Falana, Ozekhome, Abaribe, disagree over Onnoghen’s removal

Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr Femi Falana (SAN) on Tuesday disagreed over lawyers’ response to the removal of immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen (rtd).

The Senior Advocates who both spoke during the ongoing Rule of Law Session of the 5th Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference (AGC) at the Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos.

Ozekhome, who was in the audience, berated lawyers for not doing more to protest Onnoghen’s prosecution and conviction.

According to him, they could have taken to the streets the way lawyers in Pakistan did when former President Pervez Musharaf “unconstitutionally” removed the country’s Chief Justice.

“Is there anything wrong with lawyers – since members of the Bench are defamed and they cannot protest by themselves – (adopting) the kind of role we saw lawyers did on 9th of March 2007, when they went on the streets in Pakistan and shut down the entire country because President Pervez Musharaf removed unjustly and unconstitutionally Mohammed Musharaf, the late Chief Justice. Can’t we do more than we have done?” The Senior lawyer opined.

Ozekhome was however countered by Falana, who reminded him that the Pakistani CJ was not unlawfully removed under a cloud of unexplained wealth, just like Onnoghen.

Falana said: “In Pakistan, the Chief Justice then was not removed for corruption. Can the NBA morally go to the streets to fight for judges who have millions that they cannot account for?”

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who was one of the panelists at the NBA session, suggested that the NBA failed Onnoghen.

The lawmaker said: “I’m going to pose just one question to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the basis of some, I would say, facts.

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“One, you cannot be a judge without being a lawyer. Am I correct? You cannot be an Attorney-General without also being a lawyer.

“What that means is simple, this group of learned people, you are the only ones that have one arm of government and a critical arm of the executive, so, you have the judiciary as one arm, then you have the ministry of justice which is also peopled by lawyers, whether at the state or at the federal level.

“The question we ask, with due apologies to Wole Soyinka is, the Bar Association: Tiger, where is your tigritude?”

Explaining the reason for his question, he said: “We find the Bar Association blowing very muted trumpets when the judiciary is under pressure and I can say that in the matter of Onnoghen, what happened? We waited for the Bar Association, (but) nothing happened. We waited for the Attorney-General’s office, nothing happened. And everybody was looking at us (Senators).

“What we were waiting for, the law is very clear: you cannot remove a Chief Justice without coming to the Senate. Yet, it happened, and nothing happened,” Abaribe said.

The session, was attended thousands of lawyers including NBA President Paul Usoro SAN and other NBA exco members, featured Justice Obande Ogbuinya of the Court of Appeal, International Bar Association (IBA) President, Horacio Neto; Mr Stephen Craig QC of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales among others, as panellists.

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