The Senate will, on Tuesday, reconvene to discuss the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and the swearing-in of Tanko Mohammed as the acting CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday.
A principal officer in the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the leadership of both chambers would have a crucial meeting today (Sunday) to deliberate on the agenda for the emergency session.
SUNDAY PUNCH, however, learnt that the sudden decision of the National Assembly leadership to reconvene might not be unconnected with the public outcry that greeted Buhari’s suspension of Onnoghen on Friday.
The source said, “The leadership of the two chambers has agreed to reconvene on Tuesday. They will, however, hold a crucial meeting in the private residence of the Senate President on Sunday evening (today).
“The meeting will set agenda for the emergency session they plan for Tuesday. I cannot confirm whether the impeachment of the President will form part of the agenda but I can assure you that a drastic decision will be taken against him.”
The lawmakers had, during Thursday’s plenary, adjourned sitting until February 19, which will be after the presidential and National Assembly elections.
We’ll resist any impeachment move against Buhari – Ndume
However, the leaders of the All Progressives Congress in the Senate have vowed to resist any attempt by the presiding officers of the federal parliament to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.
A former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, maintained that the President did not breach the constitution by his action.
He said, “As members of the APC in the National Assembly, we will put the nation’s interest above any parochial or sectional consideration in dealing with the issue.
“However, if anybody wants to start another trouble in the Senate over the issue, we are ready. We have the number; we have the strength because we constitute the majority.
“It’s just that the Senate leadership wants to play to the gallery, otherwise, I don’t see the same leadership that accused the judiciary of meddling in its affairs now moving against the President for fighting corruption in that arm of government.”
Reps keep mum
At the House of Representatives, the lawmakers had scheduled Tuesday for the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill second reading and the New Minimum Wage BiII.
Several members, who were contacted on Saturday either declined to speak or asked one of our correspondents to wait for the turn of events on Tuesday.
A lawmaker from Lagos State, who did not want to be named, declined to speak on the telephone except our correspondent could meet with him during the week.
Another lawmaker, Mr Chinda Ogundu, of the Peoples Democratic Party, said, “Wait till Tuesday.”
FG places accounts of more judges on surveillance
In another twist, there were indications in Abuja on Saturday that the Federal Government had directed that the accounts of more judges be placed on surveillance, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt on Saturday night.
It was gathered that the plan by the government was aimed at identifying those believed to be corrupt in the judiciary and remove them from the system as the 2019 elections draw nearer.
Authoritative sources close to the government said the task of looking into the accounts might have been handed over to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.
It was gathered that the same agency was asked to probe the salary account of the suspended CJN.
The agency launched the probe into his salary account from September 2005 to December 2018.
A very reliable source, who was part of those privy to the Onnoghen saga, said more judges might be affected when the NFIU would submit its report.
The source said, “The government is placing the accounts of more judges under watch. You will see what will happen soon. It is wrong to assume that Justice Onnoghen was being singled out for punishment.
“The government decided to start with him because of the sensitive position he is holding. That is what happened.
“Now, more judges are under scrutiny and I can tell you that majority of them may have questions to answer. The courts are the hope of the common man. If the courts are monetised or commercialised, what then is the hope for the country?
“Therefore, salary and other accounts of these judicial officers and that of their relations are being watched.
“Apart from that, their assets declaration forms are also been scrutinised. If there are those with undeclared assets, they will be made to answer questions.”
Timing of Onnoghen’s removal raises concern –UK, US
Meanwhile, the British Government has expressed worry over the removal of Onnoghen.
This comes barely hours after the American government disagreed with the Federal Government over the removal of the CJN.
The United Kingdom said the timing of the removal, which occurred three weeks to the election, could cast a shadow over the polls while the US believed that the CJN’s removal could affect the credibility of the polls.
The statement read, “We respect Nigeria’s sovereign authority and its right to adjudicate on constitutional provisions but as friends of the Nigerian people, we are compelled to observe that the timing of this action, so close to national elections, gives cause for concern. It risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections. We, along with other members of the international community, are following developments closely.”
Also, the United States of America asked Buhari to resolve the issues raised by Nigerians against the suspension of Onnoghen quickly and peacefully in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
The US Embassy said this in a statement on Saturday in a reaction to the suspension of Onnoghen by the President.
The statement read, “The Embassy of the United States is deeply concerned by the impact of the executive branch’s decision to suspend and replace the Chief Justice and head of the judicial branch without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections.
“We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch. That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent and peaceful – leading to a credible result.
“We urge that the issues raised by this decision be resolved swiftly and peacefully in accordance with due process, full respect for the rule of law, and the spirit of the Constitution of Nigeria. Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process.”
Parties, groups, others flay Buhari over Onnoghen’s suspension
Suspension can truncate Nigeria’s democracy – UP
The acting National Chairman of United Patriots, Mr Chukwudi Ezeobika, in his own reaction, described the suspension of Onnoghen as illegal and unconstitutional.
Ezeobika, who doubles as the party’s senatorial candidate for Anambra South, said Buhari’s action was against the ruling of Justice Abdul Aboki who ordered the Code of Conduct Tribunal to stay all proceedings pending the ruling on the application before it.
He said, “It is indeed of great concern to watch, in utter disbelief, President Buhari, who, before all Nigerians and the international community, swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of Nigeria, chose to disobey subsisting court orders with such impunity and arrogance.
“We hereby call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately retrace his steps and without further delay, reinstate the ousted Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and obey all court orders relating thereto.”
It indicates Buhari’s desperation to rig polls –Senate minority leader
Also, the Senate Minority Leader, Biodun Olujimi, described Onnoghen’s suspension as embarrassing and indicative of Buhari’s desperation to perpetuate himself in office through rigging of next month’s elections.
Olujimi, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Chief Sanya Atofarati, in Ado Ekiti, on Saturday, said, “The manner, drama and circumstances leading to the litigation against and suspension of Onnoghen are not only unconstitutional, illegal and embarrassing, but also amount to executive impertinence, rascality, recklessness and impunity which portend enormous danger to our growing democracy.
“The current development has gone a long way to show the level of desperation of the All Progressives Congress and Buhari government to rig the forthcoming general elections at all cost, even to the detriment of the rule of law, the fundamental rights of Nigerians and our hard earned democracy.”