Onnoghen: Charges are Premature and Misdirected – Owonikoko, Adegboruwa, Others React

Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen

Onnoghen: Charges are Premature and Misdirected – Owonikoko, Adegboruwa, Others React

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, Ebun-Olu Adegburuwa and others, said: “Where did the disingenuous idea come from? Given the state of the law today, the charges are premature and misdirected.

Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen

“Nganjiwa v FRN is the last word on the due process to follow in properly seeking sanction against a serving judicial officer, who is amenable to the disciplinary and supervisory powers of the National Judicial Council.”

“Allegations of judicial misconduct must be initiated by recourse to NJC in the first instance. But in the case of heads of each of the three arms of government, eventual trial, which implicates their removal from office, is by a purely political decision of the Senate.”

“The rationale for reserving powers of removal of heads of each branch of government for a cause (that is by reason of misconduct in the discharge of their offices) is to ensure that such a weighty decision, which carries serious nationwide consequences (both predictable and the unintended), is carefully reflected upon by those elected representatives.”

Rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, on his part, said: “On January 13, the nation was informed of a pending six-count charge against Justice Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It is expected that the CJN will be arraigned on Monday, January 14. The basis of the charge is alleged failure by the CJN to declare his assets”

“By section 36 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, a citizen who is charged with a criminal offence must be taken to the appropriate forum with the requisite jurisdiction to try the offence, be it a court of law, a tribunal or such other quasi-judicial organ.”

“By section 153 (1) (i) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council, NJC, was established for the Federation of Nigeria. By Paragraph 20 (b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, the NJC shall ‘exercise disciplinary control over’ all judicial officers, including the CJN.”

“The NJC is the appropriate forum to first raise any matter against any judicial officer, including the CJN. Thus, the NJC has exclusive jurisdiction over all judicial officers, including the CJN.”

“By the decision of the Court of Appeal in Ngan-jiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria, no criminal charge can be laid against a judicial officer, including the CJN, in any court of law, without first filing such complaint before the NJC.”

“The Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, are both part and parcel of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and are bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v FRN.”

Also, Convener, Access to Justice, Mr. Joseph Otteh and lawyer, said: “This prosecution, for the records, is unprecedented. No Chief Justice of Nigeria, before now has been charged in a court of law for any offences. Chief Onnoghen is head of the Nigerian judiciary, and whenever a government moves against the head of a judiciary, if the lessons of history teach us something, it is often a red flag.”

“Without going into the merits of the alleged charges against the Chief Justice, Access to Justice is very concerned about the unnerving circumstances surrounding how the case was stringed together by the accusers and the motives of the government seen through its response to the complaints.”

There is extraordinary evidence of back-stage collusion between government and the protagonists of the complaints (evidenced, for example, by the unprecedented haste with which the Code of Conduct Bureau has acted on the petitions), and well-founded fears that the prosecution is politically- motivated and is targeting strategic influence over how an incumbent Chief Justice exercises the roles of that office in the up-coming elections.

“Everything about how this case was orchestrated and put forward smells foul – the alleged links between the petitioners and the President, the amount of personal information of the Chief Justice made available to the petitioners, the implacable haste with which the Code of Conduct Bureau acted on the petitions, giving no reasonable time to conduct credible forensic investigations into them – all point to one conclusion- the pursuit of an agenda to remove Chief Onnoghen from office, whether temporary or permanently in preparation for whatever may be the fall-outs from the 2019 elections, than to redress whatever infractions the Chief Justice may have allegedly committed. Apparently, that agenda has the backing of the echelons of power. The motive is corrupt from the word go and will pitch many of those who want to see a more transparent judiciary against the move. Overall, this prosecution will be cast as an invidious effort to undermine judicial independence and interfere with the adjudication of election cases, which, really, is what it appears to be more than anything else.”

Another lawyer, Mr. Israel Mbaebie, said “Constitutionally, any judicial officer accused of any criminal offence or gross misconduct may only be prosecuted after the said judicial officer had first been referred to the NJC which may (if an act of gross misconduct is established against such officer) then in turn recommend the arraignment of such erring officer.”

“It is therefore, a cocktail of the most bizarre and absurd to observe the present purported arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria without first referring his case to the National Judicial Council, NJC. This is indeed another fascist move by the Buhari led administration to ridicule the judiciary which he had demonstrated in more ways than one prior to this time.”

“Nigerians have not forgotten in a hurry how a few years ago, Buhari had invaded the homes of our serving justices of our superior courts in gestapo like manner in the middle of the night and bundled His Lordships as common criminals. Buhari is at it again.”

“Note that this is coming on the heels of the Presidential elections. The CJN is the only judicial officer constitutionally saddled with the powers to constitute Panel of Supreme Court justices to preside over a possible Presidential Election Panel to hear any possible election petition on the election results.”

“The present move is aimed at weakening the judiciary; remove the substantive CJN; appoint Buhari’s puppet as CJN who would in turn appoint other Buhari puppets to preside over the Presidential Election Petition Panel. Remember, Mr. President never supported/liked the emergence of the present CJN as he is not part of his cabal since he came from the South-South.”

“I foresee an implosion of the system should Mr. President rig the coming election and proceeds to manipulate the judicial process. If there’s any time that Nigerians and the international community need to speak out and speak up, that time is now.”

“Silence may not be golden any more. Buhari has tried this manipulation and weakening of the judiciary before and failed. He will still surely fail this time around.”

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