By Kayode Adeoti
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ilorin branch of the union and the Kwara State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr. Kamaldeen Ajibade, SAN have condemned in strong terms the recent action by Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), to try the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
Onnoghen is set to be arraigned by the Code of Conduct Bureau at the tribunal on Monday on six counts of alleged false asset declaration.
The CJN was accused by a group, the anti-corruption and research based data initiative, headed by Denis Aghanya. Aghanya is a former official of President Muhammadu Buhari’s defunct political party, Congress for Progressive Change.
Following a petition by Aghanya’s group, dated January 7, Mr Onnoghen appeared before the CCB on Friday and explained his stance on the allegation against him.
In copies of the charges, obtained by Premium Times, the CJN is accused of operating multiple accounts used for the transfer of foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, Euros and pounds.
However in separate reactions, the NBA, its Ilorin branch and Ajibade condemned the move and accused the executive arm of the government of desperately seeking to intimidate the judiciary.
The NBA in a statement by its President, Paul Usoro, condemned the speed of the investigation and trial of Onnoghen, describing it as a validation of the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari’s federal executive has directed the current development.
“If one contemplates the fact that the CCT arraignment is scheduled to take place on 14 January 2019, we have in total a record number of 3 (three) working days between the receipt and processing of the petition, investigation, preparation of charge and ancillary processes and the arraignment!
“As a final point, it is also difficult for a disinterested observer not to see a pattern of consistent assault by agencies of the FGN on the heads of the two independent arms of government,” the NBA said in a statement by its President, Paul Usoro.
In the same vein, the Attorney General of the state has described the development has shocking saying the FG should follow the rule of law.
“There should have been proper adherence to the rule of law. There is Court of Appeal decision on how to deal with erring officer. The case of Saraki and Federal Government is very clear on this.
“The shocking aspect of it is this, this is a petition written on 7th, submitted on 9th and charge filed just today and arraignment on the 14th, we’ve never seen, I’m sure it has taken them to more than two years to investigate someone who is not in power. I know at the end, the case will follow normal procedure and justice will prevail.”
On his part, the Chairman of the Ilorin branch of the NBA, Barr. Muhammed Idowu Akande maintained that CJN arraignment did not follow due process.
“The position of the NBA is that, a serving judge, the CJN cannot be arraigned before CCT without the impact of National Judicial Council. So, the NBA is against the arraignment. If there is any allegation, it should first be referred to the NJC, that is the position of the law. In the case of Nganjiwa against Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“A judge cannot be arraigned for trial before CCT either for allegation of corruption or indiscipline except with the impacts of NJC, investigation or disciplinary action.
“The power of NJC to discipline, promote, it’s a constitutional power. We are not saying CJN is culpable or not but due process must be followed in this arraignment. See the case of Hon. Justice Habeeb Elelu and AGF and others. What the Supreme Court said was that a governor cannot remove a sitting judge without NJC,” Ilorin NBA boss divulged.
Why I didn’t include my Stan Chart Bank account – Onnoghen
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen has responded to the accusations of false assets declaration by the Code of Conduct Bureau, clarifying that he forgot to update his asset declaration forms, according to some reports.
“My asset declaration form numbers SCN 00014 and SCN 00005 were declared on the same day, 14/12/2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009. Following my appointment as acting CJN in November, 2016, the need to declare my assets anew made me to realize the mistake.
“I then did the declaration to cover the period in default. I did not include my Standard Chartered bank account in SCN 000014 because I believed they were not opened.
“I did not make a fresh declaration of asset after my substantive appointment as CJN because I was under the impression that my SCN 000015 was to cover that period of four years which includes my term as CJN,” Onnoghen stated, in his response to the CCB query.
The online news platform, Premium Times published snippets of Onnoghen’s response.
Nevertheless, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has scheduled Jan. 14 for his arraignment.
The tribunal’s Head, Press and Public Relations, Ibraheem Al-Hassan, said this in a statement on Saturday in Abuja.
He said the action was consequent upon an application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to the Chairman of the tribunal.
Al-Hassan said the application was signed by Mr Ibrahim Usman and Mrs Fatima Ali on behalf of the bureau.
He, therefore, said the tribunal would commence the trial of the CJN on six-count charge as the service of summons had been effected on the defendant.
…withdraw case, don’t cause chaos – Saraki, Falana tell FG
The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, has advised the Federal Government to ensure that its plans to put on trial the nation’s chief judicial officer, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, does not cause chaos and that the due process was not compromised.
Saraki in a statement signed by his Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuf Olaniyonu, in Ilorin Sunday, noted that he believes that if the Government truly has genuine reason to put the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria on trial, it should ensure that every step in the process is transparent and the normal process as provided by the law is followed to the letter.
He said a situation where the petition which triggered the trial was submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) on Wednesday January 8 and by January 10 on Friday, the Chief Justice was presented with it for his reply only for the charges to be drafted that same day and filed in the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), all this taking place within three days and commencement of trial fixed for Monday, January 14, already indicate unnecessary haste and short-circuiting of the process of fair hearing.
“It is important for the government and members of the public to know that as somebody who has travelled this route before, we should refrain from any media trial and political players should avoid abusing the judicial process in order to achieve what they could not get through normal political contests. Every body who is being tried should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is the underlining principle of our justice system.
“The proposed trial of the CJN has once again opened up the debate on the transparency and neutrality of the fight against corruption. The haste with which this trial is being pursued leaves a lot to be desired. From last Wednesday when the so-called petition against the CJN was initiated to the period the trial is scheduled to commence has been barely three working days whereas there are pending cases where the individuals involved have been indicted some months ago but no prosecution is being considered”, the Senate President stated.
While noting that the anti-corruption fight has become a case of a separate rule for the people close to the executive branch and another set of rules for the rest of Nigerians, the Senate President stated that the fight has been compromised and politicized.
Similarly, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN urged the FG to as a matter of urgency withdraw the charges against Onnoghen as such move will amount to prosecutorial misadventure.
Falana in a statement on Saturday faulted FG’s move to press charges against the CJN.
He added that, “the charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen ought not to have been instituted at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”
Also, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State in his reaction said that the FG must ensure that ordered resignation and planned trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen had no political undertone.