Why I Support Onnoghen’s Prosecution At The CCT.


Ceteris paribus, the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, will appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday, 14/1/19 on six-count charges bordering on declaration of assets. This issue has generated heated debate between the FG and the legal community. I have carefully read and understood the arguments canvassed on each side. While I believe that some of the issues raised by the NBA may be true, in the whole, I support the prosecution of the CJN for the following 7 reasons:

1. Contrary to NBA’s contention, the allegations against the CJN are matters that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the CCT as EXPRESSLY stated by Paragraph 12 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution which provides: “Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this Code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau.”;

2. Nganjiwa’s and other cases cited by the NBA to support the argument that the matter should first go to the NJC are inapplicable to this case as the cases are not same (on all fours) with the present issue. The cases cited deal with misconduct in the discharge of official functions and professional misconducts while the allegations against the CJN are criminal allegations and violations of the Constitution;

3. Referring this matter to the NJC contravenes the first principle of Natural Justice: Nemo judex in causa sua: no one can be a judge his own case. Not only is the CJN chairman of NJC where the NBA wants the matter referred to, but he, in law, singlehandedly appoints 19 of the other 28 members. So even if the CJN recuses himself from the NJC when it hears the matter, what about the other 19 members he appointed? Can they be judges in a matter involving the person who singlehandedly appointed them? And if you remove the CJN and the 19 members he appointed, there will be no quorum to continue.

4. I do not see the prosecution of the CJN as an assault on the judiciary or a threat to the doctrine of separation of powers. For me, this is an allegation against Walter Samuel Onnegen in his individual capacity, not against the judiciary, not even against the office of the CJN. In fact, the Constitution of Nigeria doesn’t contemplate separation of powers. It enshrines sharing of powers where by one arm of the government can exercise oversight functions over another and this is one instance in which such oversight is codified;

5. Allegations of ill-motive on the part of the NBA raised by NBA manifested in the supersonic speed with which the petition against Onnoghen was investigated may be true, but these allegations are not as weighty as the allegations of CRIMES and VIOLATION of the Constitution levied against the CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA. So I would rather support the weightier until I see open ill-motive.

6. The suspect did not deny the allegations against him. He only stated that he initially forgot to fill the forms and then made a mistake in completing them. In my opinion, the whole idea that a whole CJN would forget to comply with the provisions of the CONSTITUTION relating to him is ridiculously preposterous;

7. It is clear that the NBA is not out to foster and promote the course of justice. It is after shielding members of the judiciary against whom there are allegations and protecting corrupt NBA members. Otherwise, it would have taken a neutral position and waited until they see the prosecution’s evidence by which time they can cry wolf if they see one.

Finally, the CJN is neither above the law nor does enjoy immunity in this case. Let him go there and have his day in court. If he is found guilty, he should be punished just like he punished others through his life. If there is no evidence against him, he should be discharged and acquitted like Bukola Saraki was. The matter is as simple as that.

Audu Bulama Bukarti

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