The National Christian Elders Forum on Wednesday protested against the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing it as an Islamic agenda.
The NCEF said the President’s decision to suspend Onnoghen was a “judicial coup.”
What was surprising, it said, remained the apparent unwillingness of Christians and other Nigerians to understand the core problem of the country.
Members of the group include Lt.Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), Solomon Asemota (SAN), Prof. Joseph Otubu, Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro (retd.), Dr Kate Okpareke, Dr Ayo Abifarin, Gen. Zamani Lekwot (retd.), Elder Moses Ihonde, Elder Nat Okoro and Elder Matthew Owojaiye.
Others are Justice Kalajine Anigbogu (retd.), Elder Shyngle Wigwe, a former Deputy Inspector-General of Police, L. Dabup, Sir John W. Bagu, Dr Saleh Hussaini, Elder Mike Orobator, Justice James Ogebe, JSC (retd.), Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chief Debo Omotosho, Dame Priscilla Kuye, Dr S. D. Gani, Mrs Osaretin Demuren and Prof. Yussuf Turaki.
The NCEF’s statement, which was signed by its chairman, Asemota, was titled, “CJN Onnoghen: What is really at stake and the way out.”
The group said, “In 2015, Nigerians unwittingly elected an Islamist government into office, supposedly on a platform of democracy. It is with this as background that the questionable suspension of the CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, should be situated. The ‘judicial coup’ is not only against the judiciary, but also the constitution that is under attack and with it, the sovereignty of the Nigerian state as a democratic nation.”
The Christian elders also restated their commitment to prayerfully support Christian presidential candidates and indeed any candidates who would be committed and loyal to the tenets of liberal democracy, human rights and equality under the law.
Asemota said the Islamists that belonged to the Salafist sect believed that modern society should run according to the 6th century pattern of Islam.
“Islamism is not a religion but a political ideology which holds that wherever Islam is, Islam must dominate,” he said.
He added, “That is one reason why Islamism is called “political Islam. However, while all Islamists are Muslims, all Muslims are not Islamists. The National Christian Elders Forum is calling on Nigerians to mobilise to resist the Islamists in Nigeria and ensure that they do not return to power again so that Nigerians can concentrate on building a just and equitable society.”
According to them, infrastructure that is sustaining Islamism in Nigeria must be dismantled and democracy must be promoted.
They stated, “In order to put an end to the recurring decimal of violence, conflicts, suspicion, distrust, insecurity, poverty and other vices plaguing Nigeria, NCEF reiterates that Nigerians should ensure that Islamists are not voted into power in 2019.”
ACF backs Buhari on suspension of CJN
But the Arewa Consultative Forum has backed Buhari on the suspension of the CJN.
The northern body in a communique signed by its Secretary-General, Mr Anthony Sani, after a meeting in Kaduna on Wednesday, noted with regrets the conduct of the CJN.
The ACF’s communique read, “The ACF notes that the allegations against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, are that he failed to comply with the expressed provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act, to wit, failure to declare his assets on assumption of office as Justice of the Supreme Court and as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“That when he was made to declare his assets as demanded by law, he failed to declare all of them.
“That Hon. Justice Onnoghen was said to have told investigators that the reason for his not declaring those assets was forgetfulness.
“Following the discovery of these infractions, the Code of Conduct Bureau, swiftly referred the matter to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which made an order for the temporary suspension of the CJN in the interest of natural justice. However, this action by the CCT has provoked intense controversy.
“And yet, from a reading of all the facts of the matter, the ACF cannot defend the position taken by the Hon. Justice Onnoghen, especially his insistence that he should first be tried by the National Judicial Council, of which he is Chairman. To do so would have allowed him to seat in judgement over his own case.”
It added, “The ACF deeply regrets the conduct of Justice Onnoghen, particularly his refusal to step aside and allow due process of the law to take its course. He has created the impression that his personal interests in this matter supersede that of the judiciary and the nation.”
The forum, however, urged law enforcement agencies to strive to carry out their professional duties in a manner that could not give room to partisanship.
Buhari should resign for suspending CJN –M’Belt Forum
On its part, the Middle Belt Forum said the removal of Onnoghen had shown that Buhari could not be trusted to uphold the nation’s constitution as he pledged.
