“So, both parties are correct in their own rights. The former school of thought is correct from the legal prism. While the latter school of thought is not wrong from the moral perspective. On a normal ground, the CJN should have, in the sense of morality, resigned pending the time his case is heared and concluded by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. But here we are: the idea of presumption of innocence before conviction will not allow for this”
By Abdullah Abdulganiy
Last week witnessed a disruption in the politico-legal space of Nigeria. If there is any takeaway from last week event that erupted in the country, it is the fact that Nigeria parades the highest number of “SANs” and “barristers” of the law in the comity of nations – please, don’t ask me for any statistical evidence to this effect. You don’t need a calculator to calculate this! In fact, ours is a country where each “learned colleague” has his own distinct version of the constitution, and can therefore interpret it at will.
Extrapolating from the above, I will love to henceforth be addressed as “Barrister” Abdullah. The public is hereby encouraged to note – after all, I haven’t asked for much, just “barrister” not SAN or Justice. Needless to say that I even took sociology of law; thus certifying me as a learned colleague. It is against the backdrop that every Tom, Dick and Harry had turned to a learned colleague in his own right since last week that I as a fellow learned colleague also seek to intervene in the kerfuffle that had necessitated legal, political and semantic gymnastics in our country. These are interesting times to be a lawyer. Sit back and devour the analysis of a fellow learned colleague. It is however not necessary you agree with me.
The whole issue began on the 7th of January 2019 when a civil society group, Anti-Corruption Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI) submitted a petition to the Code of Conduct Bureau alleging that the CJN of Nigeria, Chief Walter Onnoghen is guilty of a number of improprieties. These improprieties border largely on false asset declaration and the receipt of bribes both in local and foreign currencies totaling billions of dollars obviously to influence judgements.
Ever since then, the CJN had been in the eyes of the storm and the bone of contention in the newsroom, staff room, sitting room, bedroom, rest room and in the other room (apologies to Gbenga Omotosho). However, all speculations were put to rest as the C-in-C of Nigeria ordered the removal – sorry, an oversight there, SUSPENSION – of the CJN on the 26th of January 2019 following an ex parte order from the CCB. Fellow learned colleagues had therefore in recent times been engaging in pen and verbal confrontations over the correctness or otherwise of the president’s action. I am sure readers must have come in contact with a number of them – both the arguments for and against. But I will do a recap here.
Most of those who argued against the action of the president describing it as a brazen coup cited the fact that the judiciary is an arm of the tripod structures on which democracy rests – not a branch of the executive. Thus, it is not subject to the authority of the executive. If there is any need to remove one of its principal officers, the procedures are well spelt out in the constitution. Thus, not conforming to these procedures will amount to a rape of the constitution dragging us back to the dark days of the khaki men. Imagine a situation where the president was suspended following the same curious pattern with scant regard for the rule of law! Is that not anarchy?
Counter-arguments had also ensued. Those who argued for the president’s action referred us to the mishap in the removal procedures contained in the constitution. How can a man who presides over a commission be subjected to that same commission for scrutiny, and consequently removal? “That would amount to a misfire,” they quipped. The result of such an action is clearly written on the wall. Also, how will a senate whose leader was alleged of spearheading the bribery enterprise in the case of the CJN be given the prerogative to effect the removal of the CJN? We all know where the pendulum will swing.
So, both parties are correct in their own rights. The former school of thought is correct from the legal prism. While the latter school of thought is not wrong from the moral perspective. On a normal ground, the CJN should have, in the sense of morality, resigned pending the time his case is heared and concluded by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. But here we are: the idea of presumption of innocence before conviction will not allow for this.
In all of these, there is something germane we must raise. Our constitution needs complete overhaul. It is, in most cases, a major setback for the fight against corruption. Cases like this should have been thought of by our legislators, and an amendment should have come the way of our constitution to aid the fight against corruption. You cannot be the judge of your own case! But our legislators here are the dancing, singing and unserious types. So, help us God.
Abdullah is of the better-by-far University of Ilorin. Reach him via 08090637356.