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The Christian Lawyers’ Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON) received with dismay the disturbing news of the decision of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), an agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria, to arraign before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Monday, 14 January, 2019, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter S. N Onnoghen GCON for alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct as contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

It is the considered view of CLASFON that the decision of the executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria through its agency, the CCB, is misconceived, unconstitutional and a naked display of arbitrary powers by the executive arm of government. The action of the FGN undermines the principle of the rule of law and the doctrine of separation of powers which are fundamental principles of the Nigerian Constitution.

The provisions of sections 153 to 161 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, the Third Schedule to the Constitution, the National Judicial Policy of April 2016, the Judicial Discipline Regulations of 9th March 2017, the Revised Code of Conduct of Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of February 2016 made by the National Judicial Council pursuant to its constitutional powers and the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v. Federal Republic of Nigeria [2017] LPELR-43391 sum up the extant law on the procedure for dealing with cases of misconduct by serving judicial officers.

Section 161 (d) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution defines misconduct to mean “a breach of the Oath of Allegiance or oath of office of a member or a breach of the provisions of this Constitution or bribery or corruption or false declaration of assets and liabilities or conviction for treason or treasonable felony.” (emphasis supplied)

The Chief Justice of Nigeria is the Head of the Judiciary, the third arm of government and Chairman of the National Judicial Council and the Federal Judicial Service Commission, two important executive bodies established by Section 153 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution but the holder of the office is primarily a judicial officer. The Chief Justice of Nigeria as a judicial officer and a member of the National Judicial Council is amenable to the disciplinary control of the National Judicial Council. (Paragraph 21(b) and (g) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.

Section 158(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution states inter alia: “In exercising its power … to exercise disciplinary control over persons, … the National Judicial Council… shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person.”

From the foregoing, we consider the NJC as the appropriate organ to deal with complaints of misconduct brought against the Chief Justice of Nigeria in the first instance. The decision of the executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria to arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria before the CCT on allegations of misconduct is therefore premature as well as a usurpation of the constitutional functions of the National Judicial Council.

We call on the executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria to withdraw the charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter S. N. Onnoghen, GCON and refer any complaint of alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct against the Chief Justice of Nigeria to the National Judicial Council for investigation and consideration.

We call on the executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria to desist from acts of desecration of the Judiciary which were heightened in October 2017 with the invasion of the residences of some judicial officers. This is against the background that about 15 months after the infamous acts no complaint has been brought against some of the judicial officers whose residences were violated before the NJC and no public apology has been offered for the illegal acts of the Department of State Services (DSS).

We call on the executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria to abide by the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which its principal members have sworn to protect and defend.

 

Arome Moses Okwori

President

 

Olatunji Omole

National Secretary

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