The recent suspension of the CJN from his position in Nigeria has created a frenzy of online social media and the buzz has lighted the Nigeria geo-political horizon with everyone providing divergent explanation in support or, in opposing the president. The late legal luminary Chike Ofodile would aptly have described the various amicus briefs online and in social media as “ mere academic exercise that would benefit prospective law students and interns”.There are several interpretations and driving narratives by those who know and those who follow the interpretation of those who ought to know, but chose not to know. The most potent and dangerous trend has come from political partisan opposition, those from Senate chambers ostensibly, from the opposition party that has openly called for break down of law and order as a means to foil the effort of the government to cleanse the judiciary of the cankerworm that has permeated into its basic fabric.
As a reminder, the whole imbroglio started with the admission of the current CJN that he forgot to declare his asset since 2005 or was ignorant of that after he was made the CJN. Investigation and through his own admission shows assets and cash over a Billion Naira and still counting, in most developed countries, this would raise a huge public outcry and condemnation including immediate resignation to maintain and preserve the decorum of the institution. The fact that someone entrusted to interpret the laws of the land could be found wanting in such a grave moral dereliction of obligations should create an upheaval of condemning by all, rather, it created the opposite reaction. The so called leaders in their selfish and partisan interest have decided to ginger their base to demonstrate,cause Chaos and,what they are demonstrating is very unclear.
The new narrative is the introduction of the constitutional stipulation in isolation of other laws that should be taken in conjunction while reading and interpreting the full purport of the meaning and stipulation in the removal of judicial officers clause in the constitution.The following facts need to be understood in analyzing the whole plot; the NJC is a disciplinary body created by and belongs to the executive branch or body by virtue of paragraph 20 of the 3rd schedule, CFRN, 1999( As amended ). Also section 3(1)(a) unequivocally vest all executive powers on the person of the President. Furthermore, section 292(1)(a)(1) does not specify or requires any reason to start removal process of the CJN. I am giving this build up so that the reader can understand and decipher that the clamor against the president exercise of his function in the suspension of the CJN is within the purveyor of the laws as opposed to the propaganda and technicalities social bloggers wants to reinvent and create. The ⅔ senate majority is only necessary when the CJN is removed, but suspension is the first step leading to investigation and if found credible they may institute trial or restore the CJN back to this position. Refer to section 11 of the Interpretation Act which empowers the president to suspend the CJN, since the president has power to appoint, he also has power to suspend, it is not within the powers of the NJC nor do they have power to remove the CJN, other judicial official excluding the CJN can be removed by the NJC.The assets declaration offense is within the purveyor of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and not the NJC, the CJN is by position the chairman of the NJC and therefore those asking the NJC to determine and adjudicate on this matter clearly misunderstood the fact that the CJN as president of the NJC cannot preside over his own case. Infact the embattled CJN proactively rescheduled indefinitely as part of the plot to rely on technicalities the convention of the NJC. He even scheduled on Saturday, a non working day in Nigeria to swear in Electoral Tribunal members, all this action happening after he was confronted with the offence against him and he admitted to his violation, but sought to circumvent the successful investigation. The CCT is the only recognized body charged with responsibility of having jurisdictional authority to handle this matter and that is what the president did and acted on the order of the judge to “suspend” the CJN pending the outcome of the final determination of investigation. It is crucial to remember that suspension from office is now a precedent legal lexicon as per the Judge Ayo Salami former president of the Federal Appeals Court case where it was decided that suspension is not the same as sack or removal. This view is referenced in Section 11 of the Evidence Act,Cap 123,Vol 8 ,LFN ,2004 “The president can suspend indefinitely but not remove without the senate”.
In justifying the suspension of the CJN on based on this section of the Evidence Act, let us undertake a quick excursion into the moral requirements of a judicial officer, according to Lord Denning, “ A judge should be beyond reproach “ ( 1955 Hamlyn lecture) this is embedded in the sixth principle that suggest that a judge should in his own character be beyond reproach, or at any rate so disciplined himself that he is not himself a breaker of the law. Sydney Smith aptly stated that “ Nation fall when judges are unjust,because there is nothing which the multitude think worth defending….Nations are stronger when everyman’s happiness is safeguarded by fixed rules.
To give you a clearer picture of our current state of the judiciary, you may remember that Gov ibori of Delta state was freed of 90 count charges even in the face of glaring evidentiary material in Nigeria. But on the same charges in U.K he was convicted, this is what Professor Niyi Osundare stated “ The last hope of the common man has become the bastion of the criminally rich”.
The Senate president as the Governor of Kwara state flash back to 2004, May 4th, sacked the Chief Justice of Kwara state, Justice Reliat Elelu- Habeeb without the approval of the NJC, but today he is calling for mass boycott and impeachment of the president , who acted within the purveyor of the law and implementing the order of a competent court in suspending and not sacking the CJN.
Nigerians are taken for a ride by the select Nouveau riche class, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who now want to twist the law to favor themselves;the political class who want to hide under the protection of corrupt judicial officials. There are no doubt very sincere moral upright judicial officials across the country. It is not an ethnic or religious sentimental issue, it is about doing the right thing and following the law and due process and this is exactly what the president did and acted upon.
Plato in his book the Republic stated that it is not right for a judge to have personal experience in evil doing, that vice cannot know virtue, but a virtuous nature educated by time will acquire knowledge of both virtue and vice. The CJN cannot in all moral honesty remain in his position having admitted by himself violation of grave offence against the law and of such degree of moral turpitude. It is the best thing for him to resign and allow for cleansing of the judiciary so as to remain the bastion of the common Nigerians.The president suspension of the CJN is within the ambit of his power as suspension is different from removal, but is the first step in the investigation.
Ritchie Ejiofor Is a Doctoral student of Criminal Justice at Walden University, USA
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