Five governors from the South South of the country rose from a meeting held in Abuja, calling on the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onneghen, to ignore the Code of Conduct Tribunal to which he had been charged for trial.
The trial, the governors said, was wrong and showed signs of dictatorship.
The governors also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to condemn the planned trial of the CJN, describing it as an assault on Onnoghen and the judiciary.
The Code of Conduct Bureau filed a suit against Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged case of non-declaration of assets.
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The trial begins Monday.
The trial has been generally condemned by many Nigerians who described it as an assault on the judiciary and in violation of the rule of law.
The governors who signed the communique condemning the planned trial of Onnoghen are Henry Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Ben Ayade (Cross River); Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta).
The governors are all members of the leading opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The only All Progressives Congress, APC, governor in the South South, Godwin Obaseki (Edo), did not attend the meeting.
The communiqué reads in full:
An emergency meeting of the governors of the states of the South South geopolitical zone, held at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja on Sunday, January 13, 2019.
The meeting, called at the instance of the Governor of Bayelsa State, the Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, who is also Chairman of the South South Governors Forum, was attended by the Governors of Cross River State, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Delta States.
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 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 in 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 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.
Therefore, 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 marginalization and intimidation. The unceremonious removal of former Acting Director General of the Department of State Service, Mathew Seiyefa and his replacement is still very fresh.
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 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:
1) 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 and global contempt.
2) 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 also decry the massive buildup of arms by APC leaders and members across the Niger Delta with the intent to cause mayhem and a general breakdown of law and order during the elections.