By Babajide Okeowo
Some Abuja-based lawyers have expressed divergent views on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad’s proposal to proposal to the National Assembly to confer power of control of the Code of Conduct Tribunal ( CCT), to the National Judicial Council.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the CJN made the submission in the paper he presented as recommendations of the judiciary during the national public hearing by the Senate Committee on review of the 1999 Constitution.
NAN reports that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the CCT is a creation of the Executive at the Federal Level by virtue of Section 153(1)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and the 3rd schedule thereto.
Inspite of exercising judicial powers, the CCT is placed under the control of the presidency through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the current Nigerian Constitution.
A lawyer, Friday Abu told NAN that the CCB, one of the Federal Executive Bodies created by virtue of the Constitution, is under the control of the Federal Executive.
”The CCB is created for the purpose of regulating the submission of assets declaration by public office holders and taking steps to scrutinise and recommend appropriate cases to its Tribunal (CCT) for appropriate sanctions.
Therefore, the creation and existence of the CCT is taken outside the Judicature as provided for under Chapter 7 (Sections 230 – 296) of the Constitution of Nigeria.”
Abu further explained that the NJC, on the other hand is equally created to handle issues of appointment, promotion and discipline of Judicial officers in Nigeria but the Constitutional provisions for the CCB specifically makes the CCB answerable only to the Presidency in conjunction with the Senate.
“It is safe to say that the CCB or CCT is not under the control of the NJC and if the Chairman or any other staff of the CCB misbehaves, they are not subject to disciplinary action by the NJC.
“By necessary implication, this means that the CCB/CCT is on its own and only the Presidency can control it.
“This current status of the CCB/CCT has generated a lot of debate in the public space from Judges, lawyers and other commentators.
”A lot of them kicking against the current position that makes the CCB answerable to only the Presidency and the Senate”, he reiterated.
He stated that the reason why judicial stakeholders were kicking against the CCB being answerable to only the Presidency was because the Presidency and the entire Federal Executive is also supposed to be subject to the control of the CCB.
“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, The Vice President and all public servants are supposed to declare their assets and update their declarations with the CCB.
“It is therefore reasonably expected that such a body should be independent just like the normal courts and the members of the CCT should be subject the NJC for their appointment and discipline to guarantee impartiality and independence.
“This argument is rife and made strong by the well publicised incident where the former CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen dragged by the Presidency to the CCT to answer to charges of not updating his declaration of assets to include certain bank accounts he acquired after his initial declaration.
“While the matter was pending before the CCT and arguments were hot, the government lawyer quietly went back to the Tribunal alone using the process of an exparte application to obtain an order of the CCT suspending Onnoghen from office while his case was still pending and being heard by the Tribunal.
” The rest is history. The above represents the reason why a lot of persons including very senior Judicial officers have canvassed that the Constitution be amended to bring the CCT and its Judges under the control of the NJC which is the body that handles the appointment, promotion and discipline of all Judges/ Justices in Nigeria to guarantee their impartiality and independence”, the lawyer opined.
Also speaking, another lawyer, Seprebofa Oyeghe said the NJC, was established under the provisions of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution.
” Its functions, among others is to appoint, promote and discipline Judicial Officers.By the provision of Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
He further submitted that the NJC shall have the power to recommend to the President and Governors from the appointment and removal of judicial officers listed and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.
Oyeghe in addition said that the Chairman and members of the CCT were not listed as those that NJC can exercise disciplinary control though the Fifth Schedule, Part 1, Item 15 of the Constitution provides thus:”the Chairman and members of the CCT shall be appointed by the President in accordance with the recommendation of the NJC”.
“Hence the application by the CJN asking the NASS to amend the Constitution to confer powers of control over the CCT on the NJC is proper otherwise the actions, rulings and decisions of the CCT may continue to expose the Judiciary to shame and ridicule.
” For instance, the exparte order made by the CCT against the former CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen directing that the CJN to step aside as the CJN and the Chairman of the NJC”, Oyeghe added.
”All judicial organs should and must be under the judiciary, which interprets laws, but does not enforce them.
”Once its status as a judicial body is a creation of statute under the Constitution, its very nature as a judicial organ cannot by any stretch of imagination be a tool in the hands of the executive.”May be we should change the name of the tribunal to something,” she said.