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NJC intervention in Onnoghen’s suspension

T he Nigerian Judicial Service Commission (NJC), on Tuesday came out to say it will intervene in the suspension of the embattled Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen, who is presently facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Abimbola Akindunbi and Kayode Olabanji sought the views of some lawyers on the position of the law on the intervention of the NJC.

Mr Yemi Adetoyinbo, legal practitioner activist

When its jurisdiction is being challenged at the Court of Appeal, as all the controversies surrounding the locus, the intervention of the National Judicial Council at this point in time is legally expedient and constitutionally justified, by the provisions of section 292(1)(a)(i) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which provides that the CJN cannot be removed from office or any appointment made before his retirement age or suspended from office.

 While the actual intention is to secure his removal, except the President acting on the recommendation of the NJC, which must have been seized of the facts in issue of the allegations and had determine the veracity or otherwise of any allegations against any erring senior judicial officer or head of courts, and supported by two thirds majority of the Senate members.

So, by issuing the queries which ordinarily are meant to be replied within 14days as provided by the constitution had been shortened concurrently, due to the urgency.

 The most important issue of urgent national importance deserves, ahead of the forthcoming elections, so as not to create lacuna to the leadership of the judiciary, which is the umpire on electoral disputes and interpretation of the Constitution, in order to avoid anarchy as exemplified by the action of the President.

If Onnoghen successfully defends himself to the query, he might return to his position as CJN and the Acting CJN Tanko Muhammed, who was queried for allowing to be sworn in or being used to pervert the constitution without following due process, can also have the opportunity of legally defending himself of the infraction of the constitution.

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Moreover, the NJC, by virtue of paragraph 21(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 as amended recommends to the President based on the report of their decisions reached on their findings, investigation of any allegation of fraud, gross misconduct or malfeasance or misdemeanor against such Judicial officers, and for the President to only act on such recommendation to remove him from office of certain category judicial officers including the CJN and exercises its disciplinary control over them, including appointment, and disciplinary powers over such judicial officers, inclusive of the Acting CJN, who was appointed by the President without recourse to or approval of the NJC, or sanction of the Senate.

And thus constitutionally, by virtue of section 231of the 1999 Constitution, CFRN as amended, the power to appoint a CJN and an acting CJN, the NJC must make its recommendations, and as regards the discipline of any erring senior judicial officers, the NJC, being the judicial regulators and being impractically saddled with the powers to regulate the conduct of senior judicial officers and themselves as the CJN and the Acting CJN  now under investigations by the NJC excused themselves from the said meeting and ex-President of the Court of Appeal, Hon Justice Umaru Abdullahi was named chairman, extempore, given the fact, ipso facto, its findings and decisions conveyed to the President is the only avenue to the removal or confirmation.

Section 18 part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution which defines the powers of the Code of conduct Tribunal and the CCT Act, does not vest the CCT, the power to order the President to remove judicial officers from office, but only the NJC.

Section18(2) only gives power to(a) make such officer to vacate office voluntarily, (b)disqualification and banning such officer from holding public office for a period not  exceeding  10 years and (c) ensure seizure or forfeiture of the assets of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office by such public officers to the state.

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The Senate had filed an action on the removal of the CJN, while the Court of Appeal had granted jurisdiction to CCT to hear the case of false declaration of Assets only against, and the CCT had fixed today Monday,  February 4, 2019 for hearing of the case.

Even pending hearing of the CJN’s substantive case at the Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court, Abuja, we lent our voices to the constitutional resolution of the festering issue.

Ibunkun Fasanmi, legal practitioner activist

That is the rule of law. Rule of law is based on the principles of fair hearing. Regardless how clear a case or accusations may be, the accused must be allowed to a fair defence.

It is imperative to state that, they were given the copies of the petition against them and given an abridged time to respond to same. That is the law.

Constitutionally, the NJC has the exclusive jurisdiction to hear, determine or exercise disciplinary action on any incumbent judge or justice in Nigeria.

Mr Tope Temokun, legal practitioner/Human rights activist

The National Judicial Council (NJC) was slow in acting. If the NJC had acted promptly, the nation would have been saved of embarrassment arising from this serious case and to avert a constitutional crisis.

Now, after it eventually sat, it gave long room for the  crisis to look longer instead of being halted to a quick  stop by it’s long adjournment. The petitions against the CJN suspended and the acting CJN could have been reacted to in 24 hours.

 Is the allegation just being made? Is the crisis just starting ? Why does it take  such a long time to react to the issue and  pass recommendation when the entire country is almost boiling, if not for  the Court of Appeal that refused to grant Onnoghen’s prayers for stay of prosecution.

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The point is,  whether the suspended CJN fully and faithfully declared his assets? And if not, why? And whether the Acting CJN misconducted himself by virtue of his appointment? And if so, why?  NJC recommendations to the Executive Branch of Government (the President) could have been rendered without delay and the bad situation being generated by this whole politicisation of the allegation could have been laid to rest.

By extending the petitions resolution period, the NJC has elongated the tenure of the present confusion.

The adjournment of the NJC meeting to February 11, 2019, four days to the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, will further generate an avoidable tension in the country.

The top power brokers  of NBA leadership has redirected the association from the noble  path of progressive opinion moulder and defender of the defenseless.

It was in the glorious era of Alao Aka Bashorun, to a mere stooge in the hands of political lawyers and partisan SANs to constitute a blind opposition to Buhari regime, touting rule of law and due process  without condemning with equal force those found to have been involved in shameful acts like corrupt practices in the legal profession, Bar and Bench, thereby  portraying Nigerian lawyers as supporters of such scandalous conduct in the judiciary, before the Nigerian people.

The Court of Appeal has struck out the request for stay of proceedings of the CCT, made by Mr Onnoghen, in line with section 306 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, which prohibits stay of criminal proceedings; and in line with the decision of the Supreme Court in Olisa Metuh v. FRN, 2017, 11 NWLR, Pt. 1575, 157. And that is commended.

Our senior lawyers should stop manipulating the system as the clash is between the Executive and an individual, acting in judicial capacity, whose hands are allegedly soiled. But not Buhari against Nigerian lawyers or the judiciary, the way the NBA is painting it.


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