The Nigerian Bar Association has condemned the filing of non-assets declaration charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by the Federal Government, describing it as a ploy to emasculate the judiciary and intimidate judges ahead of the forthcoming general elections.
The President of the umbrella body of the Nigerian lawyers, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), described the development in a statement late on Saturday, as a “targeted assault of the judiciary by the agents of the Federal Government”.
Usoro added that the planned trial of the CJN was a violation of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) which shielded serving judges from investigation and prosecution unless they are first disciplined by the National Judicial Council.
The association urged the Federal Government to exercise “restraint” as it demanded, “that the Code of Conduct Bureau follow due process in proceeding against the CJN by complying with Nganjiwa’s judgment (supra) and other similar judicial precedents.”
“This continuing attack on the justice sector must cease forthwith. FGN and its agencies must desist from debasing the rule of law,” Usoro said in the statement.
He added that with the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, having been earlier subjected to trial on charges of non-declaration of assets before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the planned trial of the CJN followed “a pattern of consistent assault by agencies of the Federal Government on the heads of the two independent arms of government”.
The statement read in part, “There are two final issues that we must touch upon in this Statement, albeit, briefly. First, could it possibly be a coincidence that the current assault on the judiciary is taking place only weeks to the 2019 National Election?
“Apart from the conduct itself being wrongful and deplorable, its timing is condemnable. FGN will find it difficult to convince any reasonable person that its assault against the CJN and by extension the judiciary is not aimed at emasculating that arm of the government and intimidating our judges ahead of the 2019 National Elections.