By Olisa Agbakoba, SAN
The Code of Conduct Tribunal issued a warrant of arrest for Justice Walter Onnoghen, the estranged Chief Justice of the Federation. This has raised a lot of questions as to the place of the Tribunal in the Judicial Hierarchy.
In every society, the courts play a pivotal role in the organization and maintenance of law and order. The Courts in Nigeria are creations of the constitution which in turn lays down their jurisdictional limits.
In the same vein, some bodies are created by the constitution with the same aim of maintaining law and order. One of such bodies is the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 14, 2019, Nigerians woke up to the news that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen was to be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on the allegation that he failed to declare his assets.
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As a result of the above, President suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria based on an ex-parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the Chief Justice be suspended.
This article would attempt to explain the place of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in the Judicial Hierarchy.
THE CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL
The Code of Conduct Tribunal is established by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
The Tribunal is empowered to try public officials for breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
The Tribunal is further empowered to impose any of the following punishments; Vacation of office or seat in any Legislative house, as the case may be; Disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from the holding of any public office for a period not exceeding 10 years; and Seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.
Appeals from the decision of the tribunal lie as of right to the Court of Appeal. The decision of the Tribunal does not exclude the accused person from being prosecuted on a Criminal charge before a competent court of law.
Appeals from the decision of the tribunal lie as of right to the Court of Appeal. The decision of the Tribunal does not preclude the accused person from being prosecuted on a Criminal charge before a competent Court.
JUDICIAL POWERS AND THE CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL
Code of Conduct Tribunal on whether or not the Code of Conduct Tribunal is empowered to exercise judicial powers, reference is made to the Constitution which placed the duty of adjudicating matters in the hands of the Judiciary; headed and supervised by the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
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Section 6 (5) of the Constitution vests judicial powers on the following courts:
(a)The Supreme Court of Nigeria; (b) The Court of Appeal; (c) The Federal High Court; (d) The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (e) A High Court of a State; (f) The Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (g) A Sharia Court of Appeal of a State; (h) The Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (i) A Customary Court of Appeal of a State.
What the above translates to is that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is not a court vested with judicial powers within the scope of the Constitution. Further, officials of the Code of Conduct Tribunal are not Judicial Officers within the scope of section 318 of the Constitution.
Also, one may also argue that in addition to the nine courts listed in section 6(5) of the Constitution, the Constitution only recognizes a Superior Court of record as may be prescribed in an Act of the National Assembly; and a Superior Court of record as may be prescribed in a Law of the House of Assembly of a State.
Section 6(3) of the Constitution states: “The courts to which this section relates, established by this constitution specified in subsection 5 (a) to (i) of this section shall be the only superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a state.”
Upon a careful perusal of the relevant provisions of the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act in conjunction with the Constitution, the proposition can be made that the Code of Conduct Tribunal has failed to qualify the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act as a court of superior record.
THE PLACE OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL
Code of Conduct Tribunal Having established that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is not conferred with judicial powers under the Constitution, the question that now arises is “what powers can the Tribunal exercise?”
The Code of Conduct Tribunal was established to be an Administrative Court, independent of control from both the Executive and the Judiciary exercising jurisdiction over public officers.
Recently, the Code of Conduct Tribunal stated in the Justice Onnoghen case that it is not bound by the decisions of the High Court as they are all Courts of Equal Jurisdiction, but only the decisions Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal is however, yet to make a pronouncement on the above and it would be interesting to know the outcome.
In conclusion, an attempt to place the Code of Conduct Tribunal within the Judicial Hierarchy would be a futility.
Though the Tribunal exercises some form of judicial powers, it still remains merely an Administrative Body. Examples of such a body are the Court Marshal and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.