• Gives NJC 5 days to take over the case

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent an open petition to the Next-In-Rank to the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) urging it “to immediately take over the case of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, from the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), with a view to setting up a committee to investigate the allegations of breach of constitutional asset declaration requirements against him.”
The organization also urged the NJC to: “ask Justice Onnoghen to step aside from his role as Chief Justice, pending the outcome of your investigation into the allegations against him. Also, if following your investigation, the allegation against Justice Onnoghen is established, the NJC should refer the case to appropriate anti-corruption bodies for prosecution. Similarly, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed should recuse himself from the process, as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
The group asked the NJC to: “consider the issue of appointment of Justice Muhammed with a view to ensuring strict compliance with constitutional provisions. The NJC should take the recommended action within 5 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will take appropriate legal action to compel the NJC to take action on the case.”
In a petition dated 26 January 2019 and signed by SERAP senior legal adviser Bamisope Adeyanju, the organisation said: “The urgent intervention by the NJC would remove the allegations against Justice Onnoghen from the vicissitudes of political controversy, and a clear and present danger to the independence and authority of the judiciary. It would also help to reverse the country’s increasing movement toward anarchy or despotism.”
According to it, “It is in times like this that the NJC must be most vigilant and alive to its constitutional duties, if it is not to permit a diminution of our treasured constitutional rights.”
The petition, copied to Mr. Diego García-Sayán, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, read in part: “Neither knee-jerk reactions by politicians nor abuse of the legal and judicial process by the government and some senior lawyers would be acceptable to break the constitutional logjam. The NJC ought to be concerned with the gravity of allegations against Justice Onnoghen.”
“This matter has inevitably thrown our country into a judicial-cum-constitutional crisis, which if not urgently addressed would lead to political crisis that would seriously put at risk Nigeria’s fledgling democracy, consequently exacerbating the declining respect for human rights at all levels of government.”
“The NJC should not and cannot stand-by while the authority and independence of the judiciary is diminished to the point at which the citizens lose confidence and trust in its ability to render justice to those need.”
“SERAP is concerned that the politicization of our judiciary poses the greatest threat to the independence of the judiciary, to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and would if not urgently addressed lead to denial of access to justice to the most marginalized and vulnerable section of the population.”
“Judges have the responsibility to uphold the rule of law as an effective check on the political branches. But the judiciary cannot continue to play its traditional role as the guardian of the Constitution until the Justice Onnoghen’s matter is constitutionally and satisfactorily addressed.”
“Following the allegations that Justice Onnoghen failed to disclose huge sums of money in foreign and local currencies in his asset declaration forms and documents submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), a petition was sent to the CCB on January 7, 2019, the case which was later filed before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”
“A catalogue of legal errors and flagrant abuse of the judicial and legal process by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and some lawyers culminated in the purported order on the suspension of Justice Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria and the supposed appointment of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Buhari.”

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