By John Bassey
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen has been asked to resign immediately to safe the judiciary from further embarrassment.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Nigerian Human Rights Community, (NHRC) a coalition of several civil society groups urged the Chief Justice to step aside pending the determination of the veracity or otherwise of the charges leveled against him.
The group in the statement on Wednesday and signed by Mrs Tokunbo Adebola, the Director of Programmes and the Assistant Secretary, Uche Igwe said the continuous occupation of the exalted position by CJ Onnoghen does not portray the CJ as a conscientious, decent and responsible judicial officer. The statement was made available to Irohinoodua.
“We are aware that the CJ like any judicial officer can only be disciplined by the National Judicial Council, (NJC). In this case, the issue at stake goes beyond moral discipline. At the centre of this case is serious financial crime by the number one law enforcement officer in Nigeria. At the root of this is a horrendous crime against humanity. Large scale corruption allegations against the CJ are weighty. It has to do with owning illicit funds running into a billion naira. He should resign with immediate effect”, the NHRC stated.
Adebola said the CJ being the Chairman of the NJC cannot be a judge in his own case. “We are presented with a unique case. While the Nigerian constitution states that no one is above the law and that the Law Court is the final arbiter on disputes and litigations, the same constitution confers the jurisdiction of the NJC to discipline erring judicial officers. But in the face of serious allegations of financial crime against the CJ, the NJC which CJ Onnoghen leads loses the moral right to determine his own fate. The CJ cannot be a judge in his own case. The appropriate institution to rely on is the constitution. We urge the CJ to resign immediately so that he can face the full weight of the law.”
NHRC said the attempts by a mob of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, (SANs) to provide the legal defense for the CJ was an attempt to intimidate the constitution and cow the judiciary. The fact that both the NBA President and the CJ are on trial is an indication of how rotten the bar and the judiciary have become.
The group urged progressive and radical lawyers to safe the bar and the judiciary
“We wonder where these SANs were when lawyers were needed for people innocently killed by SARs or when lawyers were needed when Odi was invaded and hundreds of innocent souls killed by soldiers. What we see is a group of lawyers who are traditional beneficiaries and undue favours corrupt judges often dispense.”
The group said “What we see is the tyranny of a few SANs who benefit from the illicit, cult network of ten percenters and musketeers that control the bar and the connected corruption ring in the judiciary.”
The SANs are silent on the 3million dollars said to be in the private accounts of Nigeria’s chief judicial officer.
“If he was saving 10million in every year since he joined the judiciary over 30 years ago, assuming he did not touch a penny of his salary and did not pay school fees of his children or eat from his salary, he would not have been able to save a quarter of N3million dollars
The rights group said allowing the CJ to escape trial will jeopardise public confidence in the judiciary and strengthen public perception that the law was made to hunt only the poor and vulnerable in the society. Berating the call by some South-South and South-East Governors that the CJ should ignore summons, the NHRC said the position of the governors was a clear indication that the CJ is their stooge who may have been protecting them and their crimes from the claws of law.
“The attempt to tribalise financial crimes is pose a serious danger to the sanctity of the judiciary and the future of Nigeria as a country.” The NHRC said if the CJ fails to resign, its members would launch massive campaigns to ensure his immediate exit.