The Court of Appeal’s decision to deliver its ruling after the winding up of the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s trial of embattled former chief justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, is unfortunate, Access to Justice has said.
The group, a judicial advocacy organisation, said in a statement on Saturday that if the appellate court had reached its decisions earlier, it would have represented a timely intervention required in Mr Onnoghen’s trial.
“It could have halted the travesty and charade that was being played out by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, under the guise of a trial,” Joseph Otteh, the head of Access to Justice said.
“Today, the judgment of the Court of Appeal faulting the obnoxious ex-parte order suspending Justice Onnoghen, as well as denouncing the Tribunal’s disregard of the orders issued against it by other courts halting its proceedings, has little else to it besides academic value.
“The judgments are, therefore, not much other than hollow rites of passage. The Court of Appeal’s moralisations on the conduct of the Code of Conduct Tribunal at this time, therefore, are of too little value because they were too late.”
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal on Friday condemned the “secret” sitting of the CCT to suspend Mr Onnoghen but declined to rule on it.
The appellate court had reserved its judgment on Mr Onnoghen’s appeal in February.
The panel, headed by Justice Steve Adah, condemned the various decisions by the CCT regarding Mr Onnoghen’s trial, but gave most of its verdict against the former chief justice’s applications.
For instance, the panel found that the ex-parte order granted by the CCT on January 23 breached Mr Onnoghen’s right to fair hearing because it was obtained in a manner “shrouded in secrecy and clandestine manoeuvre.”
Mr Otteh said whatever the Court of Appeal’s views were on Mr Onnoghen’s conduct, what was at stake was well beyond Mr Onnoghen’s circumstance.
“What is at stake is the ideology of the court’s role in preserving constitutional democracy and the rights of citizens. It implicates the rights of ordinary citizens who have to seek the court’s intervention in preventing some irreparable harm to them.”
According to Mr Otteh, the judiciary is labouring under serious threats to its independence, coming mostly from the executive arm of government at both federal and state levels.
“This ought to be a time when courts would rise up and defend Nigeria’s hard-won constitutional democracy with valour and defiance,” he said.
“But our courts are drawing a blank, and making citizens fear for their ability and readiness to protect them and the rule of law in a country beset by so many problems of governance.
“If tyranny persists in Nigeria, it is because courts are, in the main, failing the Nigerian people.”