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Nwabueze decries handling of CJN’s case, says principle of all citizens are equal has limits

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Benjamin Obiefuna Nwabueze

Foremost Nigeria Constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze, SAN, yesterday condemned the arraignment of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), stressing that the charges do not warrant and justify the humiliation and disgrace meted to him.

The elder statesman in a paper titled: “Limits Of The Principle That No One Is Above The Law Or That All Citizens Are Equal Before The Law”, noted that although the principle is a salutary one, its application is necessarily limited by inevitable exceptions.

According to him, the disgrace, degradation and embarrassment caused by the arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the head of the third arm of government in the country, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in the way and manner the arraignment was done in this case, is an affront not only to the doctrine of the separation of powers, as well as to the office of CJN and to whole country.

“To echo the words of President Buhari himself, reacting to the jeering he was given at the joint session of the National Assembly when he was there to present the 2019 budget, “the whole world is watching us.” Yes, the world is watching us as we needlessly subject the head of the third arm of our government to disgrace for a “misconduct” that is, in its nature, only technically a criminal offence,” he said.

On the arraignment of the CJN before the CCT, Prof Nwabueze said, it is misconceived to regard and treat the head of the third arm of our government in the same manner and in all respects as an ordinary citizen is treated, all in the name of the principle that all citizens are equal before the law, and that nobody is above the law.

“No exemption from the criminal law is thereby claimed for the CJN, but the way and manner of enforcing the law should accord due respect and decorum for the dignity attached to the office.

“ The question is whether the ‘misconduct’ for which the CJN is arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) warrants and justifies the humiliation and disgrace meted to him. The Charge Sheet dated 10 January, 2019 indicts the CJN on a six count charge of “omitting or failure to declare” certain named assets in his Assets Declaration Form.

All six counts are, in their nature, what may be described as technical offences in the sense that they involve no grave moral obloquy like fraud, stealing, receiving money or other valuable thing as gratification for performing or not performing an official act in favour of a person, other cases of corruption or corrupt practice truly so-called, homicide or other such heinous acts.

The acts of which the CJN is accused are technical offences which, considering that the accused is the holder of the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, could have been dealt with in a manner that would not expose the office, the country and its machinery of government to such disgrace and degradation,” he said.


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