A constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, says those calling on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen to resign his position following a recent allegation of non-asset declaration preferred against him by the Federal Government must wait until the court pronounced him guilty.
The vocal lawyer who has been critical of the current administration accused the Federal Government of engaging in an unnecessary witch-hunt, stressing that Onnoghen's travail was politically motivated. He explained that by law, the CJN can only be "removed from office either if he has been convicted or if under section 291 of the constitution, the Senate affirms a request by the President to remove him by two-thirds majority vote.
“Our system of justice being Anglo-Saxon based, which is accusatorial, meaning that the innocence of a person is presumed. “It is different from the criminal justice system of the French model which is inquisitorial, wherein the guilt of an accused person is presumed. This doctrine has been encapsulated in section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, that the person’s innocence is presumed until he has been proven guilty.
“Assuming for example that Senator Bukola Saraki had been forced to resign his office when charges were brought against him before the same Code of Conduct Tribunal almost three years ago, what would have happened and what would have been his fate when the Supreme Court eventually discharged and acquitted him of the charge, following judgments and earlier order of the Court of Appeal and the Code of Conduct Tribunal itself?
“If you ask me, I sense serious political undertones oozing from this so-called imminent arraignment of the noble CJN. Question, when did they discover the alleged offence for which they now want to charge him on Monday? Was it just yesterday, was it last week, two weeks or six months ago? The CJN has been in office now for well over one year, how come that this misconduct or whatever offence that he is being alleged, was not seen up to now?
“How come, that it is just less than 40 days to the 2019 Presidential election when the CJN is going to play the major role in constituting the Presidential election petition tribunal, that he is being moved against? Who is afraid of the Judiciary? Who is afraid of Justice Onnoghen and his impartiality and straightforwardness?
“How come we are reducing governance in Nigeria to one of impunity, one of despotism and one of absolutism. Don’t these people know that the world is laughing at us? Did we not see how Dino Melaye was yanked out from police hospital and taken to DSS quarters when he had no business or case with the DSS and DSS had no case against him.
“Did they not see Dino Melaye, a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, sleeping in the open yesterday? Do they go on social media and do they watch international televisions? Do they know how the whole world is deriding us in this country? That governance has been reduced to mere witch-hunt, very opaque, very unaccountable, very un-transparent and very very fascist! Can’t they see that?" he asked rhetorically.