The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and other lawyers have condemned plans by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to try the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Onnoghen is set to be arraigned by the bureau at the tribunal on Monday on six counts of alleged false asset declaration at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja.
A statement issued by the NBA Sunday in Abuja said the move was an attempt by the executive arm of the government to intimidate the judiciary.
The statement, which was signed by the NBA President, Mr Paul Usoro, condemned the speedy nature of the investigation and trial of Onnoghen, saying the established precedent for such a trial was not followed.
“If one contemplates the fact that the CCT arraignment is scheduled to take place on Jan.14, we have in total a record number of 3 (three) working days between the receipt and processing of the petition, investigation, preparation of charge and ancillary processes and the arraignment.
“With such unprecedented speed and efficiency in Nigeria’s criminal justice administration, it is clear that the NJC was not privy to it and did not conduct its mandatorily required disciplinary processes prior to the filing of the charge before the CCT,” he said.
Usoro said it was difficult for a disinterested observer not to see a pattern of consistent assault by agencies of the federal government on the heads of the two independent arms of government.
On his part, Mr Sebatian Hon (SAN) said that the haste with which the charge was filed indicated that it was a political witch hunt and not an honest investigation.
According to Hon, there is an attempt to destroy the judiciary or gag it; and in the latter situation, to hector it into submission.
“I personally say no to this and all Nigerians must say no to this unprovoked assault on the judiciary.
“Nothing stops the federal government from deferring, in the interest of national peace and cohesion, the filing of those charges till an opportune time since there is no limitation of time in criminal proceedings,” Hon said.
He counselled the CJN not to heed what he described as the obviously unholy call that he should step aside.
Similarly, Mr Mike Ozekhome (SAN) also described the act as an attempt to gag the CJN who was constitutionally empowered to inaugurate the presidential election tribunal against the 2019 election.
According to Ozekhome, the trial is undoubtedly politically motivated because as head of the judiciary, the CJN will be the one to empanel the presidential election tribunal that will try cases which emanate from the elections.
“There are many questions to be asked: When have Nigerian security agencies optimised and displayed such efficiency that a petition by an NGO, dated Jan.7 and received Jan. 9 was acted upon with such automatic alacrity that by Jan. 11, charges have already been filed against Onnoghen?” He asked.
The senior lawyer maintained that the criminal charge filed against the CJN was politically motivated.
He added that the CJN could be removed from office only where he had been convicted or if under Section 291 of the Constitution, the Senate, by two-thirds majority vote, affirms a request by the president to remove him. (NAN)