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Thursday, January 24, 2019

NEWS: CJN WALTER ONNOGHEN ISN'T THE FIRST SITTING JUDGE TO FACE PROSECUTION -PROMINENT SENIOR LAWYER SAYS


Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), has condemned those linking the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to politics, saying judges have faced prosecution in the past.

Onnoghen has been under fire for false asset declaration and was charged by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Since the beginning of the case which has generated controversies, many lawyers have accused the Buhari-led government of intimidating lawyers and judges in Nigeria by charging them with criminal offences.

But Falana said the fact on the ground didn’t justify the allegation, condemning some of his senior colleagues in the law profession, saying some of them practice law in an atmosphere of impunity.

He stated this in an interview, where he said this isn’t the first time a judge would face prosecution.

“At the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 2006 or thereabouts, there was a heated debate by lawyers over the decision of the EFCC to charge lawyers with money laundering and allied offences.

“At the end of the debate there was a move to pass a resolution asking (former) President Olusegun Obasanjo to remove Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as the Chairman of the EFCC at the material time. I was in the hall when (the late) Chief Gani Fawehinmi called to find out what was amiss.

“As soon as I briefed him he roared like a lion in his condemnation of the reactionary resolution. Since lawyers are not above the law of the land I mobilised young lawyers at the conference  to ensure that the resolution was defeated. It is part of our political history that long before the current political dispensation, judges and lawyers had been charged with criminal offences and arraigned in courts in this country.

“The earlier that lawyers are reminded that heavens did not fall when a couple of sitting judges were charged with murder and armed robbery in the 1980s, the better for the legal profession. In the same vein, scores of lawyers who were alleged to have contravened the penal and criminal codes have been put in the dock. Some were acquitted while those who were convicted were derobed and removed from the roll of legal practitioners.

“On May 19, 1992, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and I together with three other comrades were suddenly removed from Kuje Prison where we had been detained and taken before a Gwagwada Chief Magistrate Court where we were charged with the grave offence of treasonable felony.

“Can you imagine that civilians were charged with attempt to remove a military dictator from power? Even though the charge was served on us in the precincts of the court Chief Fawehinmi and I represented ourselves and the other defendants. Because we took advantage of the opportunity of asking for our bail to put the Ibrahim Babangida junta on trial in the course of our submissions the case was abandoned and the charge was eventually dismissed in our favour.

“The following year, Chief Fawehinmi, the late Dr  Beko Ransome-Kuti and I were again arrested in Lagos for organising the mass protests which greeted the criminal annulment of the result of the June 12 presidential election. We were  taken to a Magistrate Court in Abuja where we were charged with unlawful assembly, incitement and sabotage of the political transition programme.”

Falana advised lawyers and judges in Nigeria to call themselves to order so that they would not be subjected to ridicule in courts.

“If lawyers and judges do not want to be paraded in criminal courts like common felons, the NJC and the NBA have to sanction members who breach the ethics of the legal profession,” he said.

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