The Trial of Justice Onnoghen  

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Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen

Saturday Letter

The present national debate on whether the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen should face trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) or National Judicial Council (NJC) has been over politicized. Let’s look at the facts as they relate to the matter to know the way forward.

One, no Nigerian is above the law, whether President Buhari or Chief Justice of Nigeria Onnoghen. That is why there is code of conduct for public officers.

Two, the fifth schedule, Part I, 11 (1) of the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 2011 (as amended) directed every public officer to declare his/her assets. Three, the third schedule, Part 1 (A) section 3 (e) of our constitution empowers the Code of Conduct Bureau to receive complaints about non-compliance of code of conduct for public officers, investigate the complaint and where appropriate, refer such matters to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, and not National Judicial Council (NJC).

Four, Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of the Federation accepted that he forgot to declare his assets which is a breach of the code of conduct for public officers. Fifth, the right thing for the CJN to do is to resign and apologise to the nation for breaching a section of the constitution that he had punished hundreds of Nigerians for. Sixth, CJN protagonists argue that the due process must be followed and that the complaint must first be filed with National Judicial Council not Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Seventh, our constitution empowers the Code of Conduct Bureau to refer non-compliance of the code of conduct for public officers to Code of Conduct Tribunal not NJC.

Eight, the constitutional power as it relate to disciplinary matters of NJC is the same with that of Federal Civil Service Commission, Federal Judicial Service Commission and Police service commission.

Nine, the Third schedule, Part I (1), section 21 (G) of our constitution deals with disciplinary measures of NJC; appoints, dismisses and exercises disciplinary control over member and staff of the council”

And ten, these disciplinary measures were replicated in the following commissions’ schedule:

·      Federal Judicial Service Commission; Third  schedule, Part 1 (E), 13, B(c); Federal Civil Service Commission; Third Schedule, Part 1 (D), 11 (I b); Police Service Commission; Third Schedule, Part I (M), 20 (b)

 If we are going to follow the interpretation of Court of Appeal judgment, that stated,  that every  judicial misconduct must first be tried by NJC, which the CJN protagonists are misinterpreting to mean that CJN must first be tried by NJC before CCT trial, the implication is that every civil servant or   Police that breaches code or conduct must first be tried by their commission before CCT.

The NJC was established to regulate judicial officers, just like the Federal Civil Service Commission is to regulate civil servant.  Any breach of code of conduct falls within the schedule of Code of Conduct Bureau.

 How can the nation obtain justice if NJC tries the Chief justice of Nigeria, considering that the Constitution empowers the CJN to appoint 14 out of 17 members of NJC? Where is the justice?

Based on the above facts, the right thing for Justice Walter Onnoghen to do is to resign and apologise to the nation, but if his protagonists insist that CJN must be tried by NJC, that is impunity. Nigerians will be ready to face the consequences. Recall that President Jonathan taught us that if you can hire, you can fire. This was used against Justice Salami, former President of Court of Appeal and Lamido Sanusi, former Governor of Central Bank.

Chief Rom Okekearu