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Onnoghen: Middle Belt Forum Calls on Buhari to Resign, Says President Cannot be Trusted

The Middle Belt Forum comprising 14 states of the Federation has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to tender his resignation letter, saying that the President can no longer be trusted.

The group made their position known in a statement made available to the press, and signed by its President, Dr. Pogu Bitrus.

They said however, if the President fails to resign, he should be voted out of office in the forthcoming polls.

See the statement:

SUSPENSION OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA, HONOURABLE JUSTICE WALTER SAMUEL KANU ONOGHEN, GCON:

Recall that the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) had in a press statement made in conjunction with its partners from the South South (PANDEF), the South East (Ohanaeze Ndigbo) and the South West (Afenifere) deprecated the unconstitutional and illegal purported removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) His Lordship, Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onoghen, GCON and called for the immediate reversal of the suspension. This was on Friday, 25th January, 2019.

Several days after we made the call, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR has refused, failed or neglected to reverse himself. The peoples of the Middle Belt have sought legal advice and reviewed the circumstances of the purported suspension viz-a-viz the Constitution of Nigeria and the law. Our findings are as follows:

The Motion Ex-parte upon which the purported suspension was predicated was filed on the 10th of January, 2019. When the matter came up on the 22nd day of January, 2019 for the arraignment of the CJN, the CJN through his lawyers challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal while the Prosecution sought to move the Motion to direct the CJN to step aside and after the stepping aside, direct the President to swear in the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacuum. The Tribunal after listening to both sides ruled that it would take the objection to its jurisdiction first and thereafter, take the Motion of the Prosecution, if necessary. The Tribunal then adjourned to the 28th day of January, 2019 for the hearing of the two motions.

On Friday, 25th January, 2019, the President claimed that he had been served with an ex-parte order directing him to suspend the CJN and swear- in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

The order the President claimed to have relied on in suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria is as follows:

That the Defendant/Respondent shall step aside as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, National Judicial Council over allegations of contravening the provisions of the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act Cap C15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 pending the determination of the Motion on Notice dated 10th January, 2019.

That the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall take all necessary measures to swear-in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council in order to prevent a vacuum in the Judicial Arm of Government pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.

4. Order 1 was directed at the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice W.S.N. Onoghen, GCON to act by stepping aside from his office. His compliance with that order would have created a vacuum. Order 2 directed at the president was predicated upon compliance with order 1. Until that order was complied with, order 2 would be inchoate and the president could not act in compliance with the order as there would be no vacuum as was the case in the instant case.

5. The Tribunal is vested with the inherent powers to enforce compliance with its own orders as part of the dignity of the Tribunal. The refusal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to comply with the order immediately conferred on the Tribunal the powers to enforce the order which should have been activated in accordance with the procedure laid out by the law.

6. The President rather than allowing the due process of the law, chose to overthrow the Constitution and the law by unilaterally suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onoghen, GCON from Cross River State and the only Southerner in the last 32 years to head that arm of Government of the Federation; and immediately swore-in Justice Tanko Mohammed, CON from Bauchi State in the North thereby ensuring that the three Arms of Government are headed by Northerners.

7. The Order above clearly did not empower the president to suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria nor could the order have done so as that power lies squarely in the purview of the National Judicial Council. The position of the law today is as pronounced by the Court of Appeal in the Nganjiwa case.

8. The action of the Executive Arm in using the Code of Conduct Tribunal to harass, intimidate and embarrass the Chief Justice of Nigeria is insensitive, deceitful and calculated to deepen the division in Nigeria along religious and regional lines and stands condemned by the peoples of the Middle Belt and all people of good conscience across Nigeria. That action was in crass violation of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act which prohibits reference to the Code of Conduct Tribunal persons who have admitted in writing any omission(s) in their Asset Declaration. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 3 of the Act provides:

3. Functions of the Bureau
The functions of the Bureau shall be to-
(a) receive assets declarations by public officers in accordance with the provisions of this Act;
(b) examine the assets declarations and ensure that they comply with the requirements of this Act and of any law for the time being in force;
(c) take and retain custody of such assets declarations; and
(d) receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of this Act and where the

Bureau considers it necessary to do so, refer such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal established by section 20 of this Act in accordance with the provisions of sections 20 to 25 of this Act:

Provided that where the person concerned makes a written admission of such breach or non-compliance, no reference to the Tribunal shall be necessary.

9. Charging the Chief Justice of Nigeria was wicked and deceitful and capable of igniting a breakdown of law and order or even civil war. The peoples of the Middle Belt, in any war between the North and the South, would bear the brunt of the crisis and will resist anyone who deliberately desires to set the nation on fire.

10. The National Judicial Council (NJC) had in different cases reprimanded judicial officers who acted in the manner Justice Tanko Mohammed acted by unconstitutionally presenting themselves to be sworn in where they should not have done so.
a. Under Justice Mariam Alooma-Muktar as Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Justice Peter Agumagu of the Rivers state judiciary was suspended indefinitely and eventually compulsorily retired for accepting to be sworn-in as Acting Chief Judge by Governor Rotimi Amaechi without the recommendation of the NJC.
b. Justice Theresa Uzokwe of Abia state judiciary was suspended as Chief Judge and Justice Obisike Orji was sworn in to act in her place by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. The National Judicial Council with Justice Tanko Mohammed in attendance, reversed the action as unconstitutional and suspended Justice Obisike Orji for presenting himself to be sworn- in as Acting Chief Judge without reference to the NJC.

11. On the basis of the above, we the peoples of the 14 (Fourteen) States of the Middle Belt hereby declare as follows:
1. We the peoples of the Middle Belt region, as true Nigerians, believe in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, therefore, any person or group of persons who breach the Constitution or act in such a manner that will jeopardize the corporate existence of Nigeria and precipitate a humanitarian crisis of international dimension is an enemy of the Middle Belt and indeed of the Nigeria people.
2. That we cannot trust the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR to be fair and just in carrying out his functions as the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. His conduct is capable of setting this country on the path of anarchy and avoidable civil war.
3. We call on the President, having blatantly breached the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which he swore to uphold and his Oath of Office to immediately resign. In the event of his refusal to do so, we call on all the peoples of the Middle Belt and all our allies to reject him at the polls.
4. We call on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to immediately remove Justice Tanko Mohammed from office for presenting himself to be sworn-in unconstitutionally as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria when he was never recommended by the NJC.
5. We call on the international community to be proactive and prevent a descent into international humanitarian crises that may be occasioned by the disdain and contempt of the President for Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law.
Thank you.

God bless the peoples of the Middle Belt!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Dr. Pogu Bitrus
President

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