The umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), says planned trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, is a ploy to to intimidate judges ahead of the 2019 polls.
The move to sack the CJN was confirmed by the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, in Abuja on Saturday over allegations of non-declaration of assets.
In a statement made available to National Daily, the NBA President, Paul Usoro (SAN), described the government initiative as a “targeted assault on the judiciary by the agents of the Federal Government”.
He argued that the planned trial of Justice Onnoghen was a violation of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) which shielded serving judges from investigation and prosecution unless they are first disciplined by the National Judicial Council.
Said Usoro, “This continuing attack on the justice sector must cease forthwith. FGN and its agencies must desist from debasing the rule of law.”
The statement read in part, “There are two final issues that we must touch upon in this Statement, albeit, briefly. First, could it possibly be a coincidence that the current assault on the judiciary is taking place only weeks to the 2019 National Election?
“Apart from the conduct itself being wrongful and deplorable, its timing is condemnable. FGN will find it difficult to convince any reasonable person that its assault against the CJN and by extension the judiciary is not aimed at emasculating that arm of the government and intimidating our judges ahead of the 2019 National Elections.
“As a final point, it is also difficult for a disinterested observer not to see a pattern of consistent assault by agencies of the FGN on the heads of the two independent arms of government, to wit, the legislature and the judiciary, starting with the prosecution of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before the CCT and now, the ill-fated prosecution of the CJN before the same CCT.”
He said the impression must not be created that the agencies of the Executive arm of the FGN are interested in destabilizing and laying prostrate the other arms of the Government and in the process eliminating and destroying any and all voices of dissent and checks and balances.
Critics have queried the rush with which the charges were instituted as the filing was done by the Code of Conduct Bureau within 24 hours of receiving the petition against the CJN.
Reports have noted that the petition against Onnoghen was dated January 7, 2019, received by the Bureau on January 9, 2019 and the charges promptly drafted January 10, 2019.
Incidentally, Usoro is also facing corruption charges initiated against him by the Buhari administration.