Why Buhari removed me as CJN–Onnoghen
….says democracy doomed without courageous judges
Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen on Friday in Abuja, opened up for the first time on why the Federal Government unceremoniously removed him from office in 2019.
Onnoghen, at a book launch he attended with his wife, revealed that prior to his removal, there had been rumour from the Executive that he held a meeting with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, preparatory to the 2019 general elections.
Onnoghen said the rumour was thick and spread fast, but he decided not to react to it because he never travelled to Dubai or held any meeting with anybody, including Atiku.
He said the rumour came in January 2019.
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, but opted unlawfully to go after him and his office.
Onnoghen said that he was not surprised when all of a sudden, his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was arranged, even when he had not been invited or accused of any wrongdoing.
He said that the action of the government 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 sit 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 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.
“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.
Onnoghen however said because former President Obasanjo was a leader who listened to advice, the matter was referred to the NJC for review.
He said at the Council, truth surfaced.
He urged Nigerians to stand by truth because only Justice can rescue Nigeria.
Onnoghen spoke at the unveiling of a book titled ‘Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, Practice, Procedure, Forms and Precedents’, authored by a renowned legal luminary, Chief Ogwu James Onoja, SAN.