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Falana, Agbakoba, Ozekhome Condemn Freezing of CJN’s Accounts

Justice Onnoghen

Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and activist-lawyers Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Femi Falana (SAN) yesterday urged the Federal Government to withdraw the order freezing the bank accounts of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice  Walter Onnonghen.

They described the directive issued by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to freeze the accounts as illegal and sub judice.

Activist-lawyer Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa argued that the Executive Order 6 relied on by the AGF was inapplicable in Onnoghen’s case.

To Agbakoba, the AGF does not have the authority to issue such directives to NFIU.

He said: “To repeat, the AGF has no authority to issue a directive to NFIU to freeze the CJN’s bank accounts as the matter is already pending before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and is therefore sub judice.

“The proper forum to issue the order at all would be the CCT itself and not the AGF.”

Falana, in a statement, said since a charge was pending before the CCT, neither the prosecutor nor the defence counsel was permitted by law to resort to self-help under the pretext of preserving the “res” or the subject matter of the criminal proceedings.

Though the Presidential Executive Order No 6 of 2018 has been validated by the Federal High Court, Falana argued that it did not authorise the freezing of the bank accounts or assets of any defendant charged with economic or financial crime or the contravention of the code of conduct for public officers.

The SAN said: “It is trite law that once a charge has been instituted in a criminal court or at the CCT, the freezing of the bank accounts or seizure of the assets of the defendant has to be anchored on the valid order of the trial court based on the application of the prosecution. This procedure accords with the rule of law.

“For the umpteenth time, the Buhari administration ought to be reminded that even under a fascist military junta, Andrew Otutu Obaseki J.S.C. of blessed memory spoke for the Supreme Court when he said inter alia: ‘In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being  one of the  countries in the world, even in the third world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self-help by force to operate.

“‘Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the State, it is the duty of the government to allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course.’”

The activist-lawyer said he was compelled to call on the Federal Government to withdraw the charge as it was inexorably designed to end in a prosecutorial fiasco.

“Since it has now been confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari was not taken into confidence before the charge was filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau, it is high time that the Federal Government terminated the criminal proceedings and advised the petitioner to submit his complaint to the National Judicial Council (NJC).

“No doubt, the Federal Government may not like the much cited case of Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria. Personally, I have had cause to criticise the judgment.

“But until it is set aside by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the discipline of judicial officers has to be conducted and concluded by the NJC before they are subjected to criminal proceedings,” Falana maintained.

Ozekhome described the directive as “doubly illegal, unconstitutional, wrongful and unlawful.”

According to him, the AGF contravened the order of a Federal High Court judgment which required the government to obtain a court order before it can lawfully deploy Presidential Executive Order No: 6.

Ozekhome said: “Firstly, the Presidency said it was not aware that the CJN was going to be arraigned. Now, on the same Monday it was making its denial, the AGF was writing a letter, which has since gone viral, to the NFIU to freeze the CJN’s accounts, based allegedly on the provisions of Order 6.

“I argued last July when this order was rolled out that the order itself was illegal, unconstitutional, invalid and even immoral, because it was trying to empower the President to seize or block a citizen’s account, or prevent a Nigerian citizen from travelling without a court order to that effect.

“The government then tried to rely on a judgment by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu which validated the order as not being unconstitutional.

“But Justice Ojukwu’s judgment made it very clear that for the order to be valid, for any citizen’s account to be blocked, or for any citizen to be prevented from travelling abroad, the government must first obtain a valid court order empowering it to do so.

“The judgment is there and it’s very clear, because that is the order the AGF is relying on. You cannot rely on an order beyond what the order itself provides. Therefore, the judgment directly overrode the provisions of the order.

“In this case, it has not been shown that the Attorney-General obtained any court order, prior to allegedly directing the NFIU to freeze the account.

“That again makes it doubly illegal, unconstitutional, wrongful and unlawful.”

He said: “The Executive Order 6 has to do with those who have corruption cases still pending in court, and their names were actually listed in that order – about 155 cases. At the time the order was enforced, this case had not started.

“The charge against the CJN is not about corruption. It’s a matter of omission to declare assets. There is nobody who has said that the assets are proceeds of crime. There is no such allegation now at all. So Executive Order 6 cannot apply.”

Adegboruwa disagreed with those asking Chief Justice Onnoghen to clear his name, saying things must be done properly.

“I support that nobody is above the law but I think that the current effort to demonise the Judiciary through the office of the CJN is not in the best interest of this nation. It will be counter-productive.

“Our law accommodates everything. You must have a key to enter the courtroom. There is nothing technical about jurisdiction. It was raised on behalf of President Buhari during his certificate case. You don’t jump the gun. There is what we call condition precedent.

“After all, judges that were taken before the NJC, like Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, has since been dismissed. We can’t bury anything under the ground but we’re saying follow due process,” the lawyer said.

He also faulted the manner in which details about the charge were made public, saying the CJN’s family was being endangered.

“Now we have the form filled by the CJN with his handwriting all over the social media, with his private telephone number, names of his family members, his children. That is not how to treat the number four citizen of this country. I don’t think the government can be fighting against itself. A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he said.

The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) has summoned a meeting of all SANs to discuss Chief Justice Onnoghen’s fate.

A Senior Advocate, whose views were sought on the issue, said: “The Body of Senior Advocates has scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter on Saturday.

“So, I don’t want to pre-empt what we have to discuss. All the SANs will be there. We’ll table the issues and take a position together. If I say anything now I might undermine their position.”

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