By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Amid alleged plot to arrest the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, a fresh suit has been lodged before the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking to restrain all the security agencies in the country from arresting him.
The Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, had last Friday, said it uncovered plans by the Federal Government to secure a bench warrant from the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, against the CJN who has a six-count criminal charge pending against him before the tribunal.
The CJN, who was accused of failing to declare his assets, as well as maintaining a domiciliary bank account, had last Monday, declined to appear before the tribunal which he argued lacked jurisdiction to try him.
Briefing newsmen, CUPP insisted that the bench warrant would enable the Federal Government to arrest Onnoghen to pave way for the appointment of Justice Tanko Muhammed who is the next most senior jurist on the Supreme Court bench.
“The plan on Tuesday to get Danladi Umar to issue a bench warrant against the CJN; the plan on Tuesday to get the Acting IGP to arrest the CJN and the plan on Tuesday to forcibly arraign the CJN, are solely aimed at forcing the CJN out of office, thus paving the way for a well-known pro-Buhari judge, Justice Tanko Mohammed, who is the deputy chairman of the NJC, to take over and do all their bidding,” the group alleged.
However, the Presidency had since debunked the allegation as fake news, with the media adviser to the President, Mr. Femi Adesina, saying the story is absolutely false as the Presidency is not in any way involved in plotting against or framing anybody.
He said: “While the Buhari administration is firmly committed to the fight against corruption, we want to assure the general public that government will always pursue its mission with the highest standards of fairness, and in strict conformity with the relevant laws.’’
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Meanwhile, in the fresh suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/42/2019, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Johnmary Jideobi, has asked the high court to restrain Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; Department of State Service, DSS, and Nigeria Police Force from moving against the CJN, pending the determination of all the legal issues surrounding his planned trial.
Also joined as the 1st to 5th defendants in the case are Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN; Code of Conduct Bureau; Chairman of CCT (Danladi Umar), the CJN himself and the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Besides, the plaintiff is praying the court to determine, among others, “Whether by the combined interpretation of Section 153(1)(i) paragraph 21(a) of the 3rd Schedule and Section 271 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the 4th Defendant [or indeed any other serving judicial officer] could be removed from office and or arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal or indeed any other Court of Law in Nigeria either by the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th , 8th and or any other prosecutorial agency in Nigeria when the 4th Defendant [or such other serving Judicial Officer] has not been investigated and dismissed by the 5th Defendant?
On the determination of the questions, he wants among other reliefs such as “An order of this Honourable Court quashing and setting aside [as being unconstitutional and of no legal force] the charges preferred against the 4th Defendant by the 2nd Defendant and the entire proceedings recorded before the 3rd Defendant as they relate to the 4th Defendant as same is a nullity.
“An order of perpetual injunction of this Honourable Court restraining the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th Defendants and or all other prosecutorial authorities and persons in Nigeria from further attempting to and or preferring any criminal charge against the 4th Defendant [or any other serving judicial officer] before any Court of Law or Tribunal in Nigeria when the 4th Defendant [or such other serving Judicial Officer] has not been investigated and dismissed by the 5th Defendant.
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“An order of this Honourable Court directing the 1st Defendant herein to immediately give effect to the decision of the Court in Nganjiwa vs. F.R.N. (2018) 4 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 1609) 301 as regards the circumstances of the 4th Defendant’s case failing which the Court to refer him to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee for disciplinary actions.”
In an affidavit of fact he deposed in support of the suit, the Plaintiff maintained that as a legal practitioner, he observed an urgent need for the court to speedily review and pronounce on the constitutionality or otherwise of actions the 2nd Defendant (CCB) took against the CJN, which he said are now threatening the foundation of democracy in Nigeria.
“That the actions of the 2nd Defendant being challenged is capable of subduing the Judiciary, infusing timidity into same and ridiculously reducing it to a mere appendage of the Executive branch of government.
“That the action of the 2nd Defendant that eventuated in the present suit is a grave affront on the sacred doctrine of separation of powers trenchantly consecrated in our Constitution.
“In the event the law loses its respect and becomes incapable of commanding obedience (which the action of the 2nd Defendant herein precipitates), our Judiciary will fall into odium and disuse thereby opening the floodgate of anarchy, large-scale impunity and erosion of fundamental human rights of citizens.
“The action of the 2nd Defendant being impugned herein is capable of putting the Nigerian democracy on a dangerous cliff and eroding the confidence of a common man in the hallowed institution of the Judiciary as his last hope.
“If the actions of the 2nd Defendant are not urgently reviewed, they are capable of emasculating, castrating and rendering our democracy impotent by the overbearing tendencies of the Executive which will hurt our Constitution beyond repair and at worst, uproot our democracy out of Nigeria, thereby enthroning anarchy, fascism and unbridled tyranny of the rankest specie.
“If our democracy crumbles, my business and only source of livelihood (which is the Legal Profession) will be eclipsed, the Courts will close down, citizens will have no place to get reliefs against executive impunity, lawlessness and high-handedness.
“There is extremely compelling urgency for this Honourable court to swiftly intervene to clear the cobwebs by making decisive and clear pronouncements as to the extent of the powers of all the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th Defendants as it relates to the disciplining of judicial officers in Nigeria.
“Time is of the essence of this application. The present suit is brought in the interest of the public, defence of the constitution, preservation of the rule of law and that of the ethics and the good image of the legal profession in Nigeria which are all under imminent threat of being eroded by the conduct of the Defendant being impugned and challenged by this suit”, he averred.
It will be recalled that the high court had on the strength of two other separate suits before it, in a ruling delivered by Justice Evelyn Maha, ordered FG to suspend every move to dock the CJN at the CCT on Tuesday as originally scheduled.