A Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), has urged the Federal Government to withdraw the criminal charges filed against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
Falana said he made the request having confirmed that a petition had been submitted to the National Judicial Council alleging grave misconduct against Onnoghen.
In the February 3 letter addressed to the Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Falana urged the minister to advise President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the suspension because a public officer could not be removed from office on the basis of an ex parte order granted by any court or tribunal in Nigeria.
The letter reads in part, “Since the charge of false declaration of assets was filed against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the Code of Conduct Bureau, I have repeatedly requested you to use your good offices to discontinue the case. My request was anchored on the case of Elelu-Habeeb vs the Attorney-General of the Federation & Ors (2012) 40 WRN 1 where the Supreme Court held that by virtue of Section 292 of the Constitution of Nigeria, the head of any of the judicial arm of state and Federal Governments cannot be removed from office without a prior investigation conducted by the National Judicial Council.
“Having confirmed that you have since submitted a petition to the National Judicial Council alleging grave misconduct against the chief justice, I am compelled to request you, once again, to file a nolle prosequi to discontinue the charge pending against his Lordship at the Code of Conduct Tribunal without any further delay.
“The charge should not be allowed to hang like a Sword of Damocles on the head of the Chief Justice while he is being investigated by the National Judicial Council. In view of your implicit confidence in the ability of members of the National Judicial Council to resolve the matter, you ought to accede to the request to terminate the proceedings at the Code of Conduct Tribunal forthwith.”
Falana posited that the withdrawal of the case from the Code of Conduct Tribunal would lead to the immediate vacation of the ex parte order relied upon by the President to justify the illegal suspension of Onnoghen and the appointment of Justice Tanko Mohammad as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
He said, “Even though by virtue of Paragraph 10 (2) (a) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Code of Conduct Tribunal is empowered to order any public officer to vacate office, the power cannot be exercised until such a public officer has been tried and convicted for breaching the provisions of the code of conduct for pubic officers.
“But as a public officer cannot be removed from office on the basis of an ex parte order granted by any court or tribunal in Nigeria, we urge you to advise President Buhari to reverse the suspension of the Chief Justice.
“Once the suspension is reversed, Justice Walter Onnoghen will then be prevailed upon to resign as the Chief Justice having lost the moral authority to preside over the affairs of the juridical organ of the government of the Federation.”
He added, “However, if his Lordship does not call it quits or if the National Judicial Council does not recommend his removal from office, you may wish to exercise your powers under Section 174 of the Constitution to prosecute him for failure to declare his assets which is a punishable offence under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.”