The Federal Government on Monday said the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was not tabled before the National Judicial Council (NJC) before it was effected because the offence the CJN was accused of did not fall within the jurisdiction of the body.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, said those who have argued that the Justice Onnoghen issue should have been referred to the NJC to handle, are not right as Justice Onnoghen was not accused of professional misconduct, which is what is within the purview of the NJC.
Mohammed said the allegations against Onnoghen go beyond professional misconduct as it is the alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers of which the Code of Conduct Tribunal is the only body that is statutorily empowered to deal with that.
“Interestingly, Justice Onnoghen himself has elucidated on this. In various judgments, he upheld the provisions of the law concerning the CCT. In one particular judgement he delivered on July 12, 2013, Justice Onnoghen held that the CCT had EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION (emphasis mine) to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau. Let me put this in a layman’s language: All breaches of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers must be handled by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Pure and simple. In other words, Justice Onnoghen’s judgement held that the provisions “expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular courts in respect of such violations,” Mohammed said.
The Minister also took a swipe at the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for its stand on the issue, calling it “absurb.”
“In what I will call the theatre of the absurd, the main opposition party, the PDP, even suspended its electioneering campaign for 72 hours! Of course, you must have seen my reaction to that. I said there is nothing to suspend in a campaign that never took off in the first instance! So much for the opposition’s hysteria,” he said
He urge the US, UK and the European Union not to adopt double standard in treating issues that border on corruption in their respective countries and Nigeria.
However, Mohammed said the threats by some groups to take to the streets to protest Onnoghen’s suspension cannot undermine the course of justice.
“More Nigerians are with us than are with them on this issue, going by the feelers that we are getting from across the country. Those who want to protest against the suspension of the CJN should feel free to exercise their rights, within the limits of the law, ”he said. 6 \lsdlock