Bola Tinubu, National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), says President Muhammadu Buhari’s intention was not to remove Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
However, he added that Buhari’s action is a fair response on the part of the presidency to the situation.
Onnoghen was suspended last Friday based on a directive by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) before whom he is standing trial over allegations of fraudulent declaration of assets.
In a letter entitled: ‘Reply to Atiku’s State of the Nation’ published by ThisDay newspaper, Tinubu took a swipe at Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), over his comments against the president’s action.
Atiku had delivered a State of the Nation address on Monday, in which he referred to Buhari’s action as unconstitutional.
However, the response penned by Tinubu read: “Strange that Atiku would choose to depict the current situation so inaccurately as to stir emotions unduly. He claimed that CJN Onnoghen has been removed.
“However, this is not so. He has been temporarily suspended. Atiku and his advisors should know and recognise the vast legal difference between -‘suspension’ and ‘removal’.
“Yet you persist in conflating the two in what you say is a pursuit of justice. While true you may be in pursuit of something. It is not justice. If justice was your goal, you would acknowledge that the CJN has only been temporarily suspended not permanently removed. Thus, your recourse to saying that the President violated the constitutional provision regarding the removal of a CJN is inaccurate in that Buhari never intended to remove the CJN.
“What he has done is to have the CJN temporarily get out of his chair so that the serious matters against him can be heard by someone other than himself. Should the charges show themselves to be wrong or unproven; the CJN will be automatically reinstated as the head of the Nigerian judiciary.”
Speaking further on the inaccuracy of Atiku’s position on the issue, Tinubu added: “Nothing has been taken from the CJN that cannot be restored if the facts warrant such restoration. Thus, President Buhari conditionally suspended the CJN.
“By doing so, this allows for the case to move forward without the CCT or others fearing the CJN might use his position to unduly interfere with proceedings. If the CJN is exonerated, then he will return to his position. If not exonerated, then a more permanent discipline awaits him.
“This is an imminently fair and balanced approach, especially given the fact that the constitution and other laws really do not provide clear and unambiguous guidance on how to proceed in a case whether the CJN is the defendant under this unique fact pattern.
“Atiku and his cohort(s) seek to turn their personal disappointment into a burning national issue. They seek to manufacture a constitutional crisis where none exists. There is no need to quake at the solitary incident of the interim suspension of a justice pending the legal resolution of serious criminal claims against him.
“If this matter is shorn of the political trappings it has acquired, there is no fairer way to handle the matte.”