Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has urged the Federal government to withdraw the six-count non-assets declaration charge preferred against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The association made the plea in a statement signed by its National President, Mr. Paul Usoro.
The statement prayed the Federal government to terminate further hearing of the matter at the tribunal and allow the National Judicial Council, NJC, to determine Justice Onnoghen’s fate.
Meanwhile, proceedings at the tribunal will resume on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, after its chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar-led three-member tribunal had on January 28, ordered the suspended CJN to ensure that he appeared before it today.
The NBA noted that “the chairman of the CCT, Hon. Danladi Umar, in his response to a petition that was written against him and which was forwarded to him by the Federal Judicial Service Commission, states emphatically that he and his tribunal are answerable and report only to the presidency, by law and practice. He is absolutely correct.
“An insistence, in the circumstance, on the CJN, the head of an independent arm of the FGN, standing trial before a tribunal that is under the presidency and is answerable only to the presidency mocks the concept of and completely erodes the independence of the judiciary and the constitutional separation that should exist between the three arms of the FGN.
“It is precisely for this reason that our Constitution created the NJC and we are pleased that the FGN has warmed up to the utilisation of that due process, as illustrated by the submission of the EFCC petition to the Council.
“Third, and complementary to the two points afore-stated is the fact that the spectacle of having our CJN, while still holding that title, in the dock before the CCT or any other court, truly diminishes all of us, not least the executive arm of the FGN.
“The NJC process allows an initial determination to be made on the petitions against the CJN and if His Lordship is found liable or wanting howsoever, appropriate sanctions would be imposed by the NJC including a recommendation for his dismissal or retirement.
“In that event, he would no longer hold the office or title of CJN and could be prosecuted for any criminal infraction before the CCT or any other court. An insistence on the CCT prosecution paints a picture of persecution of the CJN by the executive and such a spectacle in no way ennobles the FGN executive arm and/or its officials. Such a scenario should be avoided by all means. “Given these non-exhaustive considerations and facts, we press on the executive arm of the FGN to please discontinue the charge against the CJN when the matter comes up before the CCT on Wednesday, February 13, 2019.
“We respectfully urge full compliance with due process by FGN in this matter by allowing the NJC process to take its course in respect of the two petitions against the CJN – a step that has already, commendably, been embraced by FGN in respect of the EFCC petition,” the statement reads.