On January 13, 2019, the nation was informed of a pending six count charge against the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It is expected that the CJN will be arraigned on Monday January 14, 2019. The basis of the charge is alleged failure by the CJN to declare his assets.
1. By section 36 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, a citizen who is charged with a criminal offense must be taken to the appropriate forum with the requisite jurisdiction to try the offense, be it a court of law, a tribunal or such other quasi judicial organ.
2. By section 153 (1) (i) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Judicial Council (NJC) was established for the Federation of Nigeria.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) are both part and parcel of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and are bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in NGANJIWA V FRN.
7. Under and by virtue of section 287 (2) of the 1999 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.
8. The Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal are both subordinate entities to the Court of Appeal and they are bound to enforce, apply and obey the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v FRN.
9. From the foregoing, the criminal charges filed against the CJN before the Code of Conduct Tribunal are illegal, ultra vires, unconstitutional, null and void and should either be withdrawn forthwith by the Code of Conduct Bureau, discontinued by the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation by filing a nolle proseque or struck out by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
10. Under and 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”.
11. The CJN cannot by virtue of these illegal charges alone, be asked to vacate his office. The Senate President and his Deputy both faced their criminal trials recently and they both participated in and presided over the affairs of the Senate.
12. Whereas no citizen is above the law to be arraigned or charged for any criminal offence, however, the CJN must be accorded his full constitutional rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
13. In the course of this present administration, judicial officers have been on trial, legislative officers have been on trial, lawyers and many others have been on trial, for one alleged offence or the other, but no member of the Executive arm has been so tried, notwithstanding the myriad of complaints and allegations against them.
14. I therefore appeal for transparency and uniform application of standards, in the prosecution drive of the administration.
15. 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.
God bless Nigeria.
Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, Esq.