Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to follow due process by allowing the National Judicial Council to examine the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.

The human rights organisation said this should be done as Onnoghen recluses himself.

SERAP urged Buhari to instruct the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, to immediately withdraw the charges against Onnoghen, and to send any allegations of breach of assets declaration provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) to the National Judicial Council for investigation.

The Federal Government on Monday withdrew the charges against Onnoghen, even as the CJN refused to appear in court.

SERAP said in a statement: “Mr. Malami should then request Justice Onnoghen, as the Chairman of the NJC, to recuse himself, so that the next most senior justice at the Supreme Court can preside over the process and set up a panel to investigate the allegations against Justice Onnoghen to ensure fairness and justice in the matter.”

The organisation’s senior legal adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, added: “We believe that enforcing assets declaration provisions would help to prevent corruption and abuse of office and ensure transparency among public officers, including judges.

“But the government should follow due process of law, and allow the NJC to consider the allegations against Justice Onnoghen first before pushing for prosecution, should there be any relevant admissible evidence.

“This would help to accord Justice Onoghen his entire rights through laid down process.

“The moral guilt or the legal guilt of Justice Onnoghen should be left for the judicial process to decide, as he is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

“For now, the fundamental question is whether he is afforded the due process of law, as he is constitutionally and legally entitled to. This is our interest in this case, and this should be the interest of every lover of justice.

“Due process here requires that Justice Onnoghe be given an opportunity to have allegations against him heard by the NJC.

“The bringing of this case against Justice Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal would appear to have fallen below the minimum procedural standards of legal justice, which in turn would affect the quality of justice he receives.

“Due process rights should not be curtailed in the interest of expediting enforcement of asset declaration provisions.

“The authorities have the responsibility to ensure fair treatment of judges or others who face these kinds of charges that may ultimately lead to deprivation of liberty.

“Preventing the NJC to first hear the allegations against Justice Onnoghen would deny him his constitutionally and internationally recognised right to a fair hearing and lead to the matter being unnecessary politicised.”

“The authorities may have a strong case against him, but the possibility of success is diminished if the proper procedure is not followed.

“The requirements of justice and success of the fight against corruption justify the fundamental need to ensure and apply due process rights in this case.”

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