The Nigerian Bar Association and senior lawyers have condemned the looming arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
Th NBA accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s government of being behind the whole thing, judging with the speed of the investigation and proposed arraignment.
The NBA said this in a statement by its president, Paul Usoro.
The statement read partly, “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!
“Such unprecedented speed and efficiency in Nigeria’s criminal justice administration! It is clear, given the rush with which this matter was conducted by the CCB, that the NJC was not privy to it and did not conduct its mandatorily required disciplinary processes
prior to the filing of the Charge before the CCT.
“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.”
Also fiery Lagos Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, described the move as a “prosecutorial misadventure.”
He urged the justice minister, Abubakar Malami, to immediately withdraw the charge.
Falana said, “The charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen ought not to have been instituted at the Code of Conduct of Tribunal in view of the case of Nganjiwa v FRN (2017) LPELR 43391 wherein the Court of Appeal held that a judicial officer who has not been investigated by the National Judicial Council and sanctioned for misconduct cannot be arraigned in any criminal court in Nigeria.
“As all authorities are bound by the Court of Appeal verdict the case should be withdrawn by the Attorney-General of the Federation without any delay because it is likely to be a prosecutorial misadventure.”
Another Senior Advocate, Rotimi Oguneso, expressed shock, wondering over the calibre of people advising Mr. Buhari.
“It is shocking. Honestly, I do not know who is advising the government. We are yet to know the truth about the allegations. But which country will dock its number one judge in this manner? You serve the Chief Justice with papers on Friday expecting him to be in court on Monday!! It is indecent and revolting.
“Why this time? Is it to heat up the polity? There is something called discretion. I can’t see it in what has been done,” Mr Oguneso said.
The views of Abuja-based lawyer, Monday Ejeh, further strenghtened the opinion that Onnoghen’s proposed trial will be an executive exerccise in futility.
According to him, the charge is unlawful and the allegations, baseless.
He said, “By the authorities of Nganjiwa and Ngwuta cases, you can’t prosecute a sitting Judicial officer in any court or tribunal in Nigeria without first subjecting him to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for investigation and discipline by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
Nigerians have also taken to Social Media to blast the decision of Buhari government to drag the country’s No.1 judicial officer through the slow-grinding machinery of Nigerian justice system, saying it is an attempt by the ruling APC government to pocket the judiciary ahead of the 2019 elections.
Mr Onnoghen, barring any last minute chaange of plan, will be arraigned by the Code of Conduct Bureau at the tribunal on Monday on six counts of alleged false asset declaration.
The CJN is accused by a frivolous group, the anti-corruption and research based data initiative, headed by Denis Aghanya, a former aid to President Buhari.