Ig­nore CCT sum­mons, S’south govs tell CJN

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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.

This is as em­i­nent lawyers and other prom­i­nent Nige­ri­ans in­clud­ing the Se­nate Pres­i­dent, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Yakubu Dog­ara, Chief Afe Ba­balola (SAN) and Femi Falana (SAN), con­demned the Fed­eral Govern­ment for in­sti­tut­ing the charges against the CJN. They warned against rub­bish­ing the ju­di­ciary.

Among other things, they said the haste with which the Fed­eral Govern­ment acted on the pe­ti­tion against Onnoghen was sus­pi­cious.

But as the gov­er­nors were hold­ing their meet­ing in Abuja, mil­i­tants from the Niger Delta is­sued a state­ment where they threat­ened to shut down all oil wells in the re­gion if the Fed­eral Govern­ment failed to with­draw the charges against the CJN.

The gov­er­nors af­ter the emer­gency meet­ing held at the Bayelsa State Gover­nor’s Lodge, Abuja, said the CJN should shun the sum­mons.

Present at the meet­ing in­cluded the Gover­nor of Bayelsa State, Se­ri­ake Dick­son; Nye­som Wike, (Rivers State); Ben Ayade, (Cross River); and Udom Em­manuel, (Akwa Ibom). Delta and Edo states’ gov­er­nors were ab­sent at the meet­ing.

Dick­son, who read the com­mu­nique, said while they were not op­posed to a gen­uine fight against cor­rup­tion, such an ac­tion must al­ways be an­chored on the rule of law.

He said, “We call on the CJN to ig­nore this so-called court sum­mons from the CCT and the provoca­tive call for his res­ig­na­tion in some quar­ters.

“While we are not op­posed to a gen­uine fight against cor­rup­tion, such an ac­tion must al­ways be an­chored on the rule of law.”

He stated that the ac­tion would not only un­der­mine con­fi­dence in the ju­di­ciary, it would also erode con­fi­dence in the elec­toral process in view of the piv­otal role that the ju­di­ciary plays in the process of elec­toral ad­ju­di­ca­tion.

The gover­nor said they be­lieved that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari had a con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity and moral obli­ga­tion to de­fend the na­tion’s democ­racy.

The gov­er­nors, Dick­son said, con­sid­ered the step to ar­raign the CJN as di­rectly aimed at hu­mil­i­at­ing the na­tion’s high­est ju­di­cial of­fi­cer and a prom­i­nent son of the geopo­lit­i­cal zone.

Onnoghen’s trial, he noted, “is to­tally un­ac­cept­able to us as it is re­flec­tive of the end­less story of the marginal­i­sa­tion and in­tim­i­da­tion of the South-south.”

He cited the re­moval of a for­mer act­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Depart­ment of State Ser­vices, Mathew Seiyefa, and his re­place­ment with a north­erner to back his claim.

Dick­son said the ac­tion against the CJN fur­ther re­in­forced the per­cep­tion that the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion had no re­gard for the rule of law and the sen­ti­ments of Nige­ri­ans in gen­eral and those of the peo­ple of the Niger Delta in par­tic­u­lar.

He al­leged that the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion had a pen­chant for fla­grant dis­obe­di­ence of and dis­re­gard for le­git­i­mate and valid court or­ders.

The gover­nor said they ex­pected Buhari to know that democ­racy could not sur­vive with­out re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tion, strict ad­her­ence to the rule of law, and sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers.

Dick­son said, “The meet­ing de­lib­er­ated on the re­cent hap­pen­ings at the Supreme Court in­volv­ing the Chief Jus­tice of the Nige­ria, Jus­tice Wal­ter Onnoghen and re­solved that the ac­tion against him con­sti­tuted a set­back to the gains of the na­tion’s demo­cratic ex­pe­ri­ence of 20 years.

