Legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), has described the proposed trial on Monday of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged failure to fully declare his assets as “denigration of the country’s Judiciary and Constitution.”
He also noted the constitutional provision which stipulates that any infraction by judges must first be investigated and then resolved by the National Judicial Council, “to the exclusion of any other body or authority.”
Babalola, in a statement on Sunday entitled, Proposed arraignment of the Hon Justice Walter Onnoghen: Again, I say two wrongs do not make a right, said the law had made clear the processes for the trial of judicial officers and as well their removal, hence the need to desist from “contempt and denigration of the judiciary.”
He said: “I am of the view that the Constitution requires that any infraction by the said judges be firstly investigated and resolved by the National Judicial Council, to the exclusion of any other body or authority.”
Babalola, who stated that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA) “still subsists and has not been set aside,” said: “I therefore see no justification for the decision to arraign the CJN before the CCT.”
Continuing, he argued, “Again, the point must be made clear that the Constitution clearly provides for the procedure with which the CJN can be removed from office.
“Section 292 (1)(a)(i) and 292 (1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) addressed it.”
According to him, given the clear provisions for trial and removal of judges, “It becomes more worrying to learn that, aside from laying the proposed charges, the prosecution has also filed an application for an order directing the CJN to recuse himself from office pending the conclusion of the trial.”
The senior advocate said: “By proceeding as proposed, the government is unwittingly or, perhaps, deliberately, creating a wrong impression in the minds of millions of Nigerians that the Judiciary is a criminal organisation.
“For the sake of our democracy, this is a misconception that must not be allowed to fester.
“No country, no matter how well intentioned its political leaders are, can aspire to greatness if its judicial arm is denigrated and held in contempt.
“While the Judiciary itself must be awake to its huge responsibilities, its efforts in this regard will surely not be helped by the erosion of its independence,” the SAN stated.