Layi Olarenwaju, Ilorin
The governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Kwara State, Issa Aremu, has asked the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to resign from office over asset declaration charges preferred against him.
Onnoghen is facing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for failing to publicly declare a certain amount of money allegedly traced to his bank accounts.
The call for his resignation came amidst raging controversy over the propriety of his suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Aremu, at press conference tagged “Judiciary On Trial: Justice Mustapha Akanbi and Chief Gani Fawehinmi at a time like this,” which held at Kwara State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists in Ilorin, said Onnoghen had not denied his failure to declare all his assets.
He noted that the suspended CJN, who should know better claimed that it was due to “forgetfulness and mistake,” saying the admittance was sufficed for the embattled jurist to honourably take leave of office and preserve the image of the judiciary.
Aremu, who is also the Vice President, Industrial Global Union, berated Onnoghen for shopping for court orders in a matter that was apparent only the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) could hear.
He pointed out that the embattled CJN had laid precedence in the judgement he delivered in the past that it was the sole responsibility of the CCT to deal with matters arising from asset declaration.
The Labour Party governorship candidate urged Onnoghen to protect the sanctity of the third organ of government and tender his resignation letter, saying that his conduct since the allegation was raised had become embarrassing.
Aremu, however, added that the suspension of the CJN, who has the power to constitute election tribunals on the eve of 2019 elections must necessarily raise eyebrow and suspicion.
He stated that it behoves all stakeholders in the judicial sector and the nation’s democracy to safe the administration of justice from the perception of corruption, double standards and self-help rather than agonising over the trial and suspension of Onnoghen.
“I’m not surprised that controversy has trailed the suspension of the CJN. However, regardless of the context of his suspension and the controversy that greeted his suspension, I think it is time for citizens and all stakeholders in Nigeria project not to lose focus but be able to see and discuss critical issues that are very fundamental.
“One major substance in this issue is can the CJN, who is supposed to be the head of the judiciary talk of forgetting to declare his public asset? Can any accused person feigned mistake and forgetfulness over the allegation and would be allowed to go scot free? For me, these are fundamental issues that we need to address.
“Also, very scary is the allegation of millions of dollars in the accounts of the CJN, who is a public officer, whose salary is well known. For a country that has been running on deficits including this year’s budget, and for one public officer not a private citizen, who is running a company to have millions of dollars in his accounts and to say he forgot and it was a mistake that he couldn’t declare it, for me these are fundamental issues and I think law is also based on morality. And I think it is important we need to address that.
“The third one, which is quite worrisome also is that can the CJN or any judicial officer for that matter be right to make every effort to evade appearing before a competent court of justice including Code of Conduct Tribunal. And the suspended CJN, with all due respect, did everything to make sure he did not appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal even though the same CJN had made judgement before to say when it comes to an allegation of corruption, non-declaration of asset, only the Code of Conduct Tribunal could address those issues. In his own court, there are settled judgments that he has made.
“For the CJN to move from court to court, shopping for court orders to restrain the Code of Conduct Tribunal, is extremely very embarrassing. And it has a lot of implication for the administration of justice in this country.
“This is not leadership by example and I think the CJN must lead by example. He who goes to equity must come with clean hands and I think this is one dictum that has come in the administration of justice. I think the CJN should laugh respectfully, obey the order of Code of Conduct Tribunal and in fact, he ought to have resigned honourably to preserve the institution of justice.”
Aremu urged the President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Paul Usoro, to resign for rising in defence of the embattled CJN, saying that he had lost the moral right to do so on account of his own corruption trial.
“At a time like this, I wonder what would be the reaction of late Justice Mustapha Akanbi and Chief Gani Fawehinmi. They would ask the NBA President to resign for him not to use his bar status to pervert justice,” he added.