January 15, 2019
CJN ARRAIGNMENT FOR NON-DECLARATION OF ASSETS: NJC HAS NO INITIAL ROLE TO PLAY – CACOL
Since the news broke last week Saturday, 12th January, 2019, on the proposed arraignment and possible trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) over his inability to declare his full assets as at the time he was sworn in as the Nigeria’s head of the Judiciary, there has been mixed reactions across all sections of the country, while majority of the country’s lawyers have openly threatened to shut down the operations of the courts by downing tools; a threat one of the states in the South-South of the country (Cross Rivers NBA Branch), a region the CJN hails from, has already made good by declaring a down of tools/strike action.
It is quite interesting to note that the man in the eye of the storm himself, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has never denied his refusal or inability to declare his assets as required for all public officers by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) and other relevant rules governing Public Officers’ operations. It should, however, be stated that what most of those chastising the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for arraigning the CJN on refusal or failure to declare his assets before assuming the position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, was the provisions of Paragraph 21 (b) of the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) as applicable to the probable arraignment and trial of serving judges which this provision insists must first be reported at the NJC (Nigerian Judicial Council) for investigation and issue a declaration of a ‘case to answer’ or not on the judicial officer before he/she could then be suspended or made to recuse himself/herself and be made available for necessary arraignment and trial. This, no doubt, is to preserve and guarantee the independence of the Judiciary against probable interference or manipulations of any other arm of government.
In a Press Release issued by CACOL’s Coordinator, Media and Publications, Adegboyega Otunuga on behalf of the anti-graft organization’s Executive Chairman, Mr. Debo Adeniran, he noted, “Against the backdrop of opposition and condemnation by a cross section of Nigerians, especially legal practitioners, it is incumbent to note that where the issue involves offences committed against the Nigerian constitution by the judicial officer or it concerns certain criminal offences, like murder, manslaughter, refusal to declare his/her assets or false declaration of such assets, etc., such a judicial officer, including the CJN, may be directly arraigned and made to face prosecution without any recourse to the NJC (Nigerian Judicial Council). This is because such a legal infraction was never committed in the course of duty as a judge but as an affront to the constitution that requires any public officer to declare his/her assets before the CCB which is the only statutory body that is also mandated to investigate and confirm the genuiness or otherwise of such declaration. “It must be expressly stated that if a judicial officer commits theft, fraud, murder or manslaughter, arson and the likes, which are crimes committed outside the scope of the performance of his official functions, he may be arrested, interrogated and prosecuted accordingly by the State DIRECTLY without recourse to the NJC.” - Appeal Court ruling in Nganjiwa v FRN and even a Supreme Court ruling in Kwara State Pilgrims Welfare Board V Baba affirms same position.”
“The CJN was alleged to have made five (5) different cash deposits of USD10, 000 (Ten thousand Dollars) each on March 8, 2011, into Standard Bank Account 1062650, on June 7, 2011, he made two (20 separate cash deposits of USD5, 000 (Five Thousand Dollars) each, which was followed by another four cash deposits of USD10, 000 (Ten Thousand Dollars) each, on June 27, 2011, made another set of five separate cash deposits of USD10, 000 (Ten Thousand Dollars) each and made four other cash deposits of USD10, 000 (Ten Thousand Dollars) on June 28, 2011. All these were ethical crimes committed, not in the course of performing his duties, but as a Public officer that ought to declare such available funds/deposits.”
The CACOL Boss added, “The truth is that the NJC has neither the technical ability nor the constitutional power to investigate assets declaration matters. It is only the CCB that was constitutionally vested with such powers and technically equipped for same purpose. Aside this, Justice Onnoghen is not being arraigned as a judicial officer but as a public officer and he enjoys no immunity not to be so arraigned. On the timing of the arraignment which some are insisting makes it smell of political undertone, we hasten to add that though this issue first cropped up almost two (2) years ago, there is no such time limit for a criminal offence and only the prosecution could determine when enough proofs and investigation have been gathered to try such cases. We could only plead that as Nigerians who have been adversely affected by the ravaging effects of corruption by those at the various levels of government, enough discretion should apply in responding to such issues, irrespective of whose ox is gored.”
Media Coordinator, CACOL
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