FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Members of the press, the report below was sent to both members of congress yesterday.
– Congress urged to send high-powered election observer delegation
– Congress apprised of serial repression by Nigeria of critics, opponents and justices
House Foreign Affairs Africa & Global Human Rights Subcommittee
Pre-election Assessment Report 1: Systematic Efforts to Denigrate the Judiciary, Rule of Law and Elections in Nigeria by the Gen. Buhari Administration Weeks to Polls
Dear Honorable Reps,
I write to draw your urgent attention to sustained assault on the judiciary and hostile takeover and attempted acquisition of the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by the government of Gen Buhari which occurred during my recent visit to Nigeria.
A. SYSTEMATIC AND SUSTAINED SUBVERSION OF THE RULE OF LAW BY ABUSE OF JUDGES
The President Buhari administration has assaulted the judiciary and eroded the rule of law on a multiplicity of levels too numerous to elaborate.
On Friday January 25th, the Gen. Buhari removed a constitutionally appointed head of a co-equal arm of government (the Chief Justice) unconstitutionally and then appointed a new head of the judiciary unconstitutionally usurping both the statutory and constitutional functions of the National Judicial Council and the Senate.
Below are the details of the self-incriminating and deeply indicting recent statements by the president himself admitting to his crass manipulation of the judiciary:
“It is no secret that this government is dissatisfied with the alarming rate in which the Supreme Court of Nigeria under the oversight of Justice Walter Onnoghen has serially set free, persons accused of the most dire acts of corruption, often on mere technicalities, and after quite a number of them have been convicted by the trial and appellate courts. Since there is nothing the Executive Arm can do after the apex court of the land has spoken on any matter, several of these individuals walk free among us today, enjoying what are clearly the proceeds of the corruption which for so long has defeated the efforts of this nation to develop and prosper.” – Buhari January 2019 (on punishing the CJN for not ruling the way he wants.)
Permit me another exhibit:
“Don’t talk even of the US Ambassador (Justice Nsofor.) That one he wrote a minority judgement on my behalf so I paid him back (laughs)”. – Buhari (on rewarding a judge for ruling the way he wants.)
The sum total of these two confessions made last month are that President Buhari is a vindictive, authoritarian autocrat who punishes judges who do not do his bidding and rewards those who do. His hatred for Chief Justice Onnoghen is predicated on this fact which is “no secret” and not really about asset declaration. Since he is “dissatisfied” and “there’s nothing the executive arm can do” he has done the worst which is to get rid of the “problem” Justice. Gen Buhari himself has established his clear personal animus against Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on the basis of his professional duties as a judge. This fact is overwhelming established.
Chief Justice Onnoghen has only been Chief Justice for less than 2 years. A review of that time frame shows that the only notable such case he handled was the senate president’s on asset breaches. On appeal, Justice Onnoghen upheld the government’s position that the tribunal was duly constituted and remanded the senate president down for trial. President Buhari clearly was not upset at this ruling which favored him against his political opponent.
However when the matter came back on appeal subsequently, the Supreme Court ultimately resolved issues in favor of the senate president. This obviously drew the ire of President Buhari for which now Justice Onnoghen is paying the price by his own admission.
The question then arises, is the punishment and rewards of judges system based on their rulings as espoused by Gen Buhari not itself the very essence of corruption?
Do these actions not only amount to manipulation and interference with the judiciary but as a dire warning to intimidate judges to vote pro regime?
The swearing in of a new Chief judge by Gen Buhari and his swearing in of 250 election tribunal judges within 24 hours is troubling in this regard as it sends a message to the judges that those who rule for Buhari will be favored and those who don’t will be persecuted.
2. BRAZEN FORGERY & ABUSE OF COURT PROCESS BY EXECUTION OF FAKE JUDGMENT
The Buhari administration perpetrated a hoax on the nation and democracy by executing a fake judgment to wit:
– The president executed the judgment of a court that did not sit;
– enforcing a prayer on a motion never moved;
– implementing a relief of suspension that was never ordered
– on a party who was never served said order.
As a reminder, the court orders that truncated the June 12, 1993 elections and precipitated a prolonged national crisis were actually obtained in court sittings. General Buhari’s so-called Tribunal order is even worse as there was no known sitting but mere fabrication by a “ghost court” session which is alien to our jurisprudence and jurisdiction.
Nothing can be based on such an obvious fraud and everyone involved by commission or omission, complicity or complacency, aiding and abetting, before and after the fact must be held to account. If Gen. Buhari is allowed to procure a fake judgment to justify his manifestly unlawful acts, rigging the elections will be a walkover for him.
In view of previous reports from justices that they were approached by a serving minister and principal campaign promoter of Gen Buhari that he had sent him to ask the Supreme Court to rule in favor of APC in several Gubernatorial matters whereupon the recalcitrant justices were then arrested in 2016, we alert the international community of Gen Buhari’s persistent and sustained onslaught on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
The electoral intent is clear – that procuring the judiciary is the regime’s insurance policy for failing to secure the elections.
