By Nelson Ekujumi
It’s an indisputable fact that the purpose of law in any society is to ensure societal stability and enhance the course of justice, thus in the quest for the purpose of law, there existed for ages, the age long debate over law, as it is and how it ought to be, between the legal positivist and natural law theorists.
However, one must admit that the decades long debate is very germane to our situation in Nigeria today where morals have completely disappeared into thin air and is not helped by our loss of public morality which is questioned by the position of William Blackstone that “Law is the embodiment of the moral sentiment of the people”.
Following the suspension last week of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) by Mr. President acting on the judicial ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) before whom the CJN is evidently on the run from standing trial for abuse of office and the constitution for false declaration of assets and operation of foreign accounts among other charges, all hell has been let loose as opinions varied on the legality of Mr. President’s action and it’s implications on the rule of law and national security.
Let us examine Mr. President’s action in line with the provisions of the constitution, section 292(1) A, which states that, A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances –
(a) in the case of –
(I) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja and President Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supposed by two-thirds majority of the Senate,
(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State.
Praying that he be so removed for his inability yo discharge the functions of his office or appointment ( Whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the code of conduct.
From the above analysis, it is clearly stated, the process through which a judicial officer can be removed from office.
Therefore, the question to ask at this juncture is that, has the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) been removed from office in line with the above stated provisions or suspended based on the law? The law in this case is the order of the CCT.
Thus, in the midst of the cacophony of voices on the matter, as ordinary citizens in order not to be misled and confused, we must be circumspect and demand to know the difference between removal from office and suspension from office as carried out by the President in deference to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) ruling which is a law?
Also, we need to ask, is the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) enforceable and by who? Is the executive (Mr. President) in violation of the constitution for enforcing a ruling of the (CCT)?
Furthermore, on matters before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), who has the powers to determine the issue of jurisdiction of the case, is it the CCT or other courts outside of it? These are salient questions that should ponder any discerning mind, embarrassed by the dance of shame by the judiciary.
However, it is disheartening and shameful to note that rather than be honourable enough to resign and stand trial for an infraction of the constitution if we are to believe the information out there in the public domain that the ex Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen admitted forgetting to declare his assets and foreign bank accounts as required by law, which is an admission of guilt, but he has continued to desecrate the temple of justice by abusing his former position to curry judicial favours through restraining and counter restraining orders against the CCT from all angles.
Unfortunately,, Nigerians have been treated to the embarrassment that has become of our judiciary, whereby the courts have been churning out orders like goods on the wares when rationality and logic demands that the integrity of the temple of justice is jealously guarded by refusing to issue frivolous and ludicrous injunctions which are questionable.
In xraying the issues, it is also important to query the involvement of the National Industrial Court (NIC) restraining order on the (CCT) over the arraignment of CJN Onnoghen when the matter at hand is not an industrial dispute but has to do with alledged violations of the constitution by a public officer of which the CJN is mentioned and is purely within the purview of the CCB.
This is nothing other than an assault on the integrity of the judiciary which has been brought to public ridicule by deviating from it’s core mandate of dispensing justice, to being shamelessly manipulated to become a political weapon for feathering the personal interest of a high ranking judicial officer the CJN, which is irresponsible, barbaric, reckless, provocative and condemnable.
It is important to assert that while attempts are made to confuse and incite the populace by the legal gymnastics from some learned minds and public commentators, we must not lose sight of our culture and tradition even from the days of old, which frowns at the continued stay of a priest of the temple whose character has been called to question, still sitting in the temple not to talk of carrying out priestly responsibilities, it’s an abomination.
One thing is certain from the unfolding development and it is that if we are indeed a country of serious minds, there is a need to rework our laws to reflect our consciousness as civilized beings whose public morality must be of the highest standards like the days of old when men and women of honour and integrity bestrode our political space as in other clime unlike what presently obtains.