……gives FJSC nod to probe CCT Chairman, Umar
…..as Onnoghen files appeal to challenge suspension
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The National Judicial Council, NJC, on Tuesday, waded into the crisis rocking the judiciary, by directing the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to within seven working days, respond to corruption allegations against him.
NJC which is the organ of the judiciary responsible for the Appointment, Promotion and Discipline of Judicial Officers, also gave the Acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, the same number of days to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for submitting himself to be sworn-in by President Muhammadu Buhari as Onnoghen’s replacement.
The legal body took the decision at the end of an emergency meeting it held in Abuja over last Friday’s suspension of the CJN by President Buhari.
Specifically, the NJC, directed the suspended CJN to respond to a petition that was lodged against him by one Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civil Education.
It was learned that the petitioner is accusing Onnoghen of being in possession of funds and properties that are way beyond his legitimate earnings.
On the other hand, the Council, asked the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, to directed to two separate petitions that were entered against him by a group under the aegis of Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, as well as by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN.
Agbakoba had in his petition, urged the NJC to determine the propriety of Justice Muhammad, accepting to be sworn-in by the President in place of the suspended CJN, despite being aware of the implication of his conduct.
According to Agbakoba, by submitting himself to the President to be sworn-in as acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, lent himself to constitutional infraction by the executive arm of government.
He recalled that Justice Muhammad was a member of the panel that sanctioned Justice Obisike Orji of Abia State for allowing himself to be sworn-in as Abia State Chief Judge by the state’s governor, without recourse to the NJC.
Consequently, Agbakoba, accused the Acting CJN of engaging in an act of judicial misconduct.
Meantime, the NJC, in a statement that was signed by its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said would forward another petition that was filed against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, Mr. Danladi Umar, to the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC.
The CCT Chairman had on January 23, issued the ex-parte order President Buhari relied upon to suspend Onnoghen and swore in Muhamadu who is the most senior jurist of the Supreme Court, to replace him.
A group under the platform of Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, had urged the NJC to sanction the CCT boss for engaging in “reckless abuse” of his judicial powers.
However, the Council, said the FJSC was the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with issues the petitioner raised against the CCT Chairman.
Already, the NJC, said it has furnished both Onnoghen and Muhammad with copies of the petitions against them, adding that it abridged their response time to 7 days, owing to the “gravity of the matters involved”.
Besides, though every serving CJN is statutorily empowered to preside over activities of the NJC, however, the Council, before its meeting, asked both Onnoghen and Muhammad to recuse themselves.
In their stead, the former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, was elected to act as the Interim Chairman of the NJC, pending the resolution of the crisis.
The Council said it would reconvene its sitting on February 11.
The statement, read: “The National Judicial Council held an Emergency Meeting today and considered four (4) petitions filed at its Secretariat.
“The petitions are: Petition against Hon. Mr. Justice W.S.N. Onnoghen, GCON by Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civil Education; Petition against Hon. Mr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative; Petition against Hon. Mr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR by Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, OON; and
Petition against Hon. Danladi Yakubu Umar, Chairman, Code of Conduct Tribunal by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
“Council referred the petition against Hon. Danladi Yakubu Umar to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) which is the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with it.
“In line with its procedure, Council also forwarded the petitions against Hon. Justices W.S.N. Onnoghen, GCON and I. T. Muhammad, CFR to them for their responses.
“In view of the gravity of the matters involved, Council abridged the usual response period from fourteen (14) to seven (7) working days for the Hon. Justices to respond.
“Hon. Mr. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON and Hon. Mr. Justice I.T. Muhammad, CFR recused themselves from the meeting.
“Consequently, Council elected Hon. Mr. Justice Umaru Abdullahi, CON, former President of the Court of Appeal as Interim Chairman to preside over the meeting.
Council will reconvene on the 11th February, 2019”.
Meantime, Justice Onnoghen, has gone before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal to challenge the ex-parte order the CCT issued for his suspension.
In the four grounds of appeal he lodged through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Justice Onnoghen, argued that the Mr. Umar-led CCT erred in law by granting an ex-parte order for his removal, even when its jurisdiction to entertain the six-count charge the federal government levelled against him was being challenged.
He therefore applied for, “An order setting aside the order of the tribunal made on the 23rd of January, directing the Appellant to step aside as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and a further order that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria takes all necessary measures to swear-in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council”.
The suspended CJN contended that “the exercise of powers over the motion ex-parte without first determining the jurisdiction of the tribunal amounted to unlawful exercise of jurisdiction and therefore void”.
It will be recalled that a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal had on January 24, ordered the CCT to halt further proceedings before it to await the outcome of an appeal Justice Onnoghen lodged before it.