By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has asked the Federal Government to discontinue forthwith, the prosecution of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
NBA, which is the umbrella body of lawyers in the country, in a statement signed by its National President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, last night, maintained that the six-count charge against Onnoghen was a calculated effort by the executive arm of government to push him out of office.
It warned President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to follow the due process of the law to pursue the agenda.
The statement read: “Having become obvious that the immediate goal of the executive is to remove the CJN from office, we urge the government to follow due process in attaining that goal.
“Due process is not followed when the executive branch of the FGN files an interlocutory motion before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the removal of the CJN.
“Such an application disparages, and assaults due process as enshrined in Section 292(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)
“The said Section is very explicit on the due process for the CJN’s removal when it stipulates as follows: S.292(1)(a)(i), “A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances, in the case of Chief Justice of Nigeria by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.”
“The Constitution leaves no room howsoever for the removal of the CJN from office, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, other than through the process afore-quoted.
“Being a country governed by laws, the FGN owes us a duty to comply Strictly with these provisions of the Constitution for the removal of the CJN. We, therefore, urge the executive branch of the Federal Government to please retrace its steps and discontinue the entire proceedings before the CCT forthwith and follow the constitutional procedure afore-stipulated.”
The NBA further re-affirmed its earlier position that the CJN could not be tried at the CCT without recourse to the National Judicial Council, NJC.
“For as long as the CJN remains a judicial officer, that process avails him and is mandatory of compliance by the FGN.
“Should the Federal Government, however, succeed in removing Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S N Onnoghen, GCON as the CJN pursuant to the provisions of Section 292(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution, there would be no need or requirement for the FGN to fulfill the NJC pre-condition ahead of his possible prosecution.
“With such a constitutional removal from office, Onnoghen CJN would cease to be a judicial officer and the allegations against him would not need to be determined by the NJC ahead of any possible prosecution.
“The choice is therefore that of FGN to make – either to pursue the removal of the CJN pursuant to Section 292(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution or report the alleged assets declaration infraction to the NJC for its consideration as a pre-condition for the possible prosecution of the CJN.
“Whichever route the FGN chooses, the CCT proceedings must abate and be discontinued. It constitutes an assault on due process and undermines the Rule of Law. The sponsored media trial of the CJN must also cease.
“Among others, it criminally destroys the justice sector, subverts due process and completely erodes the Rule of Law. This desecration of the justice sector must stop now, please,” the NBA stated.