Nigerian Bar Association accuses Buhari’s administration over CJN trial

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has accused the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari of deliberately daunting judges in a bid to weaken the judiciary before the 2019 general elections.

In a statement signed by NBA National President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, criticized what it described as a “pattern of consistent assault” on both the Judiciary and the Legislature by agencies of the Federal Government.

In its condemnation of the plans by Federal government to arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), over alleged failure to declare his assets, NBA gave the warning that a continuous attack on the judiciary must come to an end.

NBA National President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN

The statement read:  “The Nigerian Bar Association unequivocally condemns this assault, intimidation and desecration of the Judiciary by FGN agencies and demands that it be stopped immediately.

“In Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), the Court of Appeal made it very clear that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer must first be reported to and handled by the National Judicial Council (“NJC”) pursuant to the provisions of our laws.

“Only after the NJC has pronounced against such judicial officer can the prosecuting agencies of the Federal Government proceed against him.

‘’As the court pointed out, these requirements of the law are anchored on the overriding principles of separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and the legislature and on the need to preserve, promote and protect the independence of the judiciary.

“Our respective liberties and the rule of law are best protected and preserved if the judiciary remains independent and shielded from intimidation and assault by the other arms of the government.

“In Nganjiwa v FRN (supra), the Court of Appeal made reference to Rule 3 of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of February 2016 (“Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers”) and held that the said Rule 3 makes provision in relation to fidelity to the Constitution and the Law.

“The provisions in regard to assets declaration as they apply to all public officers including the CJN are contained in both the Constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act 1991, the enabling law that establishes both the Code of Conduct Bureau (“CCB”) and the CCT.

“The fidelity which judicial officers therefore owe ‘to the Constitution and the Law’ pursuant to Rule 3 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers encompasses compliance with the provisions relating to assets declarations as contained in the Constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

“Any infraction in that regard by a judicial officer, as the Court of Appeal rightly held, constitutes a misconduct by the judicial officer and becomes the subject matter for discipline by the NJC as a condition precedent to any possible prosecution of the judicial officer by any of the FGN’s prosecuting agencies.

“Why has FGN decided to embark on this anomalous course of charging the CJN before the CCT without first presenting whatever facts it purportedly has against His Lordship to the NJC for its deliberation and determination?” The NBA inquired.

Meanwhile the Governors of the South-South geopolitical zone on Sunday urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to ignore the summons issued to him by the Code of Conduct Tribunal to come and defend the false assets declaration charges levelled against him.

While the Senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, yesterday advised the Federal Government to make sure that its policy to put on trial the nation’s chief judicial officer, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, does not lead to disorder in the judicial system.

According to him, the haste with which the whole thing took place already indicates unnecessary haste and short-circuiting of the process of fair hearing.

Stating that the trial was submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) on Wednesday, January 8, and by January 10 on Friday, the Chief Justice was presented with it for his reply only for the charges to be drafted that same day and filed in the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, for the trial to commence tomorrow.

However, while the meeting was ongoing by Governors in Abuja, militants in Niger Delta issued a statement with the threat to shut down oil wells in the region if the federal government should go on with the trial against CJN.

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