Members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) today resolved to embark on a two-day warning boycott of courts in protest against the suspension of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen.
The ex-CJN was suspended from office last week by President Muhammadu Buhari on allegations bordering on graft. However, NBA rejected the suspension claiming it did not follow due process.
The two-day warning boycott will begin tomorrow Tuesday, 29th January, 2019 and will continue on Wednesday, 30th January, 2019. The NBA announced its decision at the end of its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Abuja. Reacting to the boycott, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) advised the NBA not to institutionalise corruption. The Islamic human rights organization told members of the legal profession to avoid taking sides with a man who has already admitted that he committed an offence.
“This boycott is sheer hocus pocus. It is poor Nigerians who will suffer from the NBA’s boycott. They have allowed their emotions to run away with them. The problem with our lawyers is that they see every problem, including political, as a legal problem. They do not look at other angles or think of other possibilities and solutions. They tend to corroborate an African proverb which says, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.’
“We are talking about a man who sat at the helm of our judiciary here. This man has admitted that he ‘forgot’ more than a billion naira in his bank account. That, to us, is preposterous. It is alarming. Unfortunately those who know better because they are ‘learned’ are the same people staging a boycott to protect the billionaire Justice.
“Why can’t it happen here if it can happen elsewhere. Just last year, on June 20, 2018 to be precise, a judge of the Supreme Court in West Virginia, United States of America, Justice Allen Loughry who was accused of using his office for personal gains was suspended. His offence involved $363,000 worth of office furniture, having expensive office furniture taken to his private house and using government vehicle and gas card for personal use.
“That happened in a sane society They have lawyers there too and his colleagues did not identify with the wrongdoer. So we need to ask ourselves if we truly want to sanitise this society. Perhaps it was this kind of sentiment that made Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to conclude that, ‘To fight corruption in a corrupt system, you don’t follow due process, you follow the necessary process.” Vladimir Putin
“We are tempted to ask, ‘Where is the human face in the practice of law in Nigeria? We know the thief. He confesses to us. But we are the same people who will tutor the thief to change his confessional statement. We tell him to claim it was made under duress. We are the same people who appear for the Evans and the Oyenusis yet we go to the mosque on Fridays and attend church on Sundays. Do you think God is blind?
“MURIC appeals to the NBA to put humanity on the front burner in matters like this. NBA should not wish away Justice Onnoghen’s offence. It should be Nigeria first. No single person is bigger than Nigeria. Crimes like the one the ex-CJN is accused of are what turned this country into a wild jungle and NBA must join other patriotic citizens who are presently working day and night to return Nigeria to the comity of sane communities.
“We further appeal that the NBA creates an enabling environment for ordinary Nigerians to have access to justice. We should not be seen protecting the rich and powerful all the time, particularly a powerful man who has already admitted that he is the owner of incriminatingly humongous bank accounts when poor Nigerians are sentenced to long terms in prison just for stealing one tuber of yam. Ayn Rand has a strong message here, ‘When the law no longer protects you from the corrupt, but protects the corrupt from you, you know your nation is doomed’.
“It was the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who said, ‘Any wealth accumulated on a selfish basis, at the expense of the state in defiance of social justice helps to create a disorganized society in which everybody will eat everybody, and no one person can be safe.’ Do the respected members of the NBA want to support the creation of such a chaotic society?
“MURIC has taken the ex-CJN to the court of public opinion and he lost woefully. Nigerians are flabbergasted that the ex-CJN has N1,131,684,554.00 (one billion, one hundred and thirty-one million, six hundred and eighty-four thousand, five hundred and fifty-four naira) in his personal accounts and still counting. It is appalling, repugnant and nauseating.
“We advise NBA not to pursue vested interest. Nigerians see the Onnoghen affair as a struggle between those who fight corruption, those who despise it, those who embrace it and those who benefit from it. If NBA will not stand up to be counted among those in the first group, it must not be seen to identify with the third and fourth camps. The second rank is a safer ground for the purpose of posterity.
“We appeal to the NBA not to resume its boycott of courts soon after the two days. This is because it is poor Nigerians who suffer each time there is a boycott of courts. The legal profession is sine qua non to the dispensation of justice anywhere in the world and that is why lawyers are respected by all.
“Resumption of boycott is unnecessary because Justice Onnoghen himself in a separate case in 2013 acknowledged the special powers of the CCT. In the case of AHMED V AHMED & ORS (2013) LPELR – 21143 (SC) delivered on 12th July, 2013, the ex-CJN held that, ‘The CCT has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau’ and that ‘the provisions expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular courts in respect of such violations’. He further concluded that ‘Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this Code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau’.
“As we rise from this session, we remind honourable members of the NBA that law is a noble profession and a good number of our lawyers, both senior and junior ones, are men and women of integrity. This profession is for the bold, the assertive and the man of decency and candour. We advise NBA to think outside the box. Onnoghen appears to have dragged its name in the mud. What NBA should do to reclaim its good name is to step aside and allow the ex-CJN to defend himself at the tribunal.