Itse Sagay (SAN) on Thursday asked senior lawyers to stop misleading the public with lies that Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen is not a public officer and subject to the code of conduct.
He condemned the “fraudulent misconduct of some crooked lawyers” who he said have been lying “glibly” on television that judicial officers are not public officers.
Sagay referred to Part 2, paragraph 5, Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, which defines a public officer thus: “Public Officers for the Purposes of the Code of Conduct:…(5) Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice of the Supreme Court, Presidents and Justices of the Court of Appeal, all other Judicial Officers and all Staff of Courts of Law.”
Sagay said: “You can now see that these lawyers, senior advocates and all have been indulging in monumental lies on television, misleading the public.
“Another major lie is that a public officer, who commits a breach of the Code of Conduct by failing to declare some of his assets, is free from liability, provided he makes a written admission of such breach or non-compliance. For this, they rely on the proviso to Section 3 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act 1989.
“However, if one refers to the provisions of the Constitution, there is no such exemption from punishment. I refer specifically to the 5th Schedule Part 1, Paragraph 18 of the Constitution. That paragraph provides for the punishment for a breach of the Code of Conduct.
“These punishments are: (a) vacation from office, (b) disqualification from holding office for 10 years, (c) seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.
“There is absolutely no proviso whatsoever to the effect that an admission in writing of the offence will relieve the public officer of liability from punishment.
“On the contrary, paragraph 18(3) goes further to state that the three punishments listed above are without prejudice to the penalty that may be imposed by any law where the conduct is also a criminal offence.”
Sagay said there was, therefore, a clear conflict between the provision of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and the 1999 Constitution.
According to him, where there is a clash between the Constitution and any other law, Section 1(3) of the Constitution provides that the “Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of inconsistency be void”.
Besides, Sagay said where there is conflict between two pieces of legislation covering the same matter, the latter in time prevails.
“The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act were enacted in 1989. On the other hand, the present Constitution took effect from 1999. So either way, the provisions of the Constitution prevail over the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
“It can, therefore, be seen that there is no exemption from punishment whatsoever for a public officer who admits his guilt with regard to a breach of the Code of Conduct.
“One other opportunistic matter that the defenders of the Chief Justice are now raising, is the query that if the EFCC could petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) regarding the $30, 000 allegedly deposited in the Chief Justice’s Bank account, why was the earlier matter of the failure to fully disclose his assets not sent to the NJC?
“The answer is simple for anyone thinking in good faith. The non-declaration of assets is Constitutional and mandatorily a matter for the Code of Conduct Tribunal exclusively.
“On the other hand, payment by a lawyer into the account of a judge including the Chief Justice constitutes an offence committed by the judge as a judicial officer. Therefore, that matter according to the wrongly decided Nganjiwa’s case, goes to the NJC.
“Failure to declare assets is not an offence committed in the process of Judge’s activities as a judicial officer.
“Therefore, any complaint arising from such matter does not go to the NJC but to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (in cases of non-declaration of assets) or the ordinary Courts in other cases,” Sagay said.
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