Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, who is challenging the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to try him for alleged non-declaration of assets, had given judgments affirming the Tribunal’s powers.

In one of the judgments delivered on July 12, 2013, he held that the CCT had exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau.

He also held that the provisions “expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular courts in respect of such violations.”

Chief Justice Onnoghen’s lawyers are arguing that the charges against him should first be decided by the National Judicial Council (NJC). Can the NJC not be considered an “ordinary regular court” in the circumstance?

The judgment was in a suit numbered SC.279/2012 before Justices Onnoghen, Christopher Mitchell, Chukwuma-Eneh, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi and Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs.

The case was between Ismaeel Ahmed and Alhaji Nasiru Ahmed, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), CPC Kano State Chapter chairman and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Interpreting Paragraph 12 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as regards CCT’s jurisdiction, Justice Onnoghen held: “’…the said paragraph 12 provides as follows: ‘Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this Code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau.’

“The foregoing provisions are clearly unambiguous and so construed literally mean that any breaches of any provisions of the said 5th schedule or matters of noncompliance with any provisions of the Code shall, (meaning that it is mandatory i.e. must) be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau that has established its Tribunal with the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with any violations of any provisions under the Code.

“If I may emphasise, any violations shall be made to Code of Conduct Bureau. The provisions have made it mandatory to take any matters so covered by the 5th schedule (supra) to the Code of Conduct Bureau and not to any ordinary regular Courts as has been done in this instance.

“If I may repeat, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has been established with the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code as per paragraph 15(1). This provision has expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular courts in respect of such violations.

“The Tribunal to the exclusion of other courts is also empowered to impose any punishments as specified under sub-paragraphs (2) (a), (b) & (c) of paragraph 18 as provided in sub-paragraphs 3 and 4 of paragraph 18 while appeals shall lie as of right from such decisions to the Court of Appeal.

“Simply put, to tackle any violation of the Code starts before the Code of Conduct Bureau Tribunal to the Court below on appeal and on a further appeal therefrom to this Court.

“As can be seen, the lower Court exercises appellate jurisdiction over the Code of Conduct Tribunal and no more.”

In his contributory judgment in Ahmed V. Ahmed & Ors (2013) Lpelr-21143(SC), Justice Onnoghen said regarding breach of public conduct: “It is the contention of the cross appellants that the initiation of the appeal process etc by M.K. Dabo esq is in violation of the Paragraphs of the 5th Schedule thereby rendering the actions so taken and the processes null and void.

“The real important question to ask at this stage is what is the consequences of the violation of the aforesaid paragraphs of the 5th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution?

“The answer to the above question is to be found in Paragraph 12 of the said Part 1 of the 5th Schedule which enacts as follows: -‘Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of provisions of this code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau.’

“It is my considered view that the above provision is very clear and unambiguous. It provides a remedy in the event of any alleged breach of the provisions. The remedy lies with the Code of Conduct Bureau which has been clothed with the requisite jurisdiction to handle such matters.”

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