Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, to immediately withdraw the charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN Walter Onnoghen, and send any allegations of breach of asset declaration provisions to the National Judicial Council, NJC, for investigation.
It added that Malami should then request Justice Onnoghen as the Chairman of the NJC to recuse himself, so that the next most senior justice at the Supreme Court can preside over the process and set up a panel to investigate the allegations against the CJN to ensure fairness and justice in the matter.
In a statement issued Monday by its senior legal adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, SERAP said: “We believe that enforcing asset declaration provisions would help to prevent corruption and abuse of office and ensure transparency in public officers including judges. But the government should follow due process of law, and allow the NJC to consider the allegations against Justice Onnoghen first before pushing for prosecution, should there be any relevant admissible evidence. This would help to accord Justice Onoghen his entire rights through laid down process.”
The statement read in part: “The moral guilt or the legal guilt of Justice Onnoghen should be left for the judicial process to decide, as he is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. For now, the fundamental question is whether he is afforded the due process of law, as he is constitutionally and legally entitled to. This is our interest in this case, and this should be the interest of every lover of justice.”
“It is the principle of due process of law which is at stake in this case, the soul and spirit of which will be endangered if Justice Onnoghen’s case continues to be heard before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. A denial of justice to one citizen is a denial of such to all. Due process here requires that Justice Onnoghe be given an opportunity to have allegations against him heard by the NJC.”
“The bringing of this case against Justice Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal would appear to have fallen below the minimum procedural standards of legal justice, which in turn would affect the quality of justice he receives. Due process rights should not be curtailed in the interest of expediting enforcement of asset declaration provisions. The authorities have the responsibility to insure fair treatment of judges or others who face these kinds of charges that may ultimately lead to deprivation of liberty.”
“Preventing the NJC to first hear the allegations against Justice Onnoghen would deny him his constitutionally and internationally recognized right to a fair hearing and lead to the matter being unnecessary politicised.”
“The authorities may have a strong case against him but the possibility of success is diminished if the proper procedure is not followed. The requirements of justice and success of the fight against corruption justify the fundamental need to ensure and apply due process rights in this case.”