Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Chairman Prof Itse Sagay (SAN) has hinted that Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is the National Judicial Council (NJC) himself saying, “The CJN is not only the Chairman of the NJC, he is also the appointor of 20 out of the NJC’s 23 members. The CJN is the NJC.”
Sagay stated this in a statement he released on Walter Onnoghen’s assets non-declaration case. Several lawyers had expressed disproval at the dragging of the embattled CJ to Code of Conduct Tribunal on the grounds that it is at variance with alleged judgment of the Court of Appeal that says erring judge must first be reported to NJC.
The renowned lawyer pooh-poohed the said judgment, adding that it has no relevance to the CJN’s case.
The statement reads in part: “It should be noted first that this judgment contradicts the clear provisions of the Code of Conduct as established in the Constitution which gives the Code of Conduct Tribunal jurisdiction over all public officers, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria. (See 5th Schedule, Part One, of the 1999 Constitution).
“Moreover, the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa’s case was directing its judgment to a judicial officer committing an offence in the process of carrying out his duties as a judge in a court namely: demanding bribe from a party to the case before him.
“Therefore, the ratio decidendi in this case is much narrower in scope than is being touted by our all mighty Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). Filling an Assets Declaration Form is totally outside the ambit of a judicial officer’s work. It applies to all public officers.
“If one may ask – should a drunken judge behind a car steering wheel kill an innocent pedestrian, will the offence be taken before the NJC, before the police can act on the crime?
“Indeed, in spite of its defects, the Court of Appeal judgment in the Nganjiwa’s case expressly limited reference to the NJC only to cases of a judicial officers’ misconduct in court whilst exercising his authority as judge in case before him in court.
“According to the court: ‘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 performance of his official functions, he may be arrested, interrogated and prosecuted accordingly by the State directly without recourse to the NJC. These classes of criminal act are not envisaged and captured by the provisions of paragraph 21, Part One of the Third Schedule.’
“This demonstrates the hollowness and invalidity of the argument that every offence committed by a judicial officer must first be brought before the NJC, before the law enforcement agencies can entertain it.”
Besides, Sagay believes that the NJC cannot be expected to be fair in Justice Onnoghen’s case.
“Almost all the Senior Advocates of Nigeria have argued that even in a case involving the breach of the Code of Conduct, for which the law has already made express provisions, the matter shall be taken to the NJC rather than to the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
“They can’t be serious. They must obviously be speaking tongue in cheek. Even a baby, three months old, must realise that no one can get justice against the CJN at the NJC. The CJN is not only the Chairman of the NJC, he is also the appointor of 20 out of the NJC’s 23 members. The CJN is the NJC.
“Only a grossly ignorant man or an extremely mischievous one could seriously suggest that a matter involving the CJN should be brought before the NJC for adjudication.
“Therefore, the whole idea of taking the present case to the NJC is a nonstarter, for that would make the CJN the Chief Judge of his own case – a clear violation, not only of the Constitution, but also of a long standing common law principle coming all the way from MAGNA CARTER in the year 1215.”