No Justice for the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
- by Ayomide philip
- 8 months ago
No Justice for the Chief Justice of Nigeria
The woes of Walter Onnoghen began on January 10, when the Nigerian government filed a six count charges against him accusing him of none and fraudulent declaration of assets. The complaints were sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The government claimed that, in 2016 after the controversial crackdown on judges, Mr Onnoghen partially declared his asset, but still failed to declare a series of bank accounts, denominated in local and foreign currencies.
Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) created the National Judicial Council (NJC) and vested it with the power to appoint, and discipline judges. It can also recommend the removal of judges to the appointing authority (the President or the Governor depending on the court of the judge).
The case against the former chief justice has lasted for some months, with controversies on the power of the President to suspend the CJN and appoint an acting CJN, Tanko Muhammed, without recourse to the National Judicial Commission.
Note that Federalism is hinged on the concept of separation of powers and the principle of checks and balance. Nigeria is a federal State with three arms of government which are the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. To satisfy the concept of separation of powers and principles of checks and balance, these arms of government have to be independent and have clear defined powers. In Nigeria, the Executive arm enforces the laws, the Legislature makes the laws,and the Judiciary interprets the laws. The Legislature can check the powers of the Executive and Judicial arms of government by passing a vote of no confidence and making new laws respectively. The Judiciary can check the powers of the Legislative and Executive arm merely by interpreting the legality of their actions. The Executive can check the powers of the Legislature and Judiciary through it power of approval, approval of a bill into law; and approval of the appointment and removal of a Judge. The concept of separation of powers and the principle of checks and balance are sacrosanct to the smooth running of a federal system of government.
The National Judicial Commission has finally taken a decision on the allegation of misconduct filed against Walter Onnoghen. The body, after reaching a decision, refrained from making its findings public.
“The National Judicial Council reconvened today in an Emergency Meeting to consider the Report of the Five Man Committee constituted to investigate the allegations of misconduct made against Hon. Mr. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON and Hon. Mr. Justice I. T. Muhammad CFR, Council decided that the allegations relating to assets declaration that were levelled against Hon. Mr. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON were sub judice and therefore abstained from considering them. Council reached a decision on the petitions written by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and others and conveyed its decision to President Muhammadu Buhari. Council also resolved that, by the nature of the decision reached, it would be inappropriate to publicise it before conveying it to Mr. President.”
Soji Oye, Director of Information National Judicial Commission
According to a source, who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, the compulsory retirement of Justice Onnoghen was the major highlight of the meeting. The NJC has recommended Onnoghen’s compulsory retirement with full benefits, and that he should be allowed to take his eminent position in the Council of State like his predecessors. This is because, they claim he has lost the moral authority to continue as CJN with the litany of allegations bothering on misconduct.
Analysis of the Ruling.
Let’s consider this statement again. We recommend compulsory retirement because “he has lost the moral authority to continue as CJN with the litany of allegations bothering on misconduct.”
Imagine you are in a position of authority, then you are accused of committing an offence or misuse of your office. You are suspended without investigation, your name dragged through the mud for the country and your colleagues to see. You go to the courts seeking redress and your case is investigated. You are not found to have committed the crime. But you are punished for the crime because your name, which should be associated with morality, has been smeared. You have lost the moral authority to continue in your position of authority with the litany of allegations bothering on misconduct. Essentially you are punished for being forced to bear the punishment of the false accusation levied against you.
This is similar to what has just happened to the former CJN of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen. He was accused of non and fraudulent declaration of assets; punished (through his suspension) without investigation or fair hearing; his name dragged through the mud for months while he awaited the conclusion of his trial; found not guilty of the offence; yet recommended for compulsory retirement with all the perks that goes with the retirement of a CJN because his name, which should be associated with morality, has been smeared when he was falsely accused.
The CJN id a public officer, paid with the Nigerian peoples’ tax payers money.
1. If he is guilty of misconduct, prove it and remove him from his office. Don’t reward his misconduct by offering him compulsory retirement with full benefits, and allowing him to take his eminent position in the Council of State like his predecessors.
2. If he is innocent, exonerate him, don’t punish him for being forced to bear the disgrace that comes from a false allegation. WHERE IS THE JUSTICE THERE?
The purpose of the law is to give redress for injustice, thereby encouraging morality. If you punish the CJN for an offence he did not commit, no matter how much you clout this punishment in robes of riches, you encourage immorality. This would be akin to saying to a judge ‘ Do anything to protect your name; collect the bribe if you have to, especially if that bribe is coming from someone who can besmear your name in false allegation.’
If you were in a position of authority, what lessons do the verdict of the NJC, the Judges of the Judges, teach you?