Governors of the South-South geopolitical zone, yesterday, expressed misgivings at the move to drag the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on allegations of non-declaration of assets. They warned that the Presidency’s tacit endorsement was a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of the state including the Judiciary and the National Assembly. The governors, who spoke in Abuja after an emergency meeting, said the attempt to drag the CJN before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), was aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer who is also a prominent son of the South-South region. Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Seriake Dickson who read the communique at the end of the meeting told Justice Onnoghen to ignore the summon from the CCT and the call for him to resign, describing the move as provocative.
“We call on the CJN to ignore this so-called court summon from the CCT and the provocative call for his resignation in some quarters. “While we are not opposed to a genuine fight against corruption, such action must always be anchored on the rule of law,” Dickson said. The meeting which held at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, deliberated on the recent happenings at the Supreme Court involving Justice Onnoghen and resolved that the action against him constitutes a setback to the gains of the nation’s democratic experience of 20 years. According to the governors, the attempt to humiliate the CJN out of office was unacceptable and a reflective of the marginalisation and intimidation of the South-South people by Buhari administration.
“The unceremonious removal of former Acting Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mathew Seiyefa and his replacement is still very fresh,” the governors recalled. They noted that under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has the 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 the first instance before any further steps.
“We note that the attempt to drag the CJN to the CCT is also a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of the state including the National Assembly and the judiciary “We believe that the President, Muhammadu Buhari has a constitutional responsibility and huge moral obligation to defend our democracy.
“We note that the unfortunate action against the CJN further reinforces 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,” the state chief executives noted. The governors said: “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.” The governors also decried the alleged “massive build-up of arms” by All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders and members across the Niger Delta with the intent to cause mayhem and a general breakdown of law and order during the elections. Five out of six South-South governors signed the communique. They are Dickson (Bayelsa), Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Ben Ayade (Cross River) and Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta State). Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo was absent at the event.