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Court Asked To Declare Tanko Mohammad Unfit, Order New Selection |RN

Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Mohammad

The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has okayed a fresh suit seeking to bar President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, to take over the leadership of the judiciary in a substantive capacity.

The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, is praying the court to declare that Justice Muhammad who is currently the most senior jurist at the Supreme Court, is unfit to replace the sacked CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Specifically, the plaintiff, Chief Malcom Omirhobo, who is a human rights lawyer, is praying the court to declare that the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, having made himself available as a tool that was used in the violation of the Constitution, especially with regards to the “illegal” removal of the former CJN, is therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.

It is the contention of the plaintiff that the Acting CJN conducted himself in a manner that reduced the confidence of the public in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary. Cited as 1st to 7th Defendants in the suit were the National Judicial Council, NJC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, the Acting CJN, the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the National Assembly.

The plaintiff, among other things, urged the court to declare that the suspension and/or removal of a CJN from office, is a shared responsibility of the 1st Defendant (NJC), the 5th defendant (Buhari) and 7th Defendant (National Assembly). He argued that President Buhari lacked the constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend and/or the removal a sitting CJN from office, as was done in the case of Onnoghen.

Besides, he prayed the court to declare that by combined interpretation sections 1(1 )(2), 231(4), 292(1)(a)(i)(b), 153(1)(i), 158(1) and paragraph 21 (a)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, “it is unlawful and undemocratic for the 4th and 5th Defendants (Federal Government and President Buhari), to declare the office of the CJN vacant on January 25, 2019 and consequently appoint and swear in the 3rd Defendant as the acting CJN”.

He, therefore, applied for a court order to restrain the National Assembly from confirming any appointment of Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN.

Likewise, for, “An order, compelling the 2nd Defendant (FJSC), to select and the 1st Defendant (NJC), to recommend the most qualified Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that is fit and proper, to the 5th Defendant, for appointment to office of the CJN, and for the confirmation of the 7th Defendant with a two-thirds majority vote”.

Aside praying the court to bar President Buhari from appointing Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN, the Plaintiff, in a 65-paragraph affidavit he filed in support of the suit, stressed that unless restrained by the court, the Executive Arm of Government would continue to violate the extant provisions of the Constitution and sanctity of the judiciary.

Meantime, the suit which has already been assigned to Justice Iyang Ekwo for hearing is coming barely 72 hours after the NJC disclosed that it had approved the extension of Justice Muhammad’s tenure as the Acting CJN.

The Council had in a statement over the weekend, said it had at the end of the meeting is held on April 18, considered and approved President Buhari’s request for the extension of the appointment the Acting CJN for another three months.

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Embattled CJN, Onnoghen Appeals Conviction by CCT |The Republican News

Walter-Buhari
 
by Evelyn Okakwu
 
 
 
The embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, has appealed the judgement delivered by the Code of Conduct Tribunal in his case of alleged false asset declaration.
 
Mr Onnoghen was convicted by the CCT, led by Danladi Umar on Thursday.
 
The tribunal which ruled that it had jurisdiction in the matter, also dismissed another application by the defence which suggested that Mr Umar should remove himself for alleged bias.
 
According to Mr Umar, the tribunal is a body empowered by section 158 (1) of the constitution to perform its duty “without external interference of bodies like the NJC.”
 
The section it relied on provides for the independence of the CCT and states that it “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person.”
 
 
Mr Umar ruled that the relationship between the tribunal and the presidency “was purely administrative” in nature and insufficient for the defence to accuse him of bias.
 
According to the CCT chairman, “all judges of superior courts are appointed by the president, Muhammadu Buhari, on the recommendation of the NJC.”
 
The CCT chairman added that the appointment of the said judges is not be regarded “as a reason for them to act according to the whims of the president”.
 
 
“It is to be noted that without the chairman, there is no CCT,” Mr Umar added
 
The tribunal had also dismissed the request against its jurisdiction after submitting that Mr Onnoghen was being tried “as a public officer and not as a judicial officer.”
 
