By Ese Awhotu and Umar Muhammad Puma
As the Chief Justice of the Federation, Honorable Justice Walter S N Onnoghen, faces trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal today, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, has called for caution in the charges filed against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Walter Onnoghen by the Federal Government.
This is just as the Nigerian Bar Association and some prominent Nigerian lawyers have kicked against government’s action.
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) had filed criminal charges against Justice Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged failure to declare his assets, as well as operating a domiciliary account.
The CCT is to commence his trial today.
In a statement issued yesterday, Dogara said that while the House awaits further briefing from relevant agencies, it is, nevertheless, important that due process is followed because Nigeria is a country governed by laws and not dictates of men.
He noted that the House is not less zealous in the fight against corruption, but said to commence a matter of that grave magnitude with a media trial is pregnant with innuendos least needed by the polity at this sensitive time.
“Nigeria is a country governed by laws with clearly spelt out procedures and processes for their activation, and not the dictates of men. It is important that people in authority should exercise power with decorum and not plunge the nation to needless crises, as Nigeria is not a banana republic.
“This is a matter that affects another arm of government and its head, which should be treated with caution; so as not to send the wrong signal that there is a political undertone or other ulterior motives to the issue.
“As we raised our voice when the National Assembly was invaded by hooded security men last year, it is incumbent on us, as the legislature, to voice our concerns because we operate under system where three arms of government are co – equal branches and enjoy a measure of independence guaranteed by the Constitution.
“As we approach the general elections, it is incumbent on the prosecutorial authorities to exercise caution and treat matters of this nature with utmost circumspection.”
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, had also lambasted the Federal Government, yesterday, saying that the trial of Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S N Onnoghen, GCON (CJN) is an assault on the Judiciary.
According to the NBA, the media trial of the embattled chief justice does not follow the rule of law, hence should be stopped.
The NBA, amongst other things, decried the speed at which the case is being handled, claiming that all due protocols have been intentionally left unobserved.
“We have in total a record number of 3 (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!
“It is clear, given the rush with which this matter was conducted by the CCB, that the NJC was not privy to it and did not conduct its mandatorily required disciplinary processes prior to the filing of the Charge before the CCT,” the NBA said.
The NBA said that it “Unequivocally condemns this assault, intimidation, and desecration of the Judiciary by FGN agencies and demands that it be stopped immediately.”
Equally, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, yesterday called on the Federal Government to withdraw the charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Falana faulted the move by the government to press charges against the
CJN in a statement on Sunday.
Falana asked the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to withdraw the charges against the CJN, arguing that “The charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, ought not to have been instituted at the Code of
Conduct of Tribunal in view of the case of Nganjiwa v 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.’
Falana maintained that “As all authorities are bound by the Court of Appeal verdict, the case should be withdrawn by the Attorney-General of the Federation without any delay; because it is likely to be a prosecutorial misadventure.”
The CCT had said it would commence the trial of Justice Onnoghen on Monday, January 14, on six charges.
It explained that the charges were filed before it by the CCB, based on a petition signed by the Executive Secretary of the anti-corruption research data-based initiative, Dennis Aghanya.
Similarly, a prominent legal practitioner and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afe Babalola, has criticized the Federal Government for the planned arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
In a statement personally signed by him on Sunday, the senior lawyer said the government has no justification for its decision to arraign the CJN before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
He stated that the Constitution clearly provided for the procedure with which the Chief Justice of Nigeria can be removed from office.
He also condemned the application seeking an order directing Justice Onnoghen to excuse himself from office pending the conclusion of the trial.
Unlike other judicial officers, Mr. Babalola stressed that the CJN can only be removed by the President, upon receipt of an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.