I. F. Akponye, Esq
I have seen, heard and read the viral position of the respected Femi Falana, SAN over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and I firmly state that some of his views are wrong.
First, Femi Falana, SAN suggested that National Judicial Council ought to have met and set up a Committee to look into the matter and make informed recommendations – *The NJC cannot meet over a matter that is not before it. There is no petition against the CJN, Hon Justice Walter S. C. Onnoghen before the NJC. * The NJC can only meet to consider a petition sent to her from a known person. Who also will be ready to provide enough facts, details and evidence for the NJC to act upon. Since the petition is now before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the NJC cannot on its own fetch from the public domain an anonymous petition and start handling same. No. This if done will be unlawful and be a further breach of Section 36 of the Constitution and the rules of natural Justice. *Therefore, even if the 88th meeting of the NJC had held on the 15/1/2019 as was alluded to by the learned SAN, or any other date, NJC can only consider the brazen breach of the Constitution as depicted in the said suspension CJN and not his investigation. The NJC has no power to investigate an allegation without a complainant.* Assuming there is a petition against the CJN before the NJC over late declaration of assets, which is what is playing out, *one then wonders what the alleged crime would be in view of the provisions of section 3 of the CCT Act which exculpates and neutralizes culpability on any person who admits and corrects the mistake by filing the declaration as the CJN did. Indeed, the provisions of this Section 3 has knocked the bottom off the allegation.*
Secondly, it is also strange the perception that the President’s action is in line with the rule of law as it is said that the President followed the orders of the CCT. *The order which President Buhari relied upon is that the CJN “shall step aside”. The operative words are ‘step aside’.* This involves the CJN agreeing with the said CCT order and stepping aside. There is no evidence that this ex parte Order was served on the CJN. Even if he was served, which is not the case here, until he steps aside, the 2nd order of the President appointing a new CJN in acting capacity cannot be activated. There is no Order directing the President to suspend the CJN as he did. Mr. President acted on his own frolic.
Thirdly, I remain bemused by the hurried and continued assertion that the CJN having admitted to what they call crime, is bound by the principle of ignorance of the law is not an excuse. But who is ignorant of the law in the present circumstance? I am aware that learned Silk averted his legal mind to the provisions of Section 3 of the CCT Act, if he had adverted to same may be his assertions on this point may be different. The CJN was right in his admission because that is what the law expects from any person who forgot to file his asset declarations on time. The Supreme Court in a plethora of decisions like in ABACHA V FRN (2006) 14 NWLR (pt.907) 239 at 263; FBN LTD V. MAIWADA (2012) 213 LRCN 121 at 143 employed purposive interpretation of the law, the purpose of section 3 of the CCT Act is to protect persons who may forget due their busy schedules and the matter ends with his written admission with the declaration. *We can now see that the entire 12 lawyers in this administration including the Vice President and the Attorney General are those who are ignorant of the law and ought to be sacked for causing this administration this monumental embarrassment.*
Fourthly, the argument that what the President did is merely ‘suspension’ and not ‘removal’ cannot stand as it flies in the face of the clear provisions of Section 292 of the Constitution and Section 12 part 1 of the 3rd schedule of the Constitution. *The proponents of this argument unwittingly admit that the president cannot unilaterally remove the CJN but forget that once the action of the President in the name of suspension, impedes the exercise of constitutional function of the CJN and appoints another to act in his stead, he has been removed him from office.* Section 12 of part 1 of the 3rd schedule of the Constitution assigns the power to remove and discipline a Judicial Officer on the NJC.
Fifthly, I further hazard the view of the learned Silk that the Court of Appeal cannot declare as unconstitutional the trial of the CJN before the CCT. This is also strange in view of the Constitutional provisions available. What is happening should go beyond political inclination as this is a very dangerous precedent that can ruin our country. *This is a very deadly exercise that should not have been undertaken at all otherwise an ex parte order may be obtained tomorrow removing the President.* This is why people avoid riding on the back of the tiger no matter how tamed.
I. F. Akponye, Esq.