 
 
Mr Umar also said that the “CCT had powers to overrule him where it finds that it has taken a decision that was wrongly reached.”
 
Subsequently, the tribunal overruled its earlier decision which freed another Supreme Court Justice, Sylvester Ngwuta, of a similar allegation.
 
Precedent
 
Mr Ngwuta was one of seven judges whose houses had been raided by the State Security Service in October 2016, after President Muhammadu Buhari’s government accused them of fraud.
 
He was arraigned on false asset charges at the tribunal by the CCT. But the tribunal, also chaired by Mr Umar suspended the case following a decision of a Court of Appeal in a related matter.
 
The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal had decided during the trial of another judge, Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, that the only body responsible for the indictment of a serving judicial officer was the NJC.
 
That decision had forced the suspension of the trial of Mr Ngwuta at the tribunal.
 
However, on Thursday, Mr Umar regarded the decision on Mr Ngwuta as a wrong judgement and “overruled himself.”
 
After dismissing the various applications, Mr Umar ruled in his judgement that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Onnoghen was involved in the alleged breach of the CCT act and found him guilty of same.
 
‘Three major punishments’
 
Mr Umar invoked section 23 of the act which allowed the tribunal to issue three major punishments to persons found guilty of such allegations.
 
The provision demands that a convicted person shall be made to vacate his office for a period, not exceeding 10 years. It also allows the tribunal to order that the convict shall forfeit assets found to have been acquired fraudulently.
 
 
Not satisfied
 
But in an appeal to the appellate court, Mr Onnoghen has insisted that the tribunal erred in law when it ruled that it had jurisdiction in the matter.
 
According to Mr Onnoghen, he was arraigned at the time when he was still a serving judicial officer, therefore the tribunal lacked powers to entertain the allegations against him.
 
Although Mr Umar overruled the judgement in Mr Ngwuta’s case, Mr Onnoghen cited the January 2018 decision of the CCT which freed Mr Ngwuta as the reason for the tribunal to have ruled against its jurisdiction.
 
Mr Onnoghen also submitted in his request that the tribunal erred in law when it dismissed the application challenging its jurisdiction.
 
“Once an allegation of real likelihood of the bias is raised, the Court or tribunal will have nothing more to say except to wash its hands from further proceedings in the matter,” Mr Onnoghen said in his appeal.
 
The embattled CJN also argued that the failure of Mr Umar to recuse himself vindicated the defence in their submission that Mr Umar was a “person of interest.”
 
Mr Onnoghen said it was against the principle of natural justice for Mr Umar to sit in judgement of his own case.
 
He also argued that there was no way the tribunal could have been fair since the prosecution and the tribunal are both bodies working under the instructions of the executive arm of government.
 
Mr Onnoghen also submitted that the tribunal erred in law when it ruled that he confessed to having committed the allegations against him.
 
According to Mr Onnoghen, his statement was only meant to clarify the issues raised in the allegations. Mr Onnoghen said he never admitted to not declaring his assets in 2005, as suggested by the charge.
 
“The Appellant did not admit the fact of non-declaration of Assets from the year 2005 as the Justice of the Supreme Court.
 
“The Appellant only stated that he did not declare in 2009 as required because he forgot and did the declaration immediately it realised same.
 
“By the evidence of DWI (Defence Witness:1) and exhibit DW2 tendered, it has affirmed the statement of the appellant that he forgot to make a declaration in 2009 but did in 2010 when he remembered showing there was a declaration after all contrary to count one of the charges,” Mr Onnoghen said.
 
Mr Onnoghen also argued that the tribunal erred in law when it ruled that the evidence of the first defendant’s witness did not cast doubts on the submissions of the prosecution in the first count.
 
