The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar, has challenged the authority of the Federal Judicial Service Commission to query him, saying he is not a judicial officer and is therefore not answerable to any institution but the Presidency.
Umar, who is presiding over the three-member panel tribunal handling the six-count charge of false assets declaration leveled against Justice Walter Onnoghen by the Federal Government, said this while responding to a petition against him.
The National Judicial Council, NJC, had on January 29, disclosed that it forwarded a petition that a group under the platform of Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, lodged against the CCT boss, to the FJSC.
In a petition signed by Grace Wogor , the group asked the commission to sanction Umar for abusing court processes and granting an ex parte order removing the Chief Justice of Nigeria , Justice Walter Onnoghen , when the CJN had not yet been convicted.
The FJSC subsequently issued a query to the CCT boss, asking him to respond to the allegations against him.
In his response dated February 6, 2019, and marked CCT / HQ/ FJSC / S / 01 and addressed to the acting Chairman of the FJSC, Umar said he was not answerable to any institution but the Presidency.
He said: “With regard to the prayer of the petitioner for an appropriate sanction against the chairman , it is important to note that the chairman and members of the tribunal , not being judicial officers , are not constitutionally subject to any disciplