Ahead of the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen on Monday over alleged false asset declaration by the Code of Conduct Bureau, mixed reaction as trail the controversial arraignment of the highest judicial officer of the land.
While Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, asked the Federal Government to urgently withdraw the charges Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), says the development shows no one is above the law.
The Federal Government had earlier asked Onnoghen to vacate his office over failure to declare his assets as required by the law and moved to arraign him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
Falana, in a statement on Saturday faulted FG”s move to press charges against the CJN, saying such move will amount to prosecutorial misadventure,
According to him, “The charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen ought not to have been instituted at the Code of Conduct of Tribunal in view of the case of Nganjiwa v FRN (2017) LPELR 43391 wherein the Court of Appeal held that a judicial officer who has not been investigated by the National Judicial Council and sanctioned for misconduct cannot be arraigned in any criminal court in Nigeria.
“As all authorities are bound by the Court of Appeal verdict, the case should be withdrawn by the Attorney-General of the Federation without any delay because it is likely to be a prosecutorial misadventure,” he said.
But Sagay said, “The Constitution has named those entitled to immunity – the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors.
“What these Justices tried to do is to take over the job of the National Assembly, amend the Constitution and then hide themselves inside as those who are immune from prosecution. To me, it’s illegal and unconstitutional, The Nation quoted Sagay as saying.
“Number two, I’ve read the Nganjiwa judgment. It’s a judgment limited to a judge who was acting as a judicial officer, who was hearing a case and in the process was found guilty of misconduct in the hearing of that case.
“This matter that has just occurred has nothing to do with a case in court. It has something common to all public officers before you take an office. So, there’s a major distinction. The Nganjiwa case does not cover this situation.
“Thirdly, we’re talking of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, head of a branch of government; in fact I’ll say head of the most important branch of the government, because they’re the arbiters of anything that goes wrong in the other two arms.
“It is said that Julius Ceasar’s wife must be above board. If I’m the Chief Justice, even a judge, and you bring such a charge against me, I will not contest jurisdiction. If I contest jurisdiction and win, you’re still going to say: ‘But you did it’.
“Rather, I’ll waive the issue of jurisdiction, because my status is so high that I must have a clean image before the world, so that the institution I represent may not be tainted.
“Those hiding behind jurisdiction are trying to cover up iniquities of some sort. I’m speaking generally now.
“Those who are bringing that issue up are creating a problem for this country, because the sore will still be there. It’s as if they’re saying no doctor should treat it.
“Those cases that went on for 12 years were because of the issue of jurisdiction – all the looters’ cases. It’s jurisdiction that was argued from High Court to Supreme Court and back. The issue of bleeding this country to death through corruption was never touched.
“I think at the level of the officer we’re talking about now, we shouldn’t be talking of jurisdiction. We should be talking of the substance. Did he or did he not do it? That’s all.”