Attack on judiciary could end Nigeria's democracy, CJN warns

Posted by Ernest Chinwo, Port Harcourt, Damilola Oyedele and Alex Enumah, Abuja | 15 May 2018 | 2,649 times

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•Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has condemned the recent attack by armed hoodlums on a High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, warning that the act, if not checked, could endanger the nation’s democracy.

Onnoghen also called on the public to condemn the act and preserve the judiciary, which he said remains the last hope of the citizens.

His condemnation came just as the River State House of Assembly resolved to write to the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth of Nations to save the people of the state from the hands of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government.

The reactions came after the attack and closure of the High Court complex last Friday by armed thugs believed to be members of a faction of the Rivers APC while the police looked on.

The thugs were alleged to have attacked the High Court to stop it from making a pronouncement on a suit filed by another faction of the APC led by Senator Magnus Abe, which sought to stop the APC local government congresses in the state.

Despite the attack on the court premises, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of the High Court granted an interlocutory injunction stopping the APC from going ahead with the local government congresses, but the faction led by former Rivers State governor and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, ignored the order of the court and went ahead with the congresses last Saturday.

Speaking on the attack on the High Court yesterday, the CJN, in a statement by his media aide, Awassam Bassey, described the attack as disturbing.

He wondered if such level of violence could be unleashed on the judiciary over intra-party elections, what would happen during the 2019 general election.

The statement read: The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, has been informed of an attack on the Port Harcourt High Court complex on Friday, 11th May, 2018.

“According to the reports, this attack took place as judges, magistrates, staff and lawyers reported for duty at the said Rivers State High Court complex in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

“Judicial and non-judicial staff were denied access to the complex as all the gates had been padlocked and the buildings surrounded by hoodlums.

“These hoodlums, who were said to be heavily armed, reportedly inflicted bodily harm to judicial officers and other staff of the judiciary going about their lawful duties and destroyed some properties belonging to the judiciary.

“This action was aimed at stopping the court from sitting and delivering a ruling in an intra-party dispute of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in respect of the local government congresses of the party in the state.

“This latest act of intimidation of the judiciary and the unwarranted violence against a peaceful institution of an arm of government is quite disturbing. More importantly, such show of shame ought not to be encouraged by right-thinking members of the Nigerian public.

“If the enemies of our peace and democracy succeed or get away with what occurred at the High Court in Port Harcourt, it would be a source of encouragement to them to do same to the Court of Appeal, and ultimately, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, whenever any one of them perceives that a judgment may be delivered against any of them or the interests they represent.

“The judiciary remains the last hope of man, and our judges and judicial officers are called upon to remain true to their oath of office. They must remain focused, resolute, and courageous, regardless of the effort at intimidating them.

“The Nigerian public is urged to continue to have faith in the judiciary of the nation. Any person with a legitimate complaint against another person, organisation or institution is advised to employ the civilized and legal mode of redress as contained and guaranteed by our Constitution.

“Whoever is dissatisfied with the outcome of decisions of our courts of law has the right of appeal as constitutionally guaranteed. The judiciary will never fail in its duties.

“Violence, the type visited on the judiciary of Rivers State, is alien to any civilized society and therefore condemnable.

“The Hon. CJN, therefore, strongly condemns this attack on the judiciary and notes with grave concern that this magnitude of violence could be visited on the judiciary during a ward/local government intra-party primary election, and wonders what the situation would be during the forthcoming general election in 2019?

“The chief justice, however, commends the security agencies for bringing the chaos under control, thereby allowing the judge to go ahead and deliver the ruling on the matter, but warns that attacks on the judiciary are a disaster that would end democracy in Nigeria as parties would resort to self-help in the absence of the judiciary or confidence in the judiciary as an arbiter.

“The CJN also seizes this opportunity to reiterate the commitment of the judiciary to the expeditious hearing of all political matters to avoid escalating political tension in the nation.

“The Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria finally advises judicial officers to go about their lawful duties without fear or favour.”

Also reacting to attack on the court premises, the Rivers State House of Assembly resolved to write to the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth to save the people of the state from the hands of the APC-led federal government.

At an emergency session yesterday, presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, the assembly said it had become necessary to write to the institutions for them to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the Rivers people “in the face of the premeditated assault by the APC federal government and her agents”.

The assembly also resolved to write to President Muhammadu Buhari with a view to calling him to take immediate action on what members described as the “evils being perpetrated against the Rivers people by his administration”.

The resolutions followed a motion moved by the Majority Leader and member representing Obio/Akpor State Constituency 1, Mr. Martins Amaehwule, under matters of urgent importance, condemning the attack and closure of the High Court complex on May 11.

The motion was seconded by the member representing Bonny State Constituency, Mr. Abiye Pepple.

Sixteen members voted in favour of the motion, while three voted against and another three members abstained from voting.

Moving the motion, Amaewhule drew the attention of members of the House to the incident when both uniformed and non-uniformed armed men attacked the High Court complex in a commando-style with sporadic gunshots, shutdown the complex by locking the entrance gates, destroyed government and private property and molested judicial officers, lawyers and litigants.

The Leader of the House, who stated that the cause of the crisis was the impending ruling on a matter between two disputing factions of the APC, noted with sadness that no arrest had been made even when sponsored hoodlums were seen attacking people and destroying vehicles and infrastructure at the High Court complex in the presence of the APC-controlled Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS).

He observed that the safety of the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, could no longer be guaranteed as the federal government whose responsibility it is to control the police, has now delegated the power of control of the Rivers State Police Command and particularly FSARS to the leader of the Rivers APC.

In his contribution, Minority Leader, Mr. Benibo Anabrabra, regretted that members of his political party desecrated the temple of justice.

Deputy Speaker, Mr. Marshall Uwom, said it was expedient to defend the rule of law and democracy in the state.

The member, representing Ahoada East Constituency 2, Mr. Ehie Edison, while condemning the invasion, said acts of that nature must be met with sanctions, while the member representing Asari-Toru State Constituency 2, Mr. Emeni George, who described as sacrilegious, the desecration of the state temple of justice, urged the president to sack the Inspector General of Police for incompetence.

Majority Whip, Mr. Evans Bipi, said the attack on the state High Court complex was geared towards the 2019 elections and urged the House to also write to all embassies in Nigeria.

Ruling on the matter, the Speaker said the position of the House was to save the state from the illegal acts of the APC-led federal government.

He said the attack on the judiciary, which is the last hope of the common man, was a sad narrative for the state and her corporate existence.

The House of Assembly later moved to the state High Court where they inspected the damage done to the complex.

The Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Adama Iyayi-Laminkara, conducted the lawmakers round the complex.

Also weighing in on the crisis, Senator Magnus Abe whose faction had gone to court to stop the local government congresses in Rivers State, yesterday called on Buhari and other leaders of the APC to quickly intervene in the crises rocking the party in the state.

Abe, representing Rivers South-east Senatorial District, pointedly accused Amaechi of deliberately causing confusion in the party by displaying raw power, which he said was dividing the party.

Briefing Senate correspondents in Abuja, Abe said the recent ward congresses allegedly organised by the Amaechi faction of the party in the state, were in flagrant disregard of a court injunction, which had ordered their stoppage.

“APC has reached a point where it must take a decision either to live up to the core values of our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari and do the right thing or abandon our values and destroy our soul in order to please one man,” he said.

Speaking further, Abe recalled that a South-south caucus meeting was held in Amaechi’s Abuja home before the ward congresses were scheduled to begin, where it was agreed that certain steps should be taken by the leaders in the states to build confidence in the process

“The meeting was to include all tendencies in the party and for the modalities for the congresses to be discussed and agreed upon. It was also directed that the congress committee from Abuja should equally meet with all stakeholders on arrival and be briefed on the arrangements and agreements already reached in the state.

“None of this was done in Rivers State. Rather, a faction of the party led by the minister proceeded with the exercise in total disdain of the rights and privileges of other members.

“Party members who paid money to the party were blatantly disenfranchised. All protests and appeals fell on deaf ears after the purported failed exercise,” Abe said.

He further revealed that another South-south caucus meeting was called this time at the home of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and it was agreed that the rules were not followed in Rivers State and the exercise in the state was not acceptable.

The senator said the internal conflict resolution processes within the party were compromised at the altar of “individual power”.

He further accused the Amaechi faction of mobilising force to shut down the judiciary complex, to prevent the court from giving a ruling, an action which failed.

Despite being served the order of the court, he said the APC publicity secretary in Rivers State went on air to give legal reasons why the party would not obey the order of the court, Abe stated.

“This cannot be APC, this party cannot trade its soul to massage the ego of any individual. An order of the court is an order of the court. There must be a limit to which we can descend in obeisance to power.

“I respectfully call on our president not to surrender our nation to men without a conscience, this party must distance itself from the show of shame that is currently going on in Rivers State,” he said.

Abe also dispelled speculations that he was working with the state governor, Wike, to cause a crisis in the APC and destabilise the state chapter of the party.

Text (excluding headline) gleaned from This Day


Source: News Express

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