“We note that un­der Sec­tion 158(1) of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion, the Na­tional Ju­di­cial Coun­cil has am­ple pow­ers to deal ex­haus­tively with mat­ters per­tain­ing to al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct and dis­ci­pline of ju­di­cial of­fi­cers.

“Specif­i­cally, the NJC has the pow­ers and clear pro­ce­dures for in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions, and rec­om­mend­ing ap­pro­pri­ate sanc­tions or dis­ci­plinary mea­sures against ju­di­cial of­fi­cials as a mat­ter of first in­stance be­fore any fur­ther step.

“The ju­di­cial pro­nounce­ments in the cases of FGN Vs Jus­tice Sylvester Ng­wuta of the Supreme Court (Jan­uary 9, 2018) and Jus­tice Nga­jinwa Vs FGN 2017 at the CCT have given val­i­da­tion to the ex­press pro­vi­sions of the con­sti­tu­tion on this is­sue.”

He added, “We note that the at­tempt to drag the CJN to the CCT is also a grave and dan­ger­ous es­ca­la­tion of the as­sault on in­sti­tu­tions of state in­clud­ing the Na­tional Assem­bly and the Ju­di­ciary.

“We strongly be­lieve that the re­gret­table de­vel­op­ment at the Supreme Court at this crit­i­cal time, when prepa­ra­tions for the gen­eral elec­tions are wob­bling (with se­ri­ous con­cern about INEC and se­cu­rity agen­cies) is ca­pa­ble of caus­ing avoid­able anx­i­ety, ten­sion and pos­si­ble break­down of law and or­der in the coun­try.

“We af­firm Pres­i­dent Buhari should know that the con­tin­u­ous as­sault on crit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions of state is a defin­ing fea­ture of a dic­ta­tor­ship, and that the Pres­i­dent is obliged to live up to his word that he is a born-again demo­crat, as he as­sured Nige­ri­ans in 2015.”

N’delta mil­i­tants threaten to shut down oil wells over CJN’S trial

But the Coali­tion of Niger Delta Ag­i­ta­tors on Sun­day warned that it would be­gin to at­tack oil wells in the oil-rich re­gion if Pres­i­dent Buhari failed to re­verse the ha­rass­ment of Onnoghen.

The var­i­ous mil­i­tant groups said they were shocked to learn about the planned ar­raign­ment of the CJN over al­le­ga­tions of false as­set dec­la­ra­tion.

A state­ment is­sued via elec­tronic mail by the coali­tion al­leged that Onnoghen was be­ing per­se­cuted be­cause he was from the Niger Delta, adding that the pe­ti­tion was plot­ted by the Pres­i­dency to force­fully re­move Onnoghen as the CJN and re­place him with a north­erner.

The state­ment was signed by John Duku of the Niger Delta Watch­dogs and Con­vener, Coali­tion of Niger Delta Ag­i­ta­tors; Ekpo Ekpo of the Niger Delta Vol­un­teers; Sim­ply Ben­jamin (Bakassi Strike Force); Osarolor Nedam (Niger Delta War­riors); Henry Okon Etete (Niger Delta Peo­ples Fight­ers); and Asukwo Hen­shaw (Bakassi Free­dom Fight­ers).

It stated, “In the first in­stance, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari was not dis­posed to Jus­tice Onnoghen’s ap­point­ment to this po­si­tion, which was why he re­fused to con­firm the ap­point­ment af­ter so many months of serv­ing in an act­ing ca­pac­ity. It was dur­ing the pe­riod of his sick­ness while in Bri­tain that the (then) act­ing Pres­i­dent – Prof. Yemi Os­in­bajo, con­firmed the ap­point­ment.

“We wish to also re­call that in Au­gust last year, Mr Matthew Seiyefa of Bayelsa State, who was the most se­nior and most qual­i­fied of­fi­cer at the time was ap­pointed to the po­si­tion of act­ing Direc­torGen­eral of the Depart­ment of State Ser­vices by Prof. Os­in­bajo, only to be re­placed with a re­tired and ju­nior of­fi­cer to Seiyefa, Mr Yusuf Bichi, by Pres­i­dent Buhari as soon as he re­sumed du­ties.