The MBF President, Dr Pogu Bitrus, who said this in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday, asked the President to reinstate Onnoghen or face rejection at the polls.
He said, “We call on him, having blatantly breached the constitution which he swore to uphold and his Oath of Office, to immediately resign.
“In the event of his refusal to do so, we call on all the peoples of the Middle Belt and all our allies to reject him at the polls.”
The MBF also asked the NJC to remove Justice Tanko Muhammad from office for presenting himself to be sworn in unconstitutionally as the acting CJN when he was never recommended by the NJC.
CUPP, pro-democracy groups petition UN, AU
However, opposition political parties and a coalition of pro-democracy groups in Nigeria have petitioned the United Nations and the African Union Commission over the CJN suspension.
They have also commended the US, the UK and the EU for identifying with Nigerians on the matter.
Their position was contained in separate letters written to the bodies by the Save Democracy Coalition, copies of which were made available to journalists in Abuja on Wednesday.
The letters dated January 27, 2019 were signed by the lead activist, Imo Ugochinyere.
In the letters addressed to the UN Secretary-General, Anthonio Guteres, and the Chair of AUC, Moussa Faki, the activists sought the intervention of the two bodies in rebuking Buhari and seeking reversal of the suspension.
The letter read, “As it appears to every reasonable man, the ‘suspension’ and ‘replacement’ of Justice Walter Onnoghen is to activate a backdoor mechanism for the successful rigging of the general elections in Nigeria by turning the judiciary into a rubber stamp to legitimise any rigging perpetrated, particularly with President Buhari’s cousin in the top hierachy of the national electoral body.”
Thugs beat up NBA chair, lawyers in Rivers
Meanwhile, there was a rowdy session at the Appeal Court in Rivers State on Wednesday as a group of young men suspected to be thugs beat up the Port Harcourt Branch Chairman of the NBA, Sylvester Adaka.
Trouble started after some lawyers led by Adaka approached the Appeal Court presided over by Justice A. A. Gumel, and pleaded that he adjourn court proceedings for the day based on NBA’s protest against the Onnoghen’s suspension.
Gumel, however, cautioned the lawyers against desecrating the court, which he described as a temple of justice.
He decried the carrying of placards and disrupting court proceedings by lawyers, adding that the action amounted to turning the court into a public square.
The judge stated that the court was only going to take records of processes, but would hear motions at an adjourned date.
But the angry lawyers insisted that the day’s sitting be adjourned, a development that did not go down well with the thugs.
One of our correspondents observed that some of the thugs attacked the NBA chairman and other lawyers that were with him, insisting that the court proceedings must continue.
The NBA chairman, Port Harcourt Branch, Sylvester Adaka, said the lawyers were in court to stop court proceedings as directed by the NBA before he was attacked.
He said, “While we were inside the Court of Appeal, I peacefully addressed the justices of the Court of Appeal to rise in continuation of our peaceful boycott of courts and also appealed to lawyers to leave the court premises.
“But while we were in court, a couple of thugs on the court premises attacked the lawyers. They zeroed in on me and a couple of lawyers. If not for the intervention of my colleagues, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Also, a former Chairman of the NBA, Port Harcourt Branch, Dennis Okwakpam, expressed shock at the incident inside the Appeal Court, describing it as danger to the country.
Lagos judge resists NBA’s attempt to disrupt proceedings
Also, Justice Sherifat Solebo of the Lagos State Special Offences Court on Wednesday resisted an attempt to disrupt proceedings by a task force of the Ikeja branch of the NBA.
The Chairman of the branch, Dele Oloke, led the NBA task force to stop the judge’s proceedings around 10.17am in an attempt to enforce the NBA boycott directive.
She said, “I will not entertain any interruption. We know the rules of the court, Mr Oloke be properly guided.
“The NJC has not directed that judges should not sit, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria has not shut the door. I am still in charge of this court, Mr Oloke, what you are doing is contemptuous.”
The NBA Ikeja Chairman, however, told lawyers who were in Justice Solebo’s courtroom to leave.
Some judges at the Ikeja High Court continued to sit despite the NBA boycott directive.
Proceedings in Justice Mojisola Dada’s court could also not be disrupted at 10.42am when Oloke’s team got there as the judge was delivering a judgement.