Does the recent warning given by the US and the UK to the Nigerian government against the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria amount to interference?
I don’t consider this as an act of interference in the affairs of Nigeria. These countries and others are free to give advice or warnings to countries in any part of the world where a problem is likely to erupt. This is because such eruption may affect the peace of the whole world. If there is a problem anywhere, it will affect the whole world one way or the other. What they said does not amount to interference. What they did was to ensure there is peace and there is no way there can be peace without justice. The US and other nations know the consequences of this. That was why gave the warning to ensure that the situation does not degenerate. If they refer to it as interference and there is a crisis; will the crisis be limited to Nigeria alone? If there is any crisis in Nigeria, there is no way many African countries will not be affected. And if this happens, there is no way European countries and those on other continent will not be affected. So, you can’t accuse them of interfering in the Nigeria’s affairs.
US President Donald Trump sometimes criticises judges and defies court orders. Does the US now have the moral right to condemn President Buhari in suspending the CJN?
If there is apparent injustice or something that appears to be injustice, they are free to issue warnings. What step has the US taken now that can be said to be interference? The US, the UK and the EU just cautioned the Nigerian government. What they said was that we should get our bearings and do the right things. I will not regard those comments as interference because they have not taken any practical step.
Will you say the President erred by suspending the CJN based on the allegations against him?
That is a subject of legal dispute now. But in my own opinion, the President has not acted in accordance with the laid down procedures. What is the essence of having the separation of powers if such decision can be taken by government fiat? If that can be done without following the due process, it means there is no longer separation of powers and that the substantial part of the powers now belongs to the executive. Separation of powers means the three arms of government are working separately and no arm is superior to the other. You cannot take an independent action without following the procedures. Anything you do without following the laid down rules is illegal. You cannot just issue a command and say this is the decision you want to take and go ahead and take it.
What is the implication of this?
The implication is that they are inviting anarchy if they are not following constitutional provisions. It can lead to a political crisis and it is better if we prevent that from happening. It also means we are jettisoning the procedures or the constitution of the land.
Do you share the view of those who believe there are political undertones to the CJN’s suspension?
Certainly, there are political undertones to this. I believe the timing is wrong. Criminal trials do not die. Why did have to do what they did about two weeks to the general elections? The insinuation seems to be correct and that is the way I see it. If not, why are they doing this now when they are supposed to be concentrating on the conduct of the elections in a way that would make the poll free, fair and generally acceptable? That is why I share the opinion of many people who believe that this action of the President has some political undertones.
Some are claiming that lawyers do not want judges who are suspected to be corrupt to be investigated. Why this?
The way I look at this is that laid down procedures are very necessary. The procedural steps recommended to be followed by the law should be complied with. We are not saying they should not investigate lawyers or judges. If there are facts, they should investigate them and put them on trial but the laid down procedures of doing it must be followed. Nobody should be a hurry to prosecute if there is no hidden agenda.