A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has warned the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Justice Danladi Umar, not to reduce the tribunal to an appendage of the presidency, as it is an independent organ of the federal government.
In a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, he said apart from the chairman and members who are appointed by the president on the advice of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the staff of the tribunal were not appointed or seconded by the presidency.
Justice Umar, had during the weekend dismissed allegations of judicial misconduct arising from the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mr. Justice Walter Onnoghen. He also questioned the power of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to query him.
He had also stated that the CCT was under the presidency and as such, he and the other two members of the tribunal only report to the president.
But Falana said: “With respect, the chairman and members of the CCT are recognised as judicial officers by the constitution.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the tribunal chairman shall be a person who has held or is qualified to hold office as a judge of a superior court of record in Nigeria.
“By virtue of section 36 (1) of the constitution, the CCT shall be constituted in such a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.”
Falana said, “In Federal Republic of Nigeria v Nuhu Ribadu, the defendant was charged with failure to declare his assets before the CCT. As the defendant’s counsel, we challenged the competence of the tribunal to try our client as it was not independent of the presidency whose Attorney-General was the prosecutor.
“In dismissing the objection, the tribunal made it abundantly clear that it was independent of the presidency. However, the tribunal severed its illegal relationship with the presidency while the then Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohamned Adoki withdrew the charge. Curiously, Justice Umar who was a member of the tribunal at the material time has turned round to reduce himself to a staff in the presidency,” Falana added.
He said in the light of the foregoing, the Federal Judicial Commission was perfectly in order when it queried Justice Umar with respect to the allegation of judicial misconduct levelled against him, adding that since the power of the Federal Judicial Service Commission to recommend to the NJC the removal of the chairman and members of the CCT cannot be exercised without conducting an inquiry into the allegation of judicial misconduct involving federal judicial officers, Justice Umar should be advised to reply the query properly issued and served on him.
“If he fails to reply, the Federal Judicial Service Commission may wish to recommend his removal from office to the NJC pursuant to paragraph 13 (a) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution which will in turn make appropriate recommendations to the President,” he said.