“We hereby ve­he­mently re­sist any at­tempt to re­move the CJN from of­fice. We there­fore want to state cat­e­gor­i­cally that if the Pres­i­dency failed to re­verse its ha­rass­ment against the CJN, we will have no other op­tion but to mo­bilise all the Niger Delta fight­ers and com­mence se­ri­ous ac­tions that would shake the coun­try and the whole world.

“We shall shut down all the oil wells in the Niger Delta. We call on all the north­ern­ers and Yoruba who own oil wells in the Niger Delta to pre­pare to va­cate im­me­di­ately.

“We also want to warn our Niger Delta broth­ers, who are work­ing for Buhari to watch their back and know that we are watch­ing them and their fam­ily mem­bers. We warn them to stop cam­paign­ing for Buhari in the Niger Delta,” the mil­i­tants added.

FG’S haste shows cor­rup­tion war is com­pro­mised – Saraki

Saraki in a state­ment in Ilorin on Sun­day ad­vised the Fed­eral Govern­ment to fol­low due process in the trial of Onnoghen to avoid chaos in the na­tion’s ju­di­ciary.

Saraki said he be­lieved that if the govern­ment truly had gen­uine rea­sons to put Onnoghen on trial, due process must not be com­pro­mised.

The Se­nate Pres­i­dent in­sisted that “the Fed­eral Govern­ment should en­sure that ev­ery nor­mal step in the process (of the trial) as pro­vided by the law, is trans­par­ent and fol­lowed to the let­ter.”

Saraki said, “The haste with which this trial is be­ing pur­sued leaves a lot to be de­sired. From last Wed­nes­day when the so-called pe­ti­tion against the CJN was ini­ti­ated to the pe­riod the trial is sched­uled to com­mence has been barely three work­ing days.

“Mean­while, there are pend­ing cases where some in­di­vid­u­als (al­legedly) in­volved (in cor­rup­tion) have been in­dicted some months ago but no pros­e­cu­tion is be­ing con­sid­ered.”

Saraki main­tained that the anti-cor­rup­tion fight had be­come a case of a sep­a­rate rule for the peo­ple close to the ex­ec­u­tive arm and an­other set of rules for the rest of Nige­ri­ans.

He said, “The fight (against cor­rup­tion) has been com­pro­mised and politi­cised. All the sub­jec­tive ac­tions politi­cise the anti-graft fight. They weaken na­tional in­sti­tu­tions. They send wrong sig­nals.

“The CJN is not above the law but his trial puts the en­tire ju­di­cial sys­tem on trial. It sends a sig­nal to the en­tire world about our ju­di­ciary. It has im­pli­ca­tions for the con­fi­dence of lo­cal and for­eign in­vestors about the sys­tem of ad­ju­di­ca­tion over dis­putes in our coun­try.

“Thus, the mat­ter should be han­dled with care, demon­strat­ing in­tense trans­parency and strict ad­her­ence to due process.

“This trial, com­ing just about a month to the com­mence­ment of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the af­ter­math of which the CJN and the ju­di­ciary, which he is lead­ing are set to play cru­cial ad­ju­di­ca­tory role, has al­ready raised sus­pi­cion about the real mo­tive.

“There are al­ready sug­ges­tions that this plan is set to dis­or­gan­ise the ju­di­cial arm af­ter con­stant at­tempts by agents of state to un­der­mine the fed­eral leg­is­la­ture.

“There­fore, the en­tire coun­try and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will be watch­ing closely, ev­ery step in this trial be­cause it is def­i­nitely un­usual, un­prece­dented and will set a record in the en­gage­ment among the three arms of govern­ment recog­nised in our pres­i­den­tial sys­tem.”

Nige­ria not a banana repub­lic, Dog­ara warns FG

Also, in a state­ment on Sun­day, Dog­ara called for cau­tion in the charges filed against the CJN be­cause Nige­ria is not a banana repub­lic.

Dog­ara stated that while the House awaited fur­ther brief­ing from rel­e­vant agen­cies, “nev­er­the­less, it is im­por­tant that due process is fol­lowed be­cause Nige­ria is a coun­try gov­erned by laws and not dic­tates of men.”

The Speaker, who noted that the House was not less zeal­ous in the fight against cor­rup­tion, how­ever, said “to com­mence a mat­ter of that grave mag­ni­tude with a me­dia trial is preg­nant with in­nu­en­dos least needed by the polity at this sen­si­tive time.”

The state­ment partly read, “It is im­por­tant that peo­ple in au­thor­ity should ex­er­cise power with deco­rum and not plunge the na­tion to need­less crises as Nige­ria is not a banana repub­lic.

“This is a mat­ter that af­fects an­other arm of govern­ment and its head which should be treated with cau­tion so as not to send the wrong sig­nal that there is a po­lit­i­cal un­der­tone or other ul­te­rior mo­tives to the is­sue.”

Trial il­le­gal, it’ll end in pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­ad­ven­ture –Falana

How­ever, Falana asked the At­tor­ney-gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion and Min­is­ter of Jus­tice, Mr Abubakar Malami, to with­draw the charges of non-dec­la­ra­tion of as­sets in­sti­tuted against Onnoghen.

Falana, in an in­ter­view with The PUNCH, said the charges were filed in vi­o­la­tion of the sub­sist­ing judg­ment of the Court of Ap­peal which had shielded serv­ing ju­di­cial of­fi­cers from be­ing in­ves­ti­gated or pros­e­cuted un­til they were dis­ci­plined by the Na­tional Ju­di­cial Coun­cil.

He said if the case was not with­drawn, it would likely end up as “a pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­ad­ven­ture.”

Falana re­called that the CCT where the CJN was charged, had ap­plied the Court of Ap­peal’s judg­ment when it on May 15, 2018, dis­missed sim­i­lar charges in­sti­tuted against a Jus­tice of the Supreme Court, Jus­tice Sylvester Ng­wuta.

He said, “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.

“The CCT had ear­lier ap­plied the same judg­ment in the case against Jus­tice Ng­wuta, so it can­not now over­rule it­self.

“As all au­thor­i­ties are bound by the Court of Ap­peal verdict the case should be with­drawn by the AGF with­out any de­lay be­cause it is likely to be a pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­ad­ven­ture.”

Don’t den­i­grate ju­di­ciary, Afe Ba­balola warns FG

Sim­i­larly, Ba­balola de­scribed the pro­posed trial of Onnoghen at the CCT as a den­i­gra­tion of the coun­try’s ju­di­ciary and con­sti­tu­tion.

Ba­balola, in a state­ment on Sun­day, said the law had made the pro­cesses for the trial of ju­di­cial of­fi­cers and as well their re­moval clear, hence the need to de­sist from con­tempt and den­i­gra­tion of the ju­di­ciary.

He said, “I am of the view that the con­sti­tu­tion re­quires that any in­frac­tion by the said judges be firstly in­ves­ti­gated and re­solved by the Na­tional Ju­di­cial Coun­cil to the ex­clu­sion of any other body or au­thor­ity.”

Ba­balola, who stated that the de­ci­sion of the Court of Ap­peal in Ngan­jiwa v Fed­eral Repub­lic of Nige­ria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA) “still sub­sists and has not been set aside,” said, “I there­fore see no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the de­ci­sion to ar­raign the CJN be­fore the CCT.

“Again the point must be made clear that the con­sti­tu­tion clearly pro­vides for the pro­ce­dure with which the CJN can be re­moved from of­fice. Sec­tion 292(1)(a)(i) and 292(1)(b) of the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Nige­ria 1999 (as Amended) ad­dressed it.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, given the clear pro­vi­sions for trial and re­moval of judges, “it be­comes more wor­ry­ing to learn that aside from lay­ing the pro­posed charges, the pros­e­cu­tion has also filed an ap­pli­ca­tion see­ing an or­der di­rect­ing the CJN to re­cuse him­self from of­fice pend­ing the con­clu­sion of the trial.”

the se­nior ad­vo­cate said, “By pro­ceed­ing as pro­posed, the govern­ment is un­wit­tingly or per­haps de­lib­er­ately cre­at­ing a wrong im­pres­sion in the minds of Nige­ri­ans that the ju­di­ciary is a crim­i­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion. For the sake of our democ­racy, this is a mis­con­cep­tion that must not be al­lowed to fester.”

FG bent on in­tim­i­dat­ing ju­di­ciary, says Or­tom

Also, the Benue state Gover­nor, sa­muel Or­tom, on sun­day, re­jected the at­tempt by the Fed­eral Govern­ment to force the CJN to re­sign or be re­moved. he said that it was a de­lib­er­ate ploy to in­tim­i­date the ju­di­ciary.

the gover­nor, in a state­ment in Makurdi by his Chief Press sec­re­tary, ter­ver Akase, noted that the man­ner in which the Fed­eral Govern­ment was plotting to re­move the CJN by rush­ing charges against him and leak­ing the charges to the press was sus­pi­cious.

Orom stated, “it is now clear that af­ter un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to in­tim­i­date the Na­tional Assem­bly, the same un­demo­cratic forces have turned their at­tacks on the ju­di­ciary. this is a clar­ion call on men and women of good­will to con­demn the move aimed at sup­press­ing the ju­di­cial arm of govern­ment.”

S’W PDP asks CJN not to re­sign

Also, the south-west PDP, in a state­ment on sun­day, called on the em­bat­tled CJN not to re­sign his po­si­tion.

the state­ment signed by the Pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary of the party in the south-west, Mr Ayo Fadaka, said Onnoghen’s pros­e­cu­tion was the al­leged de­lib­er­ate plan of the All Pro­gres­sives Congress to per­fect its rig­ging plan.

APC ac­cuses PDP of sup­port­ing cor­rup­tion

But the rul­ing APC accused the op­po­si­tion PDP of sup­port­ing and de­fend­ing cor­rup­tion against na­tional in­ter­est.

the APC made the ac­cu­sa­tion based on the state­ment made by the PDP fol­low­ing re­ports of the move to pros­e­cute the CJN over an al­leged in­frac­tion on the Code of Con­duct laws.

the rul­ing party in a state­ment by its Na­tional Pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary, Mal­lam Lanre issa-onilu, said the PDP state­ment con­demn­ing the pur­ported move had again ex­posed the party as one with a nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion to rise up in de­fence of cases of al­leged cor­rup­tion.

issa-onilu stated, “Re­sort to base­less pos­tu­la­tions any­time is­sues of cor­rup­tion are lev­elled against pub­lic of­fi­cers only con­firms what Nige­ri­ans al­ready know.

“the PDP and cor­rup­tion are si­amese twins that are dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate from each other. One would have thought that the PDP would call for im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions when cor­rup­tion cases are lev­elled against pub­lic of­fi­cers, but spin­ning false­hoods and con­spir­a­cies re­mains the op­po­si­tion party’s favourite pas­time.

“We as­sure the PDP and in­deed all Nige­ri­ans that the Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari-led APC ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mains un­com­pro­mis­ing in its de­ter­mi­na­tion to rid the coun­try of this mal­ady.”

issa-onilu boasted that the APC had pro­moted a level play­ing field in pre­vi­ous elec­tions con­ducted un­der its watch un­like when the PDP was in power.

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