By Eseoghene Emuke
The Pan Niger Delta Forum has called on President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to immediately stop trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged failure by the CJN to declare his assets.
PANDEF also warned that the Buhari-led government would be setting bad precedence in the nation’s democracy for it constant harassment and intimidation of the judicial arm of government in the country.
The forum, which is the umbrella body for Niger Delta leaders from the various ethnic nationalities in the region, made it position known on Sunday in a statement signed by its National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade.
The region’s leaders in the statement condemned in the strongest terms the move by the present administration to force the nation’s number judge out of office without recourse to due process of law.
It said, “PANDEF considers the planned hasty arraignment of Justice Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, as a very dangerous precedence in our democratic experience.
“This development coming barely one month to the general elections, clearly gives the impression that it is politically motivated, and is aimed at undermining and emasculating the nation’s judiciary for political advantage.
“PANDEF further considers it part of the unfair treatment, unnecessary persecution and discrimination being meted against persons from the South-South geopolitical zone and the Niger Delta region by the President Muhammad Buhari led federal government, since its inception in 2015.
“We wish to recall that President MuhammaduBuhari had overtly demonstrated reluctance in appointing Justice Walter Onneghen as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria by delaying the forwarding of his name to the Senate for confirmation, following his recommendation for the position by the National Judiciary Commission (NJC), being the most senior member of the apex bench at the time.
“It was only after an avalanche of condemnation of the delay by leaders of the South-South/Niger Delta region, and other patriotic Nigerians, including some federal lawmakers that Vice President, Prof. YemiOsibanjo, then acting President, transmitted his name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
The statement described as sad and accused the Buhari-led government of continued show of great aversion to the people of the South-South and the Niger Delta region.
It recalled that “Mr. Matthew Seiyefa was appointed in acting capacity as Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS), being the most senior officer in the Service, following the sack of Lawal Duara, the former DG-DSS by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was acting President at the time, over the disgraceful siege at the National Assembly in July last year.
“Unsurprisingly, President MuhamnaduBuhari refused to confirm Matthew Seiyefa, an indigene of Bayelsa State, as substantive DG. But instead Mr. President replaced him with a retired officer from Kano State, less than a month of his return from vacation.
“It worthy of recalling also that the federal government sent armed security personnel to violently disrupt the meeting of Niger Delta elders and leaders which was organized under the aegis of PANDEF in Portharcourt in October 25 – 26, 2017. This meeting was a follow up to an earlier meeting we had with Vice President at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, on August 3, 2017. Up till date, neither the DSS, the Police, nor the Federal Government has provided any explanation on why it took that action against PANDEF.
“It was therefore, not surprising that police men were sent to invade the Abuja home of our National leader, Chief Edwin Clark, with a search warrant under the allegation of stockpiling of arms and ammunition from the Niger Delta. Although, the Deputy Inspector General of Police in Charge of operations led senior officers of the force including AIG (legal services), Commissioner of Police, FCT to apologize on behalf of IG and the Force, it remains to be controverted that this raid was a premeditated attempt to embarrass leaders of the region for speaking their minds on National issues.”
“In a similar vein, His Excellency, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (Rtd) has also been undergone incessant harassment by the police for some time now. First, it was an unwarranted summon by the Inspector-General of Police over President Buhari’s Campaign posters that were purportedly destroyed by some hoodlums in AkwaIbom State. Second, it was an invasion of his neighbourhood in his country home in Akwa Ibom State by the Police in company of some APC thugs led by a former two-term member of House of Representatives. This man had earlier personally inflicted match cuts on Elder Amanam Nkanga, younger brother of Air Commodore Nkanga, for daring to challenge them.”
PANDEF explained that in the case of Justice Onnoghen, the only crime he had committed is he hails from the South-South region, and as such, going into the general elections, he could not be trusted to remain the Chief Justice of Nigeria by the highly prejudiced administration.
According to them, “This is not just an attempt to cow the judiciary; it is an onslaught on our hard earned democracy. It smirks a dangerous precedence, and must be resisted by all well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians. This also brings to mind the invasion of the National Assembly by hooded security operatives of the DSS last year that caused the nation untold embarrassment before the rest of the world.
“This latest action clearly shows that the Buhari-led APC government is desperate to win the elections at all cost. We therefore appeal to Mr. President Buhari and the APC to note that elections shouldn’t be a matter “win at all cost”.
“Mr. President should in the overall interest of country, emulate the sterling example bequeathed to him by his predecessor, our kinsman, Dr.GoodluckEbele Jonathan, who conducted a free and fair election in which he conceded defeat even before final results were announced.
“We implore desperate politicians and those advicingMr. President on this matter to exercise restrain as it is capable of throwing the country into needless crisis. As much we agree that nobody is above the law, we urge President MuhammauBuhari to have respect for the rule of law and the nation’s Constitutin, which he sworn to uphold.”
The statement also called on the International Community to urgently intervene in the despotic actions and affront to democracy in Nigeria by the Buhari-led administration so as to save the country from a looming danger ahead of the elections.