Not in all the years that I longed and dreamt of being a lawyer have I seen the Judiciary under so much attack. I yearned for this profession and the bench with so much pride. It is so unfortunate that the calibre of politicians we have today especially in the executive are using the power they have to intimidate the Judiciary, the third arm of the government, which is seized with the power to protect the country from the excesses of other arms of government.

Justice Walter Onnoghen
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It’s been reported in light of the recent charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) that the Presidency has asked the CJN to step down from office. The interesting part of this is that this call and the allegations in the charges are coming few weeks to the 2019 general elections which many fear will be marred with outstanding corruption and rigging. The question is , what can the agenda of this government be by taking this move? Are Nigerians really falling for this? And finally what does the law has to say to any situation where a Judicial officer is alleged to have committed any offence.

By virtue of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, the National Judicial Council is empowered to exercise disciplinary control over Judicial Officers against whom allegations and complaints of misconduct have been made.

Pursuant to this provision, there has been enacted JUDICIAL DISCIPLINE REGULATIONS 2017, which provides the procedures for laying a complaint and every step that will be taken therefrom. Such as the setting up of an investigating committee, the report of the committee, interim suspension pending final decision and so on.

Furthermore, the procedure for the discipline of judicial officers was deliberately provided for under the Constitution to protect the independence of the judiciary and to uphold the doctrine of Separation of Power.

Consequently, any allegation of misconduct should have gone through the proper channel of laying the complaint and allowing the NJC handle any such allegations. A petition can be brought against a judicial officer and shall be written to the National Judicial Council (NJC) who shall give a directive for the investigation of the allegation against the particular judicial officer.

It should also be noted that a reference to a judicial officer is a reference to the holder of any of the following offices: the Chief Justice of Nigeria or a Justice of the Supreme Court, the President of the Court of Appeal, the office of the Chief Judge or a Judge of the Federal High Court, the office of the Chief Judge or Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the office of the Chief Judge of a state and Judge of the High Court of a state, a Grand Kadi or Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, a President or a Judge of the Customary Court of Appeal of a state.

Thus, the CJN is not immune from disciplinary actions, the NJC put him there in the first place and has the power to remove him. This is the rule of law.

In addition, there is a subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal in NGANJIWA v. FRN
(2017) LPELR-43391(CA), where it was held that the CJN or any serving judge cannot be prosecuted in the Code of Conduct tribunal or any court, until the NJC would have investigated the said official and recommended so.

The executive should man the executive while the Judiciary should face the Judiciary. Anything contrary to this jeopardises the integrity and the independence of the judiciary.

There is an attempt to denigrate the Judiciary and if this should happen, believe me, there’s no hope for the citizens of this country.

Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga.

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