ONNOGHEN: HIS ORDEAL, THE CONSTITUTION AND THE NJC.
Chinwe Ugele, Umuahia.
It is not a usual phenomenon for a Chief Justice of Nigeria to face criminal charges orchestrated by his actions or inactions. The case against the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen has to do with his failure either by commission or omission to declare some of his assets with the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Ordinarily, someone occupying such an exalted position in the country and very conversant with the law should understand the seriousness attached to such duty even though public officers in the country might have been taking it for granted.
Whether or not the charges against him are true will be determined by the courts in due course.
Since this issue came up in public domain, it has elicited so many comments either in support or against. Many, especially legal practitioners lament what they describe as the undue interference of the judiciary by the executive, they call it the “desecration of the legal sanctuary”.
Some feel Nigeria’s democracy is been threatened by the executive arm of government which has defied almost all legitimate process of handling such issues to go ahead in the execution of their agenda not minding whose ox is gored in the process.
Without prejudice, the ousted CJN might have unknowingly played into the hands of the executive by failing to do the needful in terms of assets declaration, but must President Buhari and his handlers also fall into the hands of Onnoghen and the Judiciary by hastily suspending him.
It is said that it was the Code of Conduct Bureau that advised Mr. President to suspend the CJN pending the determination of his trial.
Is this right? Since when is it the responsibility of the CCB to recommend the removal of the CJN?
According to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Amended:
Section 292(1) A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances-
(a) In the case of-
(i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and President Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate,
(b) In any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the president or as the case may be the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
What was the role of the National Judicial Council (NJC), which is the highest judicial authority saddled with the responsibility to sanction or recommend sanctions for erring judicial officers?
Has it commenced investigations on Onnoghen? What was the outcome and did it recommend his removal?
The National Judicial Council played a key role in the emergence of the present Chief Judge of Abia state in 2018. Upon receipt of sundry complaints and petitions against the then Chief judge, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, began its investigations but had hardly concluded and given verdict before the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu swore in the next in line in the hierarchy of judges in the state who happened to be Justice Obisike.
It took NJC a few days to recommend the compulsory retirement of Justice Obisike for “simply” presenting himself to be sworn in as th Acting Chief Judge knowing decisions had not been reached on the matter. The body went ahead to recommend that the next most senior judge in the state be sworn in, and that was how Justice Ogwe emerged as the Chief Judge of Abia State.
How will the NJC react to this development at the federal level?
Nigerians are waiting almost impatiently for reactions from the body.
The world is watching how various institutions in the county live up to their billings.
Whether any one likes it or not, self-righteousness can never take the place of rule of law in a society, a government cannot in a bid to prove a citizen guilty constitute itself into a court of law and begin to act without direction.
Let the law and not the Executive take its course on Onnoghen.