Withdraw Order Freezing Onnoghen’s Bank Accounts, Falana Tells FG

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Femi Falana

Prominent lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, has asked the Federal Government to withdraw the order freezing the bank accounts of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had asked the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, to freeze five bank accounts of the CJN which were subjects of a non declaration of assets litigation instituted by the federal government at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Though the arraignment of the CJN was adjourned till next Tuesday to allow proper service of summons, two courts have halted proceedings at the tribunal pending the determination of the suits challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

In a statement issued Thursday, Falana called for the withdrawal of the freezing order.

He argued that once a charge had been instituted in a criminal court or at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the freezing of the bank accounts or seizure of the assets of the defendant had to be anchored on the valid order of the trial court based on the application of the Prosecution.

Falana’s statement read: “Last week, the Code of Conduct Bureau charged the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen with false declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Convinced that the matter could have been handled without throwing away the baby and the bathwater, I was compelled to call on the Federal Government to withdraw the charge as it is inexorably designed to end in a prosecutorial fiasco.

“Since it has now been confirmed that President Mohammadu Buhari was not taken into confidence before the charge was filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau, it is high time that the Federal Government terminated the criminal proceedings and advised the petitioner to submit his complaint to the National Judicial Council (NJC).

“No doubt, the Federal Government may not like the much cited case of Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria. Personally, I have had cause to criticise the judgment. But until it is set aside by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the discipline of judicial officers has to be conducted and concluded by the NJC before they are subjected to criminal proceedings.

“However, since the charge is pending before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, neither the Prosecutor nor the Defence Counsel is permitted by law to resort to self help under the pretext of preserving the res or the subject matter of the criminal proceedings. Even though the Presidential Executive Order No 6 of 2018 has been validated by the Federal High Court it does not authorise the freezing of the bank accounts or assets of any defendant who has been charged with economic or financial crime or the contravention of the code of conduct for public officers. It is trite law that once a charge has been instituted in a criminal court or at the Code of Conduct Tribunal the freezing of the bank accounts or seizure of the assets of the defendant has to be anchored on the valid order of the trial court based on the application of the Prosecution. This procedure accords with the Rule of Law.

“For the umpteenth time, the Buhari Administration ought to be reminded that even under a fascistic military junta, Andrew Otutu Obaseki J.S.C. of blessed memory spoke for the Supreme Court when he said inter alia:

‘In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world, even in the third world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self help by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court thereby invoking the judicial powers of the State, it is the duty of the government to allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course.’”