IF the speed with which the petition against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen was treated were the standard of justice dispensation in Nigeria, we would probably be ahead of Sweden, and at the top of the global Rule of Law ranking instead of our current 77th placing out of 102 countries surveyed by the World Justice Project in 2018.
A petition by one Dennis Aghanya on January 9, 2019 and received by the Code of Conduct Bureau on January 11, 2019 was expedited for the arraignment of Justice Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday, January 14, 2019.
Coming against the background of numerous largely ignored cases of impropriety pending against key political players and regime officials, including the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. David Babachir Lawal (who is yet to be charged after being sacked over a contract scam about 15 months ago), the Onnoghen case set the polity agog.
The heat it generated has very little to do with the perceived substance of the case: Onnoghen’s alleged failure to declare his assets as well as ownership of “foreign” accounts. The CJN is not above the law. He is not covered by immunity. No reasonable Nigerian is against sanctions being meted out to him if he has fallen foul of the law.
The Federal Government’s hasty decision to drag him to the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the pressure on him to resign his appointment even before being charged, begs propriety. People are angry because taking the case to the CCT without first letting the National Judicial Council, NJC, investigate and deal with it according to the law amounts to a grievous short-circuiting of the law.
In the Nganjiwa vs F.R.N.2018 4NWLR part 1609, the Court of Appeal (Lagos Division) held that no serving judge can be investigated or tried in a court of law without first being removed from the Bench by the NJC.
We call on the Federal Government to follow the due process of the law in pursuing this matter. We wonder why these facts were not brought out when Justice Onnoghen was awaiting confirmation as CJN. Coming at this time with the elections just around the corner, the case has already become embroiled in partisan politics as the two major political parties have taken opposite stands.
We, once again, draw the attention of the Federal Government to the fact that we are in a democracy where the rule of law is supreme. Due process should be strictly followed in the anti-graft war.
Putting the Head of the Judiciary in the dock in contravention of the law is an act of impunity. It is unacceptable.