A former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen (retd.), on Friday, said the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), removed him as CJN before the 2019 general elections because the President was informed that the ex-Chief Justice had been in a meeting with former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Abubakar was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Onnoghen spoke in Abuja during the public presentation of a book titled ‘Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, Practice, Procedure, Forms and Precedents,’ written by Chief Ogwu James Onoja (SAN).
He said though the rumour was thick and spread fast, he decided not to react to it because he never travelled to Dubai or held any meeting with anyone, including Atiku.
The former CJN, however, said he was surprised that despite the fact that the Federal Government had all the machinery to investigate the allegation of the rumoured meeting with Atiku, it never did so, but opted to unlawfully go after him and his office.
Onnoghen said his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was quickly arranged, even when he had not been invited or accused of any wrongdoing.
He added that the action of the government against him further worsened when, in the course of the trial and when parties had joined issues, an ex-parte application was suddenly brought in, followed by his “illegal and unlawful suspension” as the CJN.
The former CJN said, “Prior to my suspension, I was confronted with no allegation. There were rumours that I met with Atiku in Dubai. As I am talking here today, I have never met Atiku one-on-one in my life. As if that was not enough, I was also accused of setting free, high-profile criminals, whereas I ceased to be a High Court judge as far back as 1978.
“In the Supreme Court, I did not sit alone. We sit in a panel. In all these rumours and outright accusations, I was not given opportunity to defend myself.
“Let me make it clear that the office of the CJN was not for Onnoghen but for all Nigerians who had sworn to guide and protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To say the least, the period of my ordeal was the darkest era in the history of the Nigerian judiciary.
“As I have said repeatedly, judicial officers must be courageous. And I want to beg all serving judicial officers not to be discouraged by what happened to me at the hands of the executive arm of the government.
“Emerging Nigerian judges should not go the direction of injustice because without courageous judges and justice, Nigeria is doomed. Here, let me sound this note of warning that the appointment of judicial officers must never be allowed to be politicised, otherwise, democracy and democratic governance will be dead.
“During my tenure, the problem of Nigeria was not the Nigerian judiciary, but those who had no regard for the rule of law. We must therefore be committed to the rule of law and dispense justice without fear or favour. Truth stands; crush it, it will stand because it is truth.”
He said his ordeal in 2019 was not the first, adding that at a point during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, a commission was set up and that he was indicted of wrongdoing, even when he was not invited to defend himself.
Onnoghen, however, said because Obasanjo was a leader who listened to advice, the matter was referred to the National Judicial Council for review.
According to him, at the council, truth surfaced and it was upheld to resolve uncleared issues.
He urged Nigerians to stand by truth because only justice could rescue Nigeria.
However, a Presidency official who did not want his name mentioned because he has not been authorised to speak on the matter said there was no truth in Onnogen’s claim on the reason behind his leaving office.
The source said the former CJN was duly charged and convicted.
He wondered if Onnoghen was indicting the same judicial system which he presided over.
The Presidency official said, “Recall that Onnoghen was charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
“Recall also that evidence was presented. He contested the evidence and he lost, then he was convicted.
“So, what is he saying? Is he faulting the same judicial system which he presided over?
“As far as I know, his claim of a rumoured meeting with Atiku in Dubai was not part of the issue before the CCT. So, why change the narrative at this time?”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, could not be reached on the telephone for comment as of the time of filing this report.