It is untimely- Paul Ananaba
Some lawyers have described as untimely, illegal and unconstitutional the prosecution of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onoghen by the Code of Conduct Tribunal consequent to the petition by the Executive Secretary of the Anti-Corruption Research Data-Based Initiative, Dennis Aghanya and submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
The senior lawyers argued that the Court of Appeal in the case of NGANJIWA V FRN held that no serving judge in Nigeria can be investigated or tried in a court of law, without being removed from the Bench.
It would be recalled that the Code of Conduct Tribunal proffered six charges against the CJN bordering on his alleged failure to declare his assets and operating a domiciliary account since 2011.
Reacting to the planned arraignment of the country’s number judicial officer by the Federal Government, a lawyer and social commentator, Jiti Ogunye on his Facebook page wrote that the hasty decision to prosecute the serving Chief Justice of Nigeria is unprecedented in the political history of Nigeria.
He however cautioned the federal government on the consequence of putting the CJN on trial while in office especially as the general election is few days away.
He said “The CJN, the Supreme Court and the NJC will play certain statutory roles, post the elections. These judicial authorities are playing some adjudicatory and administrative roles regarding the determination of pre-election matters arising from contentious party primaries.
Putting the CJN who is also the head of the Judiciary on trial while still in office, certainly, will impact the Nigerian Judiciary negatively. The CJN is, in the eye of the law, presumed innocent, until he is proved and found guilty. Being charged at all, however, implicates his right to fair hearing, as many will start arguing that he should step down from office. Meanwhile, a petition must have been written against the judge, and he must have faced an administrative disciplinary process of the NJC for an alleged violation of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, found guilty, recommended, by the NJC, for removal from office, and removed from office by the Executive arm of government. We support the fight against corruption in the public sector and in the Judiciary in particular. But this fight must be done in scrupulous conformity with the rule of law. In the light of the foregoing, we call on the President of Nigeria to direct that the charges filed against the CJN be withdrawn forthwith for its incompetence, even as the Administration continues to explore other legitimate and constitutional means to continue its fight against corrupt practices in our public life.”
In his interview monitored on Channelstv news at 10, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Paul Ananaba also expressed his displeasure over the arraignment of the CJN.
He is worried about the timing of the prosecution. He said “I am a bit worried about the timing. Why is this coming at a time when the country is preparing for a very vital election? The CJN has a prominent role to play in the forthcoming election. He is vested with the power to appoint members and oversee the panel that is constituted in the event of presidential election petitions. We must allow the rule of law to prevail. It is the interpretation that is given to the law that is law and that interpretation must be given by the judiciary and not the executive arm. Therefore before any judicial officer is prosecuted by anti-graft agencies, the NJC must have dismissed such officer from the bench. As much as I hold that nobody is above the law, due process must be adhered to.”