Lagos 13 January 2019.

The Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) condemns the hurried charges filed at the Code of Conduct Tribunal against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the head of the Nigerian judiciary, and calls on all lawyers to rise up and defend the judiciary from attack and destruction.

LEDAP recalls that this regime attacked and arrested some senior judges in 2016 upon frivolous charges that have all failed. The regime had also used the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal to attack the legislature on pretence of enforcing assets declaration laws against the Senate President. The code of conduct system located in the Presidency has therefore become the instrument for political emasculation of the other arms of government.

The executive attack on the Judiciary and Legislature, and of the political opposition, independent media and the civil society organisations in Nigeria, are clear indicators of a regime driving towards full dictatorship. All Nigerians must resist this prospect, and all lawyers and justice sector stakeholders must stand up against the attack on the judiciary.

LEDAP calls on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to call out all lawyers, judges and magistrates from the court to protest this unwarranted assault and desecration of the integrity and reputation of the judiciary by the politically motivated charges against the CJN.

The charges against the CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal are unlawful. The executive has no constitutional powers to discipline or charge any judge to court for a criminal offence unless the judge has been subjected to disciplinary procedure by the National Judicial Council (NJC). LEDAP filed a suit at the Federal High Court Abuja in October 2016 when some judges’ homes were raided and some of them arrested. We challenged the constitutionality of the arrests without prior reference to NJC. In 2017 in a similar suit, the court of appeal confirmed that only the NJC can discipline judicial officers or refer them for criminal prosecution. This was the case of Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391 (CA)

The charges against the CJN without reference to, and prior disciplinary actions of NJC, are grossly unlawful. The CCT as a vehicle for such unlawful enterprise, as an arm of the Presidency, contravene the principle of separation of powers under the 1999 Constitution.

We call on the Federal government to immediately withdraw the charges against the CJN, as well as the purported motion for order suspending him from office. The executive arm of government has no power for seek for such orders. We also call on the Hon Attorney General of the Federation to put a stop to this unconstitutional action and to allow caution and good sense to rule to avoid the erosion of judicial independence.

Chino Obiagwu SAN

Coordinator LEDAP.