According to Mr Onnoghen in his appeal, the first defendant’s witness was able to refute the claims of non-declaration of an asset from 2005. “The doubt created by DWI’s evidence no matter how minute ought to be resolved in favour of the Appellant.”
 
Mr Onnoghen also submitted that his statement suggesting that he failed to include the five accounts in the declaration forms for 2014 because he believed they were not functioning, “does not amount to an admission of guilt.”
 
Mr Onnoghen explained that the forms for 2014 and that of 2016 were both filed the same day. He added that the declaration form for 2016 had all the accounts in it. According to him, the prosecution should not have accused him of false declaration since both forms were filed by him.
 
Mr Onnoghen said the submissions by the prosecution that he made a false declaration, based on the omission of certain details is not backed by the CCT Act. He also argued that the standard procedure for the verification of his forms was not complied with by the prosecution.
 
‘Confiscation of assets illegal’
 
Mr Onnoghen also challenged the order for the confiscation of his assets on the grounds that the assets were legitimately acquired, as against the provisions of paragraph three of section 23 of the CCB act which only permits the seizure of such assets “if they were acquired by fraud.”
 
Mr Onnoghen questioned the failure of the prosecution to present the petitioner, Denis Aghanya, before the tribunal.
 
Mr Aghanya’s petition had birthed the charges against Mr Onnoghen.
 
According to Mr Onnoghen, all the allegations brought against him “constitute no offence and should therefore not have formed the basis for his conviction.”
 
“Section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution Provides: –
 
“Subject as otherwise provided by this Constitution, a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefor is prescribed in a written law.
 
“The allegations contained in all the six counts of the charge constitute no offence known to the law, as the offence as charged is neither defined in any law nor is any punishment prescribed therefor.”
 
Mr Onnoghen made seven requests before the tribunal. They include:
 
– An order that the lower tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the case.
 
– An order that the lower tribunal ought to have recused itself from the proceedings before it.
 
– An order that the charge has become academic.
 
– An order setting aside the conviction of the Appellant.
 
– An order setting aside the order for forfeiture of assets made by the Honourable Tribunal.
 
– An order discharging and acquitting the Appellant.  
(Premium Times)
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Constitutional Crisis Looms In Nigeria As CJN Tenure Ends In Three Weeks

Eniola AkinkuOtu

The nation may be plunged into a constitutional crisis in about three weeks as the tenure of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad Tanko, comes to an end, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.

Muhammad was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019 following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the substantive CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, be suspended and the next in line of seniority, be sworn in.

However, the constitution states that the President cannot re-appoint an acting CJN unless on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.

Section 231(4) and (5) states, “If the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.

“Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, an appointment pursuant to the provisions of subsection (4) of this section shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not re-appointment a person whose appointment has lapsed.”

Onnoghen and Muhammad are facing a probe by the NJC, the body responsible for the discipline and appointment of judges.

While Onnoghen was given a query by the NJC to respond to allegations on why he failed to declare some of his assets as required by law, the acting CJN was asked to respond to a query on why he allowed himself to be sworn in by Buhari without the recommendation of the NJC as stipulated by the constitution.

Onnoghen has challenged his suspension before the Court of Appeal but the appellate court has withheld judgment for unknown reasons while the case before the CCT has been given an accelerated hearing.

Buhari will only be able to extend Justice Muhammad’s tenure if the NJC sends his name to the President for confirmation.

The President will subsequently be expected to send his name to the Senate for confirmation.

However, the current Senate, led by Senate President Bukola Saraki, has been at loggerheads with the executive branch.

The upper chamber of the National Assembly harshly criticised Buhari for suspending Onnoghen and had even threatened to drag the executive arm of government to the Supreme Court.

Reliable sources in the Presidency feared that if Buhari nominates Muhammad as the CJN to the Senate, the current set of lawmakers would likely reject his nomination.

The current Senate will expire in June, and Saraki, who lost re-election, will not be part of the 9th Senate.

