The National Judicial Council (NJC) will today meet to act on the responses of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen and the acting CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad on the petitions written against them by two groups and a senior lawyer.
At its last meeting, the NJC directed both Onnoghen and Muhammad to within seven working days respond to the allegations against them.
Although, the usual time lag within which the council allows for responses to petitions is 14 days, it abridged the convention due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
Impeccable sources in the NJC confirmed to LEADERSHIP last night that the crucial meeting will hold as planned, adding that the sole aim is to resolve the riddle over Onnoghen’s suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari and his appointment of Muhammad as acting CJN.
Four petitions were filled at the NJC secretariat: One against Onnoghen, two against Muhammad, and the last against the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar.
The petition against Onnoghen was written by Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civil Education while those against Muhammad came from the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative and Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), The Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative also filed a related petition against Umar,
While the sources confirmed that Onnoghen and Muhammad responded to the petitions before the expiration of the deadline, Umar challenged the powers of any organ of the judiciary to query his actions with respect to the ongoing trial of the suspended CJN.
Umar, who is presiding over the three-member panel tribunal that is handling the six-count charge filed by the federal government against Onnoghen, declared that only the presidency can query him.
The NJC as part of its resolutions at its last meeting forwarded the petition against Umar to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC).
Consequently, the FJSC directed the CCT chairman to respond to the allegations leveled against him.
But, in his response dated February 6, 2019 and marked CCT/HQ/FJSC/S/01, Umar contended that neither the FJSC nor the NJC has the constitutional powers to query his actions.
He argued that he is not a judicial officer and as such could not be queried by any organ of the judiciary, adding that he was only accountable to the presidency.
According to Umar, unlike judicial officers, members of the CCT, at the time of their inauguration, took official oaths and not judicial oaths.
He said: “With regard to the prayer of the petitioner for an appropriate sanction against the chairman, it is important to note that the chairman and members of the tribunal, not being judicial officers, are not constitutionally subject to any disciplinary proceedings by either the National Judicial Council or the Federal Judicial Service Commission but the Presidency.
“The petitioner alleged that judicial oaths were breached and that the National Judicial Council should consider appropriate sanctions. It is to be noted that the chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal are not judicial officers.
“This is predicated on the fact that the chairman and members of the tribunal, during swearing-in, only subscribe to official oaths and not judicial oaths. Therefore, not being a judicial officer, I did not subscribe to judicial oaths as alleged,” he stated.
He also noted that it was within his powers to grant the ex-parte order that led to Onnoghen’s suspension.
Umar made reference to a letter dated May 18, 2015, which was signed by the then CJN and chairman of the NJC, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
The letter marked NJC/CIR/HOC/1/7, had specifically barred members of the CCT from referring to themselves as justices
The then CJN, noted that going by provisions of Paragraph 15 (1 and 2) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, members of the CCT panel could not be regarded as judges.
“From the foregoing provisions, no member, including the chairman of the CCT on appointment, is a judicial officer as defined in Section 318 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended unless he or she has held office as a judge of the superior court of record in Nigeria”, the letter added.
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