By Rotimi Ijikanmi
The Federal Government says the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen, does not signify the onset of dictatorship or tyranny, as some people have insinuated.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who gave the explanation at a media briefing in Abuja on Monday, said that the suspension had nothing to do with the forthcoming elections.
He said contrary to what the opposition and their likes had been saying, the CJN’s suspension was a consequence of his breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
He stressed that President Muhammadu Buhari “is an avowed democrat, which he has proven time and time again and the Administration stands firm on the rule of law’’.
“It amounts to irresponsible extrapolation to say that the suspension of Justice Onnoghen is the onset of dictatorship.
“This whole issue is about the country’s highest judicial officer, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, being accused of a breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, and the legal and moral conundrum surrounding that.
“It is about the suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the suspended CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.
“It is about the Hon. Justice Onnoghen himself admitting to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, calling it a ‘mistake’.
“And it is about him refusing to take responsibility, instead opted to put the entire judiciary on trial,’’ he said.
He said that the Government had given the embattled CJN the opportunity of fair hearing, but he abused his position and the judicial process by filing frivolous applications and even dodging service of process.
The minister also said that the suspension of Onnoghen was not in anyway, a threat to the nation’s democracy or the country’s very existence.
Quoting Lord Denning, the then Lord Justice of the British Court of Appeal, Mohammed said “a judge should in his own character be beyond reproach, or at any rate should have so disciplined himself that he is not himself a breaker of the law.
He added: ”Nations fall when judges are unjust, because there is nothing which the multitude think worth defending.”
The minister berated a section of the media for shirking their agenda-setting role and failing to objectively lead the discourse on the issue of the allegation facing the CJN and his subsequent suspension.
“It is regrettable to note that the media, which should have led the discourse, has not done so. In fact, a section of the media has taken sides. Several newspapers have written editorials on this issue.
“Some newspapers have employed rather crude and obnoxious language to push forth their opinions, while others have been more tempered.
“But curiously, none has written from a perspective that shows that they understand the big picture,’’ he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that President Muhammadu Buhari had on Jan. 25 complied with the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, directing the suspension of the CJN.
The CJN was suspended pending the determination of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and several fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
The President, who announced Onnoghen’s suspension at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Friday consequently swore in Justice Tanko Mohammed as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Since then, there have been widespread reactions to the development from within and outside the country.