Speaking with our correspondent on Saturday, however, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) said it was too early to speculate as the NJC still had three weeks.

Clarke said the constitution is clear that the appointment of judges should be on the basis of seniority and since Onnoghen remained under suspension, the NJC would have to extend the tenure of Justice Muhammad, who is also being probed by the council.

He said, “The Constitution will not allow a vacuum in any instance. It says the most senior judge will take over as acting CJN. After three months, the NJC can recommend another three months. He has no definitive tenure. It only said if the position is not vacant, the most senior must act.

“The NJC can recommend Tanko (Muhammad) again. I know the NJC will do the right thing. They know more than you and I, they know what to do. The constitution says the most senior. So, the NJC cannot recommend just anyone. Let’s not speculate.”

Also speaking with our correspondent, human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, believed there would be no constitutional crisis because Nigeria always found its way out of such issues.

Ogunye added, “The point is when that time comes, a way would be found. The NJC that is still grappling with the issue of the treatment meted to Onnoghen, which is still considering petitions against him and that of the acting CJN for the fact that he presented himself to be appointed by the President, is that the same NJC that will have time that will be considering what will happen to him in three weeks?” (Punch)

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EFCC Closes Case Against Ex-CJN, Onnoghen At NJC |The Republican News

Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has rested its case of alleged misconduct against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the National Judicial Council, The PUNCH has learnt.

Our correspondent learnt from multiple sources conversant with the proceedings of the five-man investigation panel of the NJC that the EFCC rested its case after calling seven witnesses.

The commission was said to have called its first witness on March 12 and rested its case within one week.

It was learnt on Sunday that Onnoghen has since opened his defence and called two witnesses on Wednesday, March 20.

“The EFCC has rested its case and Justice Onnoghen has opened his defence. With this, we expect that the NJC will soon end its investigation,” one of the sources told our correspondent.

In its petition before the NJC, the EFCC, it was learnt, accused Onnoghen of having some suspicious lodgments of huge funds in his bank accounts.

The other petition against the suspended CJN was reportedly by a civil society group, the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative, and its Executive Director, Mr Dennis Aghanya.

The allegations in the petition sent to the NJC by the group were said to be a replica of the petition sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau which informed the six counts filed before the Code of Conduct Tribunal accusing the suspended CJN of failure to declare some bank accounts with huge funds in foreign currencies as part of his assets.

The NJC had at its February 13, 2019 meeting reviewed the pre-assessment report on the petitions written against Onnoghen and the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tahko Muhammad, and considered the complaints worthy of being investigated.

The council then set up the five-man panel led by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice S.A. Akande, to investigate the petitions.

There are at least two petitions against each of Onnoghen and Muhammad to be heard by the Justice Akande-led panel.

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Buhari Now Jittery After US, UK, EU Warning -Atiku |The Republican News

                                                      Atiku and Buhari

Eniola Akinkuotu, Abuja

 

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, says President Muhammadu Buhari and the cabal running his government have become jittery following the statements of condemnation issued by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

In a statement by his Special Assistant on Public Communications, Phrank Shuaibu, the former Vice-President urged Buhari to ensure that next month’s elections are free and fair or face the consequences.

He said, “Buhari’s cabal is unhappy with the statements from the US, the British and the EU because they know that these world powers have agreed to re-route their latest and most technologically sophisticated spy satellites, including the NAOL-47 satellite, to provide comprehensive coverage over Nigeria on February 16.

“The photographs these satellites will deliver cannot only show someone reading a newspaper but also which newspaper they are reading.”

Recall that the Federal Government had, in a statement through Garba Shehu, stated that, “The nation’s security forces will confront any attempt to interfere with the process by elements from outside the country.”

The PDP candidate, however, expressed concerns over the “desperation of the APC to rig the forthcoming elections;” and advised the Independent National Electoral Commission, the military and the Police not to allow themselves to be used by “those interested in turning Nigeria’s democracy on its head.”    (Punch)

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