Governors in five Southsouth states yesterday called on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to ignore the summons by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
They rose from an emergency meeting in Abuja at the instance of Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, describing the CCT summons against Justice Onnoghen as a grave and dangerous escalation of assault on institutions of state, including the National Assembly.
In a communique issued after the meeting and read by Dickson, the governors reminded President Muhammadu Buhari of his constitutional responsibility and huge moral obligation to defend the nation’s democracy.
The communique reads: “We consider this step, which is directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the region, as totally unacceptable as it is reflective of the Southsouth story of endless marginalization and intimidation.
“We note that under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council, has ample powers to deal exhaustively with matters pertaining to allegations of misconduct and discipline of judicial officers.
“Specifically, the NJC has the powers and clear procedures for investigating allegations, and recommending appropriate sanctions or disciplinary measures against judicial officials as a matter of first instance before any further steps.”
Condemning the way the CJN was summoned by the CCT, the governors considered the action a setback to the gains recorded by the nation in its 20-year democratic journey.
According to them, the action against Justice Onnoghen further reinforced the perception that the Buhari administration has no regard for the sentiments of Nigerians, in particular the people of Niger Delta, and the rule of law.
They recalled what they termed “unceremonious” removal of former Acting Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mathew Seiyefa and his replacement with an officer of northern extraction.
The governors flayed what they described as the administration’s penchant for flagrant disobedience of and disregard for legitimate and valid court orders.
The communique further states: “We expect President Buhari to know that democracy cannot survive without respect for the constitution, strict adherence to the rule of law, and separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution.
“We strongly believe that the regrettable development at the Supreme Court at this critical time, when preparations for the general elections are wobbling (with serious concern about INEC and security agencies) is capable of causing avoidable anxiety, tension and possible breakdown of law and order in the country.
“We note further that the action undermines confidence not only in the judiciary but also the electoral process that has already commenced, in view of the pivotal role that the judiciary plays in the process of electoral adjudication.
“We affirm President Buhari should know that the continuous assault on critical institutions of state is a defining feature of a dictatorship, and that the President is obliged to live up to his word that he is a born-again democrat, as he assured Nigerians in 2015.”