Onnoghen opens up on his removal as CJN

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Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN, Mr. Walter Onnoghen yesterday spoke publicly for the first time after his controversial suspension by President Muhmmadu Buhari on January 25, 2019 and eventual resignation on April 5, 2019.

Onnoghen who spoke at the unveiling of a book entitled ‘Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, Practice, Procedure, Forms and Precedents’, written by a senior lawyer, Mr. Ogwu James Onoja said his sack was politically-driven.

He disclosed that prior to his removal he was accused by the executive of having met with former vice president, Mr. Atiku Abubakar in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, preparatory to the 2019 general elections.

He said although the rumour of the alleged meeting had spread fast, he decided not to react to it because he never travelled to Dubai or held any meeting with anybody, including Atiku.

The former CJN however said that he was surprised that despite the fact that the federal government had all the machinery to investigate the allegation of the rumoured meeting with Atiku, it never did so, rather opted to go after him and his office.

He added that he was not surprised when suddenly his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was arranged, even when he had not been invited to defend the allegation or any wrongdoing.

He said the government’s action against him got to the peak when in the course of the trial and when parties had joined issues, an ex parte was suddenly brought in, and what followed was his illegal and unlawful suspension as the CJN.

“Prior to suspension, I was confronted with no allegation. There were rumours that I met with Atiku in Dubai. As I am talking here today, I have never met Atiku one on one in my life. As if that was not enough, I was also accused of setting free, high-profile criminals, whereas I seized to be a High Court Judge as far back as 1978.

“In Supreme Court, I did not sit alone, we sat in panel. In all these rumours and outright accusations, I was not given opportunity to defend myself.

“Let me make it clear that the office of the CJN was not for Onnoghen but for all Nigerians who had sworn to guide and protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic.

“As I have said severally, judicial officers must be courageous. And I want to beg all serving judicial officers not to be discouraged by what happened to me in the hand of the executive arm of the government.

“Emerging brand Nigerian judges should not go the direction of injustice because without courageous judges, Nigeria is doomed. Democracy will be dead.

“Here, let me sound this note of warning that the appointment of judicial officers must never be allowed to be politicized, otherwise, democracy and democratic governance will be dead.

“During my tenure, the problem of Nigeria was not the Nigerian judiciary, but those who had no regard for the rule of law. We must therefore be committed to the rule of law and dispense justice without fear or favour.

“Truth stands, crush it, it will stand because it is truth”, Onnoghen added.

He said his ordeal in 2019 was not the first, adding that at a point during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, a commission was set up and that he was indicted of wrongdoing, even when he was not invited or allowed to appear before the commission to defend himself.

However, he said since Obasanjo was a leader who listened to advice, the matter was referred to the NJC for review.

He said at the council, truth surfaced before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

He urged legal practitioners to be courageous enough to stand by truth by defending the rights of Nigerians because only justice can rescue Nigeria.

Onnoghen said if the judiciary was not freed from political manipulation, the dispensation of justice according to the rule of law will be a mirage.

According to him, Nigeria is structured on the rule of law and any democracy not founded on the rule of law is a dictatorship.

Onnoghen emphasised that justice is possible when “you know who is dispensing justice”, adding the surest way to guarantee justice and democracy is to adhere to the rule of law.

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