By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, Mr. Danladi Umar, has challenged the powers of any organ of the judiciary to query his actions with respect to the ongoing trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Umar, who is presiding over the three-member panel tribunal that is handling the six-count charge the Federal Government slammed against Onnoghen, said he was only answerable to the Presidency.
He, therefore, snubbed a query the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, issued to get his reaction to a petition accusing him of engaging in reckless abuse of judicial powers.
It will be recalled that the National Judicial Council, NJC, had on January 29, disclosed that it forwarded a petition that a group under the platform of Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, lodged against the CCT boss, to the FJSC.
The group alleged that Umar, abused the judicial process by granting an ex-parte order for Justice Onnoghen, who has not been convicted, to be removed from office.
President Muhammadu Buhari had relied on the said ex-parte order that was dated January 23, and swore-in the next most senior jurist of the Supreme Court, Justice Tanko Muhammad, to take over as the Acting CJN.
The NJC, at the end of its emergency meeting, said it was convinced that the FJSC was the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with issues the petitioner raised against Umar.
Upon receiving the petition, the FJSC, directed the CCT boss to respond to allegations against him.
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Meanwhile, in his response dated February 6, 2019, and marked CCT/HQ/FJSC/S/01, Umar contended that neither the FJSC nor the NJC, has the constitutional powers to query his actions.
Insisting that he is not a judicial officer, Umar said he could only be called to account by President Buhari.
He stressed that unlike judicial officers, members of the CCT, at the time of their inauguration, take official oaths and not judicial oaths.
According to him, “With regard to the prayer of the petitioner for an appropriate sanction against the chairman, it is important to note that the chairman and members of the tribunal, not being judicial officers, are not constitutionally subject to any disciplinary proceedings by either the National Judicial Council or the Federal Judicial Service Commission but the Presidency.
“The petitioner alleged that judicial oaths were breached and that the National Judicial Council should consider appropriate sanctions. It is to be noted that the chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal are not judicial officers.
“This is predicated on the fact that the chairman and members of the tribunal, during swearing-in, only subscribe to official oaths and not judicial oaths. Therefore, not being a judicial officer, I did not subscribe to judicial oaths as alleged.”
Besides, Umar, maintained that it was within his powers to grant the ex-parte order that led to Onnoghen’s suspension.
He however declined to make further comments on the issue he said had turned subjudice since the Court of Appeal was already seized with facts of the matter.
To further justify his position, Umar, adduced a letter dated May 18, 2015, which was signed by the then CJN and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
The letter marked NJC/CIR/HOC/1/74, had specifically barred members of the CCT from referring to themselves as Justices
The then CJN, noted that going by provisions of Paragraph 15 (1 and 2) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, members of the CCT panel could not be regarded as judges.
“From the foregoing provisions, no member, including the chairman of the CCT on appointment, is a judicial officer as defined in Section 318 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended unless he or she has held office as a judge of the superior court of record in Nigeria”, the letter added.