Rights activist Femi Falana (SAN) has urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to compel the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to step aside pending the determination of the case against him.
Falana said his position was informed by NJC’s precedent, in which it, few years back, directed judges arrested by security agents and charged to court, to excuse themselves from judicial duties until their cases were concluded.
He accused the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) of engaging in double standard by taking a position to oppose Justice Onnoghen’s suspension.
Falana argued that it was wrong for the NBA which called for the suspension of judges arrested by security agents in 2016 to insist that a CJN, against who a charge is pending, should remain in office.
Falana, who was at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to attend to a case in defiance of the NBA’s directive that lawyers boycott court, said the directive was ignored by many lawyers, who turned up in court.
He said, while he faulted the Executive’s decision to suspend the CJN on an ex-parte order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), he argued that Onnoghen should resign.
Falana said: “I have a case before court number 26 in the FCT High Court, Abuja. I left Lagos yesterday to handle my case. My clients are around. I have a contract with my client, which supersedes the directive of the NBA.
“I thought the court would sit. But, unfortunately, we were told the judge is involved in a seminar in preparation for the sittings of the election tribunals, which, for me, is a good excuse for not siting.
“But, on a very serious note, I am not bound by the resolution of the NBA. I have consistently maintained my position in this self-inflicted crisis that we are going through.
“I have condemned the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the basis of an ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal. And, at the same time, I have also asked that the suspension be lifted.
“I have also pleaded with the Chief Justice to do the needful by resigning from office. And I think there is still an opportunity to do what is needed to be done.”
On why he chose to attend court on a day the NBA directed lawyers to shun courts, Falana argued that with the position he had maintained on the issue, he could not persuade himself “to engage in solidarity with criminality.
“The National Judicial Council (NJC) should have met on the 15th of January, last week’s Tuesday, and that body would have had the opportunity to save the legal profession and the country this colossal embarrassment.
“But the Chief Justice, as Chairman of the NJC, in his wisdom, decide unilaterally to postpone the meeting of the NJC indefinitely.
“So, I am happy that some concerned members of the NJC requisitioned for a meeting of the body and the body is meeting today. And we are hoping that, regardless of the boycott of the NBA, that body will follow its own precedents by asking the honourable Chief Justice to step aside.
“In 2016, when a number of judges were arrested and charged before the Federal High Court, the NJC rightly decided that those judges be interdicted on the advice of the NBA, and they were so interdicted.
“This time around, the NBA is busy, mobilising lawyers to defend the Chief Justice. And the picture that I have seen in court,a very sad picture, reminds me of the trial of Mandela. The impression is being given that a freedom fighter is on trial. But, we all know that that is not the case here.
“We shouldn’t have pushed ourselves to this embarrassing level that the Chief Justice of our country is on trial. You would have expected the NBA leaders to give the appropriate advise in this case.”
When asked his assessment of the level of lawyers’ compliance with the NBA’s directive, Falana said: “You can see that many lawyers are here in court in defiance of the NBA resolution, because it is not a popular resolution.
“From information at my disposal, lawyers have turned up in court all over the country to have their cases heard.”
On whether those who complied were being misled, Falana said: “I will not say that. Everybody has his own freedom. This is a country of freedom. So, those who want to sit at home are entitled to their decision. Those of us in court are also entitled to do so.
This place (the court premises) could not have been deserted because the NBA has adopted a resolution, which, from what you have seen, is not popular with its members.
“In the interest of the legal profession, we must operate under the rule of law. And that is what has informed my criticism of the position of the Federal Government,” Falana said.
Additional Reports from The Nation