Prominent lawyers condemn arraignment of Justice Onnoghen as trial holds today

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Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen
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Condemnations have continued to trail an attempt by the Federal Government to arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) today, over alleged false declaration of assets.


According to media reports which was validated by statement of the CCT, a six-count charge bordering on the alleged offence has been filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) against Justice Onnoghen and that the CCT will commence the trial on Monday, January, 14th.

If the arraignment sails through, Justice Onnoghen will go down in history as the first Chief Justice of Nigeria to be arraigned in court.

Already, the action has received wide condemnation from the political class, the legal community and civil society organisations.


Reacting, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in a statement, condemned the Federal government’s action describing it as an assault, intimidation and desecration of the Judiciary, which it said, must stop.

In the statement signed by its president, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), the NBA warned government not to create an impression that “agencies of the Executive arm of the FGN are interested in destabilizing and laying prostrate the other arms of the Government and in the process eliminating and destroying any and all voices of dissent and checks and balances.

“That is not desirable for the democracy that we strive to build neither is it good for the image of the Government. We urge restraint on the part of Government and demand that the CCB follow due process in proceeding against the CJN by complying with Nganjiwa’s Judgment (supra) and other similar judicial precedents.


The statement reads in part: “This continuing attack on the justice sector must cease forthwith. FGN and its agencies must desist from debasing the rule of law.

In Nganjiwa v FRN (supra), the Court of Appeal made reference to Rule 3 of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of February 2016 (Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers)and held that the said Rule 3 makes provision in relation to fidelity to the Constitution and the Law.

“The provisions in regard to assets declaration as they apply to all public officers, including the CJN, are contained in both the Constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act 1991, the enabling law that establishes both the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the CCT. The fidelity which judicial officers therefore owe ‘to the Constitution and the Law’ pursuant to Rule 3 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers encompasses compliance with the provisions relating to assets declarations as contained in the Constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. “Any infraction in that regard by a judicial officer, as the Court of Appeal rightly held, constitutes a misconduct by the judicial officer and becomes the subject matter for discipline by the NJC as a condition precedent to any possible prosecution of the judicial officer by any of the FGN’s prosecuting agencies.


“Why has FGN decided to embark on this anomalous course of charging the CJN before the CCT without first presenting whatever facts it purportedly has against His Lordship to the NJC for its deliberation and determination?

The Petition that triggered the CCB action was on its face received by the Bureau on 09 January 2019 and the Charge was promptly drafted and is dated the following day, 10 January 2019 – giving the CCB a record 24 hours for completion of its investigation and the drafting of the said charge and ancillary processes.

“If one contemplates the fact that the CCT arraignment is scheduled to take place on January 14, 2019, we have in all, total record number of three working days between the receipt and processing of the petition, investigation, preparation of charge and ancillary processes and the arraignment.


“Such unprecedented speed and efficiency in Nigeria’s criminal justice administration is not acceptable.”

Also Senate President Bukola Saraki has advised the Executive Arm to ensure that its plans to put on trial the nation’s chief judicial officer, Justice Walter Onnoghen, does not cause chaos in the judicial system and that the due process is not compromised.

Saraki in a statement, noted that he believes that if the Government has genuine reason to put the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria on trial, it should ensure that every step in the process is transparent and the normal process as provided by the law is followed to the letter.

He said a situation where the petition which triggered the trial was submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) on Wednesday January 8 and by January 10 on Friday, the Chief Justice was presented with it for his reply only for the charges to be drafted that same day and filed in the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), all this taking place within three days and commencement of trial fixed for Monday, January 14, already indicate unnecessary haste and short-circuiting of the process of fair hearing.

Dogara
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, yesterday, has called for due process

in the charges filed against the Chief Justice of Nigeria( CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Dogara, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Turaki Hassan, said the House is awaiting further briefing from the relevant agencies on the issue.

However, the Speaker said it is imperative that due process is followed in the case against Onnoghen, because Nigeria is a country governed by laws and not dictates of men. He stated that while the House is equally zealous in the fight against corruption, to commence a case against the CJN with a media trial is not healthy for the polity at this material time.

PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) are plotting to kill democracy in Nigeria with the Plan to prosecute the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

The party, however, warned both Buhari and his party to desist from any action that could truncate the nation’s democracy.

The National Vice Chairman (South West) of the party, Dr Eddy Olafeso in a statement issued by the zonal publicity Secretary of the party, Mr Ayo Fadaka said the PDP was disturbed by the actions of Buhari ahead of the next general elections.

Olafeso said “we take due cognizance of the plan to prosecute the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over an alleged curious infraction, we also note that the arrowhead of the petition is a one-time aide of President Mohammed Buhari.

APC
The All Progressives Congress (APC), has accused the Peoples DemocraticParty (PDP), of being sympathetic to corruption over the move to prosecute Justice Onnoghen, over an alleged infraction on the Code of Conduct laws.

In a statement signed by the APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, chided the opposition party to condemn the purported move, noting that PDP has again exposed the party as one with a natural inclination to rise up in defence of cases of alleged corruption.

Falana
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has called for the withdrawal of the charges against Justice Onnoghen.

“The charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen ought not to have been instituted at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in view of the case of Nganjiwa Vs FRN (2017) LPELR 43391 wherein the Court of Appeal held that a judicial officer who has not been investigated by the National Judicial Council and sanctioned for misconduct cannot be arraigned in any criminal court in Nigeria.

Ozekhome
In his reaction, a Constitutional lawyer and human activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) ‎said it was an onslaught, an attempt by the Federal government to intimidate the Judiciary.

“A strong judiciary is one of the irreducible fundamental platforms for any meaningful constitutional democracy.

“If you terrorise, intimidate, harass and humiliate the judiciary, using strong hand and brute force, it is a stage set for bidding democracy farewell.

“The president Buhari government has been very intolerant of any credible dissenting voice in the country. From the crude break in and invasion of judges houses in October 2018, by masked DSS operatives, to the horrific siege laid on the NASS and the residences of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and his Deputy, Dr Ike Ekweremadu, it is clear that this government, which protects its own members, however corrupt and despicable, has blown into full maximum dictatorship, totalitarianism and absolutism. Nigerians must say no to fascism.”

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