You can see that we have a much bigger problem than Onnoghen and “his 40 accounts.” This is where the public should please trust those of us insisting on due process in the Onnoghen, CJN matter.
The entire judiciary architecture has been badly mired in politics. Not because there’s no due process entrenched; but rather for deliberate disregard of it in judicial administration. Does Buhari strike anyone as a person who understands or is capable of solving this problem by spying on Justice’s Dom Account and falsifying their asset declaration forms at CCB? The judiciary needs soul-searching and penitence. Due process alone is the safe bet to effect the change we need. Should a President of Court of Appeal finding herself in this awkward situation not recuse herself from any function touching on Pre-election and post-election litigations while her husband is contesting for senatorial seat on the platform of the ruling party? Better still, why can’t the husband make the sacrifice of staying off partisan politics while his spouse – for whom I have the greatest respect -remain the President of the Court of Appeal?
This is so because there’s no way she would not be conflicted in discharging her exclusive function of selecting and empanelling election petition tribunals for all elective offices from House of Assembly, to House of Representatives, Senate and governorship; and also all appeals to the Court of Appeal emanating from decisions of those tribunals. He equally sets up the panel of the Court of Appeal to hear petition arising from presidential election. It’s only in appeals to the Supreme Court in presidential and governorship election petitions that the Chief Justice of Nigeria is empowered to empanel.
The President of the Court of Appeal derives power of appointment of the members of these tribunals from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
Attention is drawn to 6th Schedule to the Constitution as amended by the 2nd Alteration Act No. 2 of 2011 paragraphs 1(3) for National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal and 2 (3) for Governorship Election. Tribunal respectively –
“The Chairman and other members shall be appointed by the President of the Court of Appeal in consultation with the Chief Judge of the State , the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the State or President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the State, as the case may be.”
The equivalent power of PCA to constitute panel for trial of presidential election petition is to be found in section 239 of the Constitution being the only instance where the court sits as a trial court exercising original jurisdiction.
It seems to me that the fact that the spouse of President of the Court of Appeal is not only a card-carrying member but a contestant for a high office of senator on the ticket of the ruling party, APC, as depicted in the link below supplied, is the more serious conundrum for the judiciary to address; and for the executive whose party made Mr Bulkachuwa its senatorial flag bearer, the discomfiting task to interrogate. We lost sight of this pertinent concern in the trending debate over the proposed (apparently now aborted) CCT trial and contentious suspension of Onnoghen, CJN by General Buhari. It is perhaps as a result of the misconceived narrative pushed by the authors of the petition against Onnoghen CJN that he would, qua his status as CJN, be saddled with the function of setting up tribunals to hear election petitions. This is an unfortunate misstatement that nearly all active commentators on the subject have bought or taken matter-of-factly. It is really sad!
The real locus of that power is the office of President of Court of Appeal.
The act of swearing-in those 250 members selected in the pool of judges for election petitions in 2019 is purely ceremonial – and there’s nothing I can find in the constitution providing for that ceremony to be conducted by Chief Justice of Nigeria. It’s mere convention and a practice I reckon was to accord the occasion the solemnity and aura which no other Judicial officer can better provide than the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
So in a nutshell, the power to select, appoint and empanel, disband or reconstitute election tribunal is exclusively vested in the President of the Court of Appeal – he does not share that power with anybody; not even with Chief Justice of Nigeria, whether acting or substantive.
The APC should have used good judgment and discretion to avoid handing ticket to any immediate family of the President of the Court of Appeal to save mi lady the resultant embarrassment. They have that prerogative as a political party to exclude an aspirant from picking their ticket for reasons of political correctness and fidelity to the letters and spirit of the Constitution which guarantees fair hearing before a court properly constituted to ensure impartiality and independence.
I charge all stakeholders including the NBA and election monitoring CSOs to swiftly interrogate this potential source of crisis of confidence in the post- election judicial process. That is as important, if not more so, than the trending disputes and contentions surrounding the office of CJN.