Former chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Samuel Onnoghen has said that his unconstitutional removal in the lead-up to the 2019 general election is a testament that the country’s judiciary is on life support.
Onnoghen said this during the unveiling of a book “Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009,’ written by Ogwu James Onoja (SAN) on Friday.
He said he was removed basically because it was rumoured that he held a meeting with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the 2019 election Atiku Abubakar.
He noted that rule of law was the foundation of democracy, and a country without the rule of law directly practised dictatorship. The jurist urged judges to ensure strict compliance with the rule of law.
Speaking on his removal, he noted that even as a CJN, he was not given an opportunity to be heard during the unfortunate incident.
“I have never met Atiku in my life, but unfortunately as a CJN, I was never given an opportunity to even defend myself. It is only the rule of law that can guarantee the rights and privileges of minority tribes from oppression and domination by majority tribes in a country like ours,” he said.
“Once a serving CJN, who is the head of the judiciary and symbol of that arm of government, can be removed unconstitutionally and without him being given the basic right to defend himself, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, the justice system cannot but be on life support.”
“The ultimate cowardice exhibited is that the National Judicial Commission (NJC) has, two years after, not summoned the courage to release its own findings.”
“It is unfortunate that the ruling party thinks they have the right to be served justice at all costs without recourse to what the law says,” he said, while encouraging other judges and legal practitioners not be discouraged by the way he was treated.
He further said that the nation would be doomed without rule of law and enforcement of fundamental rights.
“You can’t shave my head in my absence, it’s against natural justice and common sense,” he added.
This was the first time the former CJN would be speaking publicly since his removal from office in 2019.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal found the former CJN guilty of false declaration of assets and also barred him from holding any public office for 10 years.