Crooked! CCT’s Independence Has Been Compromised. No Reasonable Gov’t Can Act on its Order to Suspend CJN Onnoghen–Access to Justice

Access to Justice in a press statement has taken a swipe at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over its order that resulted in the suspension of Onnoghen CJN in spite of the pending and subsisting court orders restraining it from further sitting on the matter. It described the act of the federal government as an agenda to remove the CJN and a corrupt manipulation of the judicial system.

Access to justice expresses its deep concern that independence of the CCT has been compromised and confidence in the tribunal has been eroded predicting that higher court will likely use this as a ground to disqualify the Tribunal from further continuing with the trial of the Chief Justice.

Access to Justice further expressed its disappointment with Hon Justice Tanko Muhammad for accepting to be sworn in as the Acting CJN. It therefore calls on the government to lift the suspension of Onnoghen CJN, stop politicising judicial process and also urged Hon. Justice Tank Muhammad to resign.

The full statement reads:

Access to Justice Public Statement

“On Friday, the 25th of January, President M Buhari purportedly “suspended” Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria from office. President Buhari has claimed that he acted on an ex-parte Order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal made on Wednesday, the 23rd of January 2019. It is inconceivable that the Code of Conduct Tribunal could have made such an Order given that, during the proceedings of the Tribunal the previous day, an application by the government seeking that Order was not taken, and there were various injunctive orders – including that of the Court of Appeal – requiring the Tribunal to stay action on the case. The government is also aware of these Orders. And we may remark that, on its merits, given the clear provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, the application was itself an obnoxious proposition, that hardly had arguable substance.

“It is also clearly preposterous that the Order could have come from the Code of Conduct Tribunal given that the same Tribunal had adjourned to the 28th of January to hear arguments on its jurisdiction to proceed with the case in the first instance. Access to Justice is extremely worried by the escalating desperation the government is showing in its relentless pursuit of an agenda to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria and what appears to be a very corrupt manipulation of a judicial process to achieve its parochial goals.

“All the anecdotal evidence points unmistakably to signs that the judicial process is being interfered with, and that the independence of the Code of Conduct Tribunal has been severely compromised at this time. While we also note that a number of ex-parte Orders have been obtained by different parties in favour of the Chief Justice with extra-ordinary speed and felicity, given the well-known slow-grinding pace with which processes are administered in Nigeria’s judiciary, Access to Justice decries the Tribunal’s conniving and underhanded ex-parte order for the “suspension” of Chief Justice Onnoghen.

“By processing a far-reaching and arguably unconstitutional Order through the back-door, in order to exclude the hearing of parties who would be affected by its decision, the Tribunal commits an irredeemable fraud against the very essence of justice it is established to maintain, and destroys public faith in the ability of institutions of justice in Nigeria to actually offer fair hearing and due process to persons who come before it. By undertaking a process that is so unthinkably and implausibly flawed and unfair, and conjuring up what may figuratively pass as a “black market” judicial Order, the Danladi Umar Code of Conduct Tribunal subjects the justice process to huge public ridicule, and abuses and corrupts the powers granted the Tribunal for executing justice. This is not the only instance where the Danladi Umar Tribunal has put its integrity to question, but this particular episode comes with overwhelming shock and disbelief. It appears that no barrel is too deep to be plumbed by the Tribunal in its blind haste to achieve a sinister goal. Both the Order made by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the procedure adopted for its making are revolting, reckless and groundless at the very least, to be considered the process or outcome of a judicial proceeding.

“One of the effects of this short-sighted fraud is that no one will have any confidence in the capacity of the Tribunal to carry out its work as an impartial, unbiased institution in proceedings against the Chief Justice, and a higher court will likely use this as a ground to disqualify the Tribunal from further continuing with the trial of the Chief Justice. In all likelihood, the government has shot itself in the foot.

“It is deeply unfortunate that Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad would accept to be sworn in as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria through a process that is, on its face, so inherently flawed, manipulated and disingenuous. Not long ago, the National Judicial Council (NJC) of which he is a member, had cause to recommend the retirement of a Judge of Abia State who had offered himself to be sworn in as an Acting Chief Judge in the State after the Abia State government unconstitutionally removed the incumbent Chief Judge. The NJC concluded that the Judge was guilty of a gross misconduct.

“Access to Justice therefore;

  1. Calls on the Federal Government to immediately rescind its so-called “suspension” of the Chief Justice of Nigeria;
  2. Calls on the government to stop politicizing and undermining the judicial process as well as the trial of Chief Justice Onnoghen;
  3. Calls on Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad to immediately resign from the so-called appointment as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, given the patently illegal way this was procured;
  4. Calls for a full and thorough investigation into how the back-door Order suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria was procured at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and that the Tribunal Chairman and member be made accountable for such egregious abuse of judicial procedure and powers;
  5. Reiterates its earlier call for the removal of Danladi Umar from office as the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in order to restore some form of credibility to the Tribunal.
  6. Notes that the politically-motivated efforts to remove Chief Justice Onnoghen from office using deeply-flawed judicial processes, within the context of impending elections might have portentous political ramifications and can lead to a huge constitutional and political crisis. It is important for our Country and its nascent democracy to stave-off this looming crisis, and prevent foreseeable chaos and turmoil. The government needs to de-escalate the tensions that are building as a result of its pursuit of Chief Justice Onnoghen. Since the government is convinced CJN Onnoghen has committed criminal offence(s), and has confronted him with it using the ordinary process, it must allow the rule of law to run its course. The government must make every effort now, to dissipate what might be the gathering clouds of a looming anarchy.”

Joseph Otteh,
Convener, Access to Justice

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