The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), on Monday, criticised the Court of Appeal for frustrating an appeal filed by Walter Onnoghen to challenge a controversial order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) suspending him from office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in 2019.
President Muhammadu Buhari, acting on the strength of an ex-parte order issued by the CCT, suspended Mr Onnoghen was suspended from office on January 25, 2019.
The suspension order was shrouded in series of controversies. It was found to have been issued privately by the CCT chairperson on January 23, 2019 in the absence of not just the defence team but also behind the prosecution team.
Mr Onnoghen had filed several appeals against separate interlocutory decisions of the CCT, one of which challenged the CCT’s order for his suspension.
But the Court of Appeal in Abuja refused to deliver its decisions until after the CCT had convicted and ordered Mr Onnoghen’s removal from office.
In its decisions delivered on May 11, 2019, the Court of Appeal faulted the order on different grounds including that it was issued before Mr Onnoghen was arraigned before the CCT on the six counts of the breach of code of conduct for public officers.
It also held that the CCT’s order suspending Mr Onnoghen from office was obtained in the proceedings “shrouded in secrecy and clandestine manoeuvre”.
But the court refused to set aside the order on the grounds that it had become academic, since the CCT trial had been concluded as of that time.
‘Judiciary, victim of its silence’
Speaking on Monday at a valedictory court session in honour of Abdul Kafarati, a former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court who died in February 2021, Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the “judiciary became a victim of its silence.”
“The Court of Appeal we recall refused to deliver its ruling in the matter for over three months,” Mr Uche said.
Mr Uche, who served as a member of Mr Onnoghen’s legal team at the CCT, spoke on behalf of the BOSAN.
He relived the lurid circumstances that preceded Mr Onnoghen’s ouster, which began with the midnight raid on the homes of Supreme Court and High Court judges by State Security Service (SSS) agents in October, 2016.
“Having got away successfully with that,” referring to the raid on judges’ homes, “they were emboldened to attempt to the unthinkable, and that is what is known today as the Onnoghen saga,” the body said.
“A sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria was removed from office with a questionable ex-parte order by a Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, and all stood by,” Mr Uche wondered.
Few judges are courageous
Speaking on the independence of the judiciary, the BOSAN said: “there have been systematic efforts to erode the independence of the judiciary by way of intimidation, coersion, arm-twisting, divide-and-rule tactics and outright harassment.”
Mr Uche, who represented BOSAN chairperson, Adegboyega Awomolo, noted that in most cases involving the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), “very few judges are bold enough to decide (matters) according to the law because of the entitlement mentality of the prosecuting agencies.”
He alerted judges of possible interference with electoral matters as the 2023 general elections beckon, urging the judiciary to “guard its independence.”
“The judiciary must asset itself, and indeed liberate itself through the protection of its decisional independence,” Mr Uche added.
Encomiums for late Kafarati
In a tribute the to the deceased judge, Mr Uche described the former Chief Judge as a “courteous judge,” who “had a reputation for listening quietly” to lawyers as they canvass argument.
“It was only in his rulings and judgements that you will see the courage, wisdom and experience of the late jurist,” he said.
In his eulogy, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, John Tsoho, said Mr Kafarati “introduced innovations toward speedy and effectual adjudication of causes and matters.”
“Justice Kafarati was a revered gentleman, a great family man; a humane, articulate, peaceful and quiet by nature,” Mr Tsoho said.
“By his demise, death has dealt unfairly with our beloved Justice Abdu-Kafarati,” the CJ lamented.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, praised the late jurist for his examples of “humility, hard work and excellence.”
Mr Malami was represented at the event by Tijjani Gazali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and acting Director of Civil Appeals at the Federal Ministry of Justice.
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