Nigerian Constitution confers immunity on heads of courts, say lawyers.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and member, Body of Benchers, Chief Ferdinand Orbih and other lawyers yesterday argued that heads of courts enjoy immunity under the Nigerian constitution.
This followed arguments about the code of conduct charges leveled against Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen and his planned arraignment before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja.
Orbih, who is Chairman of Democracy Advocacy and Election Petition Litigation Committee Section of Legal Practice of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), made the submission, insisting that senior members of the judiciary should enjoy immunity like their counterparts in other arms of government.
He cited Section 292 (1) (a) of the Constitution, which stipulates that the CJN, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and other heads of Federal Courts could only be removed by the President acting on an address supported by Senate’s two-thirds majority.
Also at the state level, the Chief Judge of a state, President of the Customary Court of Appeal or the Grand Khadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal could only be removed by the governor acting on an address supported by the state House of Assembly’s two-thirds majority.
He added that the President could remove all other judicial officers from office or, as the case may be, the governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Responding, a constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), however, argued that without exemption of the CJN from criminal law, the way and manner of enforcing the law should accord due respect and decorum for the dignity of his office.
Also, a Lagos based attorney, Chris Okeke referring to section 292 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) maintained that the CJN could only be removed by the President, acting on an address supported by Senate’s two-thirds majority.
But responding, an Abuja-based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, said it was a patent fallacy to suggest that Section 292(1) confers immunity on judicial officers, saying, “Nothing could be further from the truth, not by the most liberal construction of either that or any other constitutional provision.
“Only the President, Vice President, governors and their deputies enjoy immunity by virtue of provisions of Section 308 of the Constitution.”