Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a leading human rights lawyer, has said that the charges pending before the Code of Conduct Tribunal against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, are illegal.
Adegboruwa on Monday, January 14, 2019 in Lagos described the entirety of the process as “unconstitutional, illegal, null and void;” adding that same ought to and should be withdrawn forthwith.
Onnoghen was arraigned on Monday, January 14 before the CCT, following six counts of allegations of failure to declare his assets.
According to Adegboruwa, by the provisions of Section 36 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, a citizen who is charged with a criminal offence must be taken to the appropriate forum within the requisite jurisdiction, be it a court of law, a tribunal or such other quasi-judicial organ.
“By Section 153 (1) (i) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council was established for the Federation of Nigeria.
“By Paragraph 20 (b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, the NJC shall ‘exercise disciplinary control’ over all judicial officers, including the CJN.
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“The NJC being a quasi-judicial organ established by the Constitution, it is the appropriate forum to first raise any matter against any judicial officer, including the CJN; thus, the NJC has exclusive jurisdiction over all judicial officers, including the CJN.
“By the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria, no criminal charge can be laid against a judicial officer, including the CJN, in any court of law, without first filing such complaint before the NJC.
“The Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal are both part and parcel of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and are bound by the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Adegboruwa said in a statement.
According to him, under Section 287 (2) of the Constitution, the decisions of the Court of Appeal shall be enforced in any part of the Federation, by all authorities and persons and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Court of Appeal.
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He said that the CCB and CCT are both subordinate entities to the Court of Appeal, who are bound to enforce, apply and obey the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v FRN.
“From the foregoing, the criminal charges filed against the CJN before the CCT are illegal, ultra vires, unconstitutional, null and void and should either be withdrawn forthwith by the CCB, discontinued by the AGF by filing a nolle proseque, or struck out by the CCT.
“By virtue of section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, every person (including the CJN) who is charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proved,” he said
Adegboruwa noted that by virtue of the “illegal charges” alone, the CJN cannot be asked to vacate his office.
He said that whereas, no citizen is above the law to be arraigned or charged for any criminal offence, the CJN must be accorded his full constitutional rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
“I therefore appeal for transparency and uniform application of standards in the prosecution drive of the administration.
“As we approach the 2019 general elections, I appeal for calm from all, and I urge the Executive arm of government to demonstrate unlimited respect for the due process of law always in order not to heat up the polity unduly, given the current state of affairs of our dear country,” the lawyer said.