By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
The embattled Supreme Court Judge, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, will on March 21, know fate over his alleged false assets declaration charge against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Abuja.
The Chairman of the Tribunal, Umar Danladi, after taking the submissions of both parties, fixed the date to rule on the competence of the charge.
The federal government had last year slammed a 10-count charge against the Supreme Court justice on false assets declaration.
In a motion on notice filed on January 9, Justice Ngwuta, through his counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi SAN, asked the tribunal, to dismiss the 10-count criminal charge against him, citing section 158(1) of the 1999 constitution.
The counsel premised his prayer on the fact that as at the time the alleged offence was committed, he was a serving justice of the Supreme Court, hence a serving judicial officer according to section 318 of the constitution.
The defendant also submitted that according to section 158 of the constitution and paragraph 21 of the third schedule to the constitution, any complaint or allegation of misconduct against him must first be referred to the National Judicial Council (NJC) empowered by law to exercise disciplinary control over him.
He maintained that the allegations which brought about the criminal charges against him were never referred to the NJC as required by the constitution, hence, the charges are not competent in law.
Ngwuta cited the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Hon. Justice Nganjiwa versus Federal Republic of Nigeria where the appellate court held that no criminal investigation or prosecution can be initiated or instituted in any court of law or tribunal against a serving judicial officer for judicial misconduct without first presenting the allegation to the NJC and a determination made.
He, therefore, insisted that the charge was incompetent and that the tribunal lack jurisdiction to entertain it.
Opposing the motion, the Prosecution Counsel, Mr Abeni Mohammed, urged the tribunal to dismiss it in its entirety.
He argued that the claim of the judicial officer was misconceived by the defendant.
In addition, he maintained that Ngwuta was put on trial at the CCT as a public office holder and not as a judicial officer.
Further in his argument, Mohammed said that the finality of the Appeal Court decision relied upon by the defendant has not been tested at the Supreme Court.
“The Defendant is here as a public officer to face charges against him and not as a judicial officer. He is here as Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta and not as Hon. Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta. It is not derogatory, that is what the law says” the counsel argued. He, therefore, insisted that the decision of the appeal court on the judicial officers in relation to section 158 of the 1999 constitution was not application to the trial of the defendant because of peculiar circumstances and asked the tribunal to assume jurisdiction.
After taking the counsel’s submissions, Chairman of the tribunal fixed March 21, for ruling in the motion.