The Nigerian Senate on Monday, 28 January 2019 put off its planned emergency sitting that was billed to deliberate on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari. President Muhammadu Buhari had on 25th January, 2019 announced the suspension of the Chief Justice on allegations of his failure to declare assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau. A charge of failure to declare assets against the Chief Justice had been on-going at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Apparently impatient and unwilling to wait for the outcome of the charge, the President citing what he called “an exparte order” from the CCT proceeded to suspend the CJN. This has understandably raised national and international uproar especially as the action appeared to be in violation of the Nigerian Constitution especially section 292 that provides for the procedure for removal of the CJN. Section 292(1) states as follows:
292 (1) A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances –
(a) in the case of –
(i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate
Although the Senate did not give a reason for postponing its planned plenary reconvening, it appears that it was owing to fears that Senators in support of President Buhari may engage other Senators in a rancorous session. The Senate leadership however publicly announced that it would be going to Court to seek Supreme Court’s intervention and interpretation of the matter. Some Senators have however challenged this stating that the Senate leadership does not have the approval of the Senate sitting in plenary to file a case at the Supreme Court.
The Senate is now expected to stick to its previously adjourned date of February 19, 2019 which will be 3 days after Presidential/National Assembly elections scheduled for February 16.