3. FRAMING & FRAUDULENT CHARGES AGAINST OPPONENTS
Following the visit of top presidential challenger Atiku Abubakar to the US recently, we are deeply concerned that the Nigerian Government declared its intention to interrogate him upon his return on trumped up charges.
We had previously condemned the Buhari regime’s campaign to criminalize Mr Atiku vicariously via the US legal system and the weaponization of his visa process.
Following the disastrous failure of this international campaign of calumny, the FGN framed up charges overnight against the former VP faster than they did the current CJN. FGN’s agents framed Chief Justice Onnoghen in 72 hours from Wed-Friday. VP Atiku was framed in 24 hours – from the moment he set foot in US on Thursday to the announcement of the “crimes” on Friday January 18.
For the avoidance of doubt, we restate as we have done previously that a US congressman was jailed for collecting a bribe but that it was never proven that Mr Atiku solicited for same. Indeed the conviction of the congressman in question was subsequently over turned on appeal in 2017.
Further to this, it does not make sense that if Mr Atiku was wanted in the US for prosecution, the US would deny him a visa to come to the jurisdiction where he was “wanted.”
In the US, the government cannot go after the opposition or critics willynilly. Indeed here, the authorities will and have investigated sitting presidents who abuse their offices. Buhari and co will do well to learn that.
We are especially alarmed that the Buhari regime announced the investigation against VP Atiku when he was in US visiting your good offices in Congress. We are alarmed that the government of Nigeria continues to flagrantly disregard all entreaties to stop harassing critics and opponents.
Indeed in your recent resolution it was “Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress—
(B) condemn in the strongest terms the use of speech that incites violence, and refrain from any rhetoric or action that seeks to de-monize or delegitimize opponents, sow division among Nigerians, or otherwise inflame tensions; (C) seek to resolve any disputes over results peacefully, including through the legal sys-
tem as necessary; and
(D) respect the impartiality of the Inde-
pendent National Electoral Commission”.
We respectfully submit that the actions of the Buhari regime seek to “demonize and delegitimize opponents (namely Atiku) sow division among Nigerians, or otherwise inflame tensions (namely the controversial removal of Chief Justice Onnoghen, contrary to B above.
We note that Ranking Member Smith said, “Reports of President Muhamadu Buhari’s apparent crackdown on non-violent protests and harassment of opposition leaders are extremely concerning,…The violence must be stopped, along with any subversion of the electoral process.”
It is clear that the subversion of the Chief Justice and the constitution is also a subversion of the electoral process because of the significant role of the judiciary in electoral review in Nigeria.
It is equally apparent that the Buhari regime has chosen to continue repression of critics despite your committee’s drawing attention to same in the last Nigeria hearing. During the hearing on Nigeria entitled, “Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Elections” held on December 13, 2018, Representative Chris Smith cited reports in the Vanguard and Premium Times pertaining to reported freezing of Gov Peter Obi’s bank accounts as well as a raid on VP Atiku’s sons.
Specifically Rep Smith informed the top diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador Tobir Nagy that the sub committee was in possession of a memo by the Nigerian embassy targeting a human rights lawyer (myself) for testifying before them. Concerned at the apparent repression of “opponents” of the Buhari regime, the Chairman asked the representative of the Trump administration whether the US government was engaged with Nigeria on these violations of citizens’ rights just for holding “contrary” views.
It is humbly submitted that the documents proving my persecution by the Government of Nigeria for testifying in Congress before your Subcommittee, the statements by GON against VP Atiku as he visited the US Congress and the statement by Gen Buhari justifying his removal of the Chief Justice for not ruling in his favor show an egregious and pernicious pattern of repression by his regime of human rights lawyers, political opponents and justices who won’t do his bidding.
- FOREIGN INFLUENCES FOR BUHARI
Finally we wish to raise concern over the influence of foreign officials to promote Gen Buhari’s reelection. While the Buhari regime bristled when queried by the US and others on the unconstitutionality of the CJN’s ouster about foreign interference, the neighboring country of Niger sent a delegation of 60 officials to Buhari’s campaign. As far back as 2011, we fact-finding missions found evidence of citizens of Niger being imported across borders to vote in Nigerian elections for Buhari. The overt material support from a foreign government is a glaring indicator of advanced plans to infiltrate Nigeria with foreign voters while bona fide Nigerian citizens abroad are denied the opportunity to vote.
We urge you therefore to:
- Constitute a Bipartisan Congressional Delegation for election monitoring in Nigeria
- Refer the repression of the regime to the State Department for targeted sanctions of those involved
I thank you for your kind attention.
Emmanuel Ogebe, ESQ
US NIGERIA LAW GROUP