Buhari has a constitutional responsibility and huge moral obligation to defend our democracy. 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 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,” the governors said.