Reps Propose Bill to Protect Judges from Arbitrary Prosecution, Removal from Office

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The House of Representatives has passed for second reading a bill seeking to prevent a sitting judge from appearing before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

The bill, sponsored by Solomon Bob (PDP, Rivers), seeks to amend the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act.

The bill was passed for second reading on Wednesday after the debate on its general principle.

The bill seeks to amend sections 20 and 24 of the principal act to protect judicial officers from arbitrary prosecution and removal from office.

Section 20 is amended to read, “There is hereby established a tribunal to be known as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (in this Act referred to as “the Tribunal”) which shall be a superior court of record with exclusive jurisdiction to try offences under this act.”

The second proposal seeks to amend section 24 by adding subsections 5 and 6 by prohibiting the trial of sitting judicial officers.

Proposed subsection (5) reads “Nothing in this act shall permit the commencement of any action against a judicial officer before the tribunal unless such judicial officer has been validly removed from the office under section 292(1) of the constitution.”

Sub section (6) reads that “Any action seeking to prosecute any judicial

Officer in contravention of sub-section (5) of this section shall not be entertained by the tribunal.”

The lead debate

Leading the debate on the bill, Mr Solomon said the constitution has made provisions for the removal of a judicial officer.

He noted that section 292 of the 1999 constitution provides for the process and procedure of removal of a judicial officer from office.

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Mr Solomon stated that in the case of heads of courts, the president or a governor must seek the nod of the relevant legislative house while non-heads of courts, the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) is required.

“Let it suffice to state here that the constitution has made very clear provisions for removal of elected officials including judicial officers. The obvious intention is to obviate the threat of arbitrary removal from office, thereby safeguarding the sanctity of the judiciary,” he said.

He further stated that the constitution does not “contemplate the trial of a judicial officer before removal from office. That is the mischief and possibility that this piece of legislation seeks to avoid.”

While encouraging his colleagues to back the bill, Mr Solomon stated that it seeks to “negate the apparent absurdity and illogicality of a man who is himself under trial for wrongdoing, sitting in judgement over another for contravening the law.”

Speaking in support of the bill, Uzoma Abonta said the CCB and CCT are being run like entrepreneurship outlets.

Onnoghen’s exit

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had on 25 January, 2019 suspended a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, following a controversial ex parte order issued by the chairperson of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar.

The integrity of the ex parte order of suspension was later questioned by the Court of Appeal in Abuja.

Mr Umar issued the ex parte order on 23 January, 2019 preparatory to the trial of then CJN on charges of failure and non-declaration of assets earlier filed against him by the federal government through the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

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While being prosecuted at the CCT, Mr Onnoghen was also going through disciplinary proceedings at the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Just before the CCT trial came to an end, Mr Onnoghen tendered his letter of voluntary retirement.

On 18 April, 2019, the tribunal convicted him and, as punishment, ordered his removal from office, barred him from holding public office for 10 years and ordered the forfeiture of the undeclared assets.

The NJC did not make its report public, but on 6 October, 2019, it issued a statement announcing that the president had accepted his voluntary retirement.

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