OPINION

The Suspension Of The Chief Justice Of Nigeria (CJN) On The Order Of The Code Of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), By Ussiju Medaner

The ongoing saga about the suspension of the CJN (Justice Walter S. Onnoghen) by President Buhari and the immediate appointment of CJN (Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed) in an Acting Capacity pending the resolution of the case of the suspended CJN has generated opinionated interests. The decision to suspend the CJN is based on an Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) issued on Wednesday January 23, 2019 directing that the CJN, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen be suspended.

In the case against the Hon. Justice Onnoghen before the CCT, he the suspended CJN had accepted, in written submission, that he forgot to declare the assets ($3 million, equivalent of ?1,095,000,000) he owned as alleged. This act by Justice Onnoghen trespassed on the law which is a serious violation of the Code Of Conduct Bureau Act ,thus, he has to be called to answer, but how could he answer to the law which he oversees?

The CJN is in control of all most appointments and major actions in the NJC and the Judiciary to some extent. Perhaps, that was wisdom of the CCT to Ordered for his suspension so that he could not be standing trial while retaining the sacred office of the CJN. How is it possible that a civil servant who has no business investments own 55 houses, does not touch his salary for years and even forgot to declare having an amount as large as $3 million?

In saner and more deorum climes, it would be expedient of the CJN to have removed himself from office by resigning to avoid interference with the case before the CCT. Sadly, the Hon. Justice Onnoghen did not do the needful. He instead endeavoured to frustrate the efforts of the court by stalling the proceedings at the CCT. This is the same Justice Walter Onnoghen who had ruled that the CCT is not answerable to any other court in the course of undertaking its constitutional duties.

To further ensure that the National Judicial Council (NJC) does not act towards his suspension, he postponed the NJC meeting indefinitely without reasons. The questionable part in the behaviour of Justice Onnoghen is his attempt to set up the election petition tribunal on a Saturday which is not an official working day. This could be the reason for how several mandates were surprisingly lost in the election petition tribunal after the 2015 general elections.

And in the event that election tribunal cases get to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the suspended CJN Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen would lead his fellow justices to rule in favour of those under whose payroll he has made so much fortune? And of course nothing can be done because the Supreme Court ruling supersedes any other court ruling.

As Mr President remarked in his speech while suspending the CJN, there is an ‘alarming rate in which the Supreme Court of Nigeria under the oversight of Justice Walter Onnoghen has serially set free, persons accused of the most dire acts of corruption, often on mere technicalities, and after quite a number of them have been convicted by a trial and appellate courts.’ This goes to prove that the Judiciary as an arm of government in Nigeria has been compromised and the service of justice now goes to the highest or associated bidder.

The Constitution did not speak about the suspension of the CJN only of the removal. But Section 11 of the Interpretation Act states unequivocally that:

‘Where an enactment confers powers to appoint a person either to an office or to exercise any function, whether for a specific period or not, the power includes: power to remove, or suspend him …’

Though the CJN cannot be unilaterally removed from office by the President without recourse to the to the Senate, in this particular matter it was the CCT( a court recognized by constitution ) that ordered the President to be suspend him so as to allow for non-interference in his own trial by the system which he oversees. If the CJN is found innocent of the charges against him, he shall be reinstated back into his office. This is the norm in any sane society that he cannot be the judge in his own case.

The leading Anti- Buhari lawyer Mike Ozekhome (SAN) recently remarked on the suspension of the CJN saying:

‘The alleged suspension from office of the CJN is the vilest, thieving, most despicable, ultra vires, undemocratic and brazenly unconstitutional act ever carried out by any government in Nigeria, civilian or military, since 1st January, 1914, when the contraption called Nigeria was forcibly contrived through the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates.’

‘The desperate act of a sit-tight president constitutes a direct suspension of the Nigerian Constitution and the entire democratic process.’ –(Daily Trust, January 25, 2019).

He had remarked in the case of Sanusi Lamido citing the Interpretation Act as:

‘In the case of Sanusi, section 5 of the CBN Act says the president can appoint him subject to confirmation by the Senate and the president can dismiss him subject to two-thirds of vote of the Senate. There was no provision for suspension. Then I brought in section 11 of the Interpretation Act, and it says he who can appoint can also dismiss and can also suspend. That was my argument, so there was no contradiction between my argument then and my argument now.

That was how section 11 of the Interpretation Act came in. We have seen that President Jonathan can hire and fire, going by the Interpretation Act; it’s a case of employer-employee or master-servant relationship. There is no contradiction at all; I am not a self-revisionist. I cannot contradict myself. I know myself. I have been consistent since the last 36 years and I still stand by the same argument.’ (The Interview, September 3, 2017).

‘One of the legal principles of statutory interpretation is that whatever is not stated is excluded and since suspension was not specifically mentioned in the CBN Act, it means it was excluded.’

‘Such argument forgets its sister principle of statutory interpretation that what is not forbidden or outlawed is allowed. In other words, if a law does not specifically say you cannot do this, it means you can do it.’ (Channels TV, February 24, 2014).

Above are the comments of Mike Ozekhome showing his double standards as regards the suspension of the NJC. The fight against the severed CJN should have been led by the Judiciary itself: to strengthen the Executive in the fight against judicial corruption. This is because the Judiciary stands as the last hope of every nation. Every other arm or aspect of government may fail in its duties and obligations but it is the Judiciary that cannot afford to fail: it is the soul and conscience of the nation. This raises the question again as to why the Judiciary is not in the lead, as a proponent for justice, on the Onnoghen case.

From the case of Nganjiwa vs FRN (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), it was revealed that:

‘It must be expressly stated that if a judicial officer commits theft, fraud, murder or manslaughter, arson and the likes, which are crimes committed outside the scope of the performance of his official functions, he may be arrested, interrogated and prosecuted accordingly by the state directly without recourse to the NJC.’

This makes it very clear that the offence for which the CJN is being arraigned falls within the jurisdictional purview of the CCT. This is not a professional/ethical violation within the judicial realm. In a judgement delivered by Justice Walter Onnoghen on July 12, 2013, he affirmed that the CCT had the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations that contravene any provision of the CCB, that:

‘If I may repeat, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has been established with the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code as per paragraph 15(1). This provision has expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular courts in respect of such violations.’

By these words of the CJN himself during a judgement in 2013, and with the circumstances about this case of his non-declaration of assets now, can the NJC not be regarded as one of the “ordinary regular courts”? He had also stated earlier that:

‘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.’

‘The foregoing provisions are clearly unambiguous and so construed literally mean that any breaches of any provisions of the said 5th Schedule or matters of noncompliance with any provisions of the Code shall, (meaning that it is mandatory i.e. must) be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau that has established its Tribunal with the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with any violations of any provisions under the Code.’

These are the words of Hon. Justice Onnoghen in 2013 asserting the powers of the CCT in matters as he is currently involved now, in the case (SC.279/2012) before Justices Walter S. Onnoghen, Christopher Mitchell, Chukwuma-Eneh, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi and Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs. Now what is the tyranny of the President in adhering with the Order from a constitutionally approved authority?

Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) ousts the powers of the courts in granting stay of proceedings:

‘An application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be entertained.’

The above is as succinct as to have proved that the CJN and his numerous junior colleagues have abused court processes. Thus by procuring Orders from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) and the Federal High Court (FHC) which directs the CCT to suspend the trial of the CJN, they have goofed because the NICN and the FHC are both courts of coordinate jurisdiction alongside the CCT, hence cannot direct the CCT.

  1. The Legislature lack the jurisdiction to etertain this issue, Order 9 Rule 1(5) of the Standing Order of the House states:

‘Reference shall not be made to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might, in the Speaker’s opinion, prejudice the interest of the parties thereto’

Furthermore, Order 41(7) of the Senate Standing Order states that:

‘The Senate shall not receive any petition or any matter for that which there is a judicial remedy.’

Similarly, ”Senate Standing Order 53(5) says reference should not be made on any matter in which the judicial decision is pending in such a way that it might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of the parties thereto

The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in a Press Release on Monday, January 28, 2019, cancelled the resumption in plenary which was scheduled for Tuesday, January 29, 2019, and maintains the earlier fixed date of February 19, 2019. This could be a plot to keep the APC Senators away from the planned plenary so that they can hold a kangaroo court plenary in order to gain the simple majority required by law to institute case against the Executive.

Hence we call on all APC members to very vigilant over such development. The Senate has also sought the interpretation of the suspension of the CJN by Mr President and whether the role of the Senate has been undermined in the process. It is on record that there has never been a time when the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria met to take a resolution, or mandate any person to approach the Supreme Court of Nigeria in its stead. That is another illegal step . the resolution of simple majority required by the constitution before the Senate or House of Representatives can be able to file any complaint in the supreme court against any Executive action or inaction (as the case may be). The Schedule of the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act (Section 2.] states:

  1. Neither the National Assembly nor State House of Assembly shall institute or initiate legal proceedings under this Act except upon the resolution of the House passed by a simple majority of the members of that House present and sitting at the time the resolution is put to vote.
  2. No legal proceedings shall be initiated or instituted by or on behalf of the National Assembly under the Act except upon the resolution which has been passed by both Houses of the National Assembly by a simple majority of the members of each House present and sitting at the time the resolution is put to vote.
  3. The PDP which has spearheaded corruption at all levels of governance, displayed disregard for law and order, engaged in wanton abuse of office, and other forms of flaws in governance, are calling for the reinstatement of Onnoghen without approaching the court to reverse such to challenge the CCT Order. What does this imply to any sane mind who knows the ideologies the PDP stand for? What interest is the PDP trying to protect and at what point did the PDP become an arbitrator for the judiciary and the suspended CJN? Why is the PDP with its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar always in defence of any official who has been accused of corrupt and unlawful practices? Is it because of the elections tribunal hearings in some states about the 2015 elections which went their way under the watch of the CJN at the Supreme Court of Nigeria where the rulings of the Tribunal Courts were upheld by the Court of Appeal and such were upturned by the Supreme Court in their favour?
  4. The PDP has been biased with their reactions to issues relating to the polity in Nigeria. From recent trends backwards: there was no sound made from any quarters when Kemi Adeosun took to the path of honour to resign as Honourable Minister of Finance over the controversy in her NYSC certificate; they made no fuss when Babachir Lawal was removed by Mr President and facing the EFCC investigation; there was no threat to national existence when the former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was arbitrarily fired; likewise Justice Ayo Salami was sacked for not tendering an apology and Nigeria did not explode.
  5. The PDP has delusions of grandeur and they are desperate to take power at all cost. They would have been happier if President Buhari were acting like the presidents they produced over their 16 years of misrule and flagrant abuse of power. They are too proud to learn the art of leadership from an honest leader with integrity; rather they choose to abuse all his good deeds. He has not removed any governor as they did. He has offered soft loans to petty traders and has paid cash to the poorest in the society and they are wailing and chanting ‘vote-buying’, but they were mute and jubilating when Dasuki was being a Santa Clause with money meant for arms to combat insurgency, they rejoiced in silence.
  6. The PDP has failed to reconcile all the facts associated with the case of the CJN. The hypocrisy with which they relay the issue is disheartening for any lover of democracy. The single question remains: despite the confession of the CJN Mr Onnoghen, bordering on forgetfulness which is not a legal excuse, is false declaration of asset, or whatever they choose to called it a crime or not? If it is, which court/body does the jurisdiction of such a crime fall under? How can PDP accuse Buhari of tyranny when they were an embodiment of a tyrannical government for 16 years? The PDP cannot survive if corruption is dead, and that is the reason they are always behind the corrupt elites. The PDP’s interest in the continuous stay of the suspended CJN Justice Walter Onnoghen is definitely for ulterior motives beyond what catches the eyes.
  7. The PDP is trying hard to ensure that they manipulate the elections as they have always endeavoured in the past. With the recent conviction of two INEC staff (sentenced to 90 years imprisonment) on their payroll during the 2015 elections, the PDP should be silent and accept the grim fate that awaits them at the polls come February 16, 2019. This is proof that the PDP has nothing good in stock for Nigerians: the main reason they refuse to centre their campaigns on fundamental issues but rather on ignorable fables. The PDP even summoned the guts to call on all Nigerians to protest. What kind of protest would that be, a protest for grand corruption and impunity to be restored with triumph over good? A protest to terminate the current infrastructural development that Nigerians can see, unlike in the 16 years of the PDP where nothing can be seen visibly? A protest for the destruction of Nigerian industries and companies to bring back the 16 years of PDP’s misrule? What protest please?
  8. All the schemes of the PDP have failed them: from the Dubai agenda, to the myriads of lies upon lies they keep feeding Nigerians. Their plot to use money to gain the office of the President which is in line with the remark Obasanjo made about Atiku Abubakar who believes that money can buy him whatever he needs in any situation. But Nigerians want to grow. Nigerians are tired of being identified and referred to as criminals in every part of the world. Nigerians are tired of living without the basic infrastructural requirements. And these are the ultimate reasons they will re-elect President Muhammadu Buhari with Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to continue with the work they are doing in the Next Level.

As it has always been, in all humility I welcome constructive conversations on the above submission…. Pundits over to you!

May Nigeria Succeed!

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