Onnoghen’s Suspension: S’Court Strikes Out Senate’s Suit

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The Supreme Court, yesterday, struck out the suit that Senate filed to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s powers to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen. A seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, led by Justice Rhodes Bode-Vivour, terminated further hearing on the suit, after it was withdrawn by the Senate.
A seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, led by Justice Rhodes Bode-Vivour, terminated further hearing on the suit, after it was withdrawn by the Senate.
The Senate had in the suit marked SC.76/2019, invoked the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, asking it to determine whether President Buhari has the constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend Justice Onnoghen as the CJN.
It will be recalled that President Buhari had on January 25, suspended Onnoghen who was accused of failing to declare his assets as prescribed by the law, and swore in the next most ranking justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Tanko Muhammad, to take over as the Acting CJN.
Amid varied reactions that trailed the action, the Senate approached the Supreme Court, asking it to declare that the President’s action was in gross violation of section 292(1)(a)(i) of the constitution, as amended. It prayed the apex court to quash Onnoghen’s suspension and restore him as the substantive CJN. Cited as Defendants in the suit were President Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN.
In view of the constitutional issue the Senate sought to be determined in the suit, the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, constituted a seven-man panel of Justices to grant accelerated hearing to the matter.
Meanwhile, when the suit came up yesterday, counsel to the Senate, Mr. Paul Erokoro, SAN, applied to withdraw it. Erokoro told the apex court panel that his client had earlier filed a notice of discontinuance, though he did not adduce any reasons behind the decision.
Responding, counsel to the Defendants, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiro, said President Buhari and the AGF were not opposed to the request to abort hearing on the suit. Consequently, Justice Bode-Vivour struck out the matter.
The Senate had in the suit, prayed the apex court to among other things, issue an order restraining President Buhari and the AGF from continuing or repeating the violation of the constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect to the suspension of the CJN.
As well as to issue, “A declaration that the suspension, by the President, of Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from his office as Chief Justice of Nigeria on or about January 25, 2019, without an address calling for the removal, supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate is in violation of section 292(1)(a)(i) of the constitution and therefore null and void.
“An order rescinding or setting aside the suspension of Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from his office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and restoring him to the said office. Likewise, “An order restraining the defendants from continuing or repeating the violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and disregarding the powers of the Senate at the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
However, before the case could be heard, the Plaintiff, via a statement that was signed by the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, announced its decision to discontinue the case. The Senate based its decision on the fact that the National Judicial Council, NJC, has already wadded into the issue.
“The Senate has decided to discontinue the case it filed at the Supreme Court. It should be noted that the case has been slated for hearing tomorrow (yesterday).
“This decision also affirms the confidence of the Senate in the ability of the NJC to successfully and creditably resolve the issues”, the statement read.