Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has once again criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for suspending Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, describing the decision as a “pattern of executive lawlessness.”
Atiku stated this at a world press conference, which he addressed at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja on Monday.
President Buhari cited an order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), asking that the CJN be suspended pending the determination of his (Onnoghen) trial for a six-count criminal charge of alleged false declaration of assets.
According to the former vice president, the actions of President Buhari towards the judiciary is an indication that the country is gradually sliding back into the era of military dictatorship.
“I need to state that this latest action by General Muhammadu Buhari falls squarely within the pattern of executive lawlessness that has now been firmly turned into statecraft by the APC government.
“The serial disregard of court orders, and consequent violation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights of our citizens confirms beyond all doubt that General Buhari and his government would rather obey their own whims and operate by separate rules outside the well-established constitutional order and the rule of law.
“It scarcely requires emphasis that this behaviour is alien to democratic rule and more in line with that of a military dictator,” he said.
Atiku noted that while the fight against corruption “is crucial to good governance”, the process of investigation must follow the laid down dictates of the law.
The PDP presidential candidate stated that a situation whereby the procedures set by the country’s constitution is relegated for any other measures is tantamount to tyranny.
“As the last refuge of the common man, our judiciary must not only be above suspicion but must also be seen to be manifestly above board.
“The issue at stake is not whether the Chief Justice is guilty or not, but whether his removal from office has been done in accordance with the process specified in our constitution.
“As a Democrat, I must say, without equivocation, that no mission or goal, no matter how noble or well-intended, should be used as a pretext for the subversion of our democracy and our democratic institutions.
“To create a condition that allows the constitution and the rule of law to become secondary to any other agenda is to pave the way for tyranny,” Atiku said.
Claiming that the National Assembly, the legislative arm of government, has been attacked by the presidency, Atiku said President Buhari has, with the suspension of Justice Onnoghen, “set a new precedent in our democracy that has no equivalence in our history, not even in the darkest days of military dictatorship.”
He warned President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) not to put the country on the path of a constitutional crisis, reminding them that they are currently enjoying the legacy of a credible election.
Atiku said: “At this juncture, I must warn the APC government to desist from taking actions that may push us further down the slippery slope towards a major constitutional crisis that could derail the electoral process.
“General Muhammadu Buhari must remember that he is a beneficiary of a free and fair election. It is, therefore, a matter of honour for him to allow a political environment and process that gives confidence to everyone.”
He commended Nigerians and members of the international community who criticised the decision of the president, saying that the act, “which constitutes a flagrant breach of our constitution”, will determine the fate of our democracy.