South-south Governors’ Forum slams FG over Onnoghen’s trial

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*L-R: Dickson, Wike, Okowa, Emmanuel, Ayade

Ime Akpan

South-South Governors’ Forum rose from its meeting in Abuja on Sunday and slammed the federal government’s move to arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mr. Walter Onnoghen today at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

In a communiqué issued at the end of a meeting convened to deliberate on the CJN’s arraignment for alleged non-declaration of assets, the governors said the federal government’s action “is directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the Nigeria Delta region.

It would be recalled that the CJN’s arraignment followed a petition by the Anti-corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI) alleging some illegal transactions discovered in the CJN’s bank accounts.

In its petition, ARDI had alleged that “Onnoghen was the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up till as recently as 10th August, 2016, which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.”

At the meeting were governors Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ben Ayade (Cross River), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta).

The governors described the move as “totally unacceptable” saying “it is reflective of the south-south story of endless marginalisation and intimidation.”

They added that the arraignment shows President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s penchant for flagrant disobedience to and disregard for legitimate and valid court orders.

The forum also stated that the president “has no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians, in particular, the people of Niger Delta and the rule of law.”

They also noted that the federal government’s action is an assault on certain provisions of the constitution.

“We note that under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council, NJC, 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,” said the forum.

Here is the full text of the communique

“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 note that under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council, NJC, 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.

“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.

“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 marginalisation and intimidation.

“The unceremonious removal of former acting director general of the Department of State Service, Matthew Seiyefa, and his replacement is still very fresh.

“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 Independent National Electoral Commission, 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 the judiciary plays in the process of electoral adjudication.

“We affirm that 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.

“We, therefore, 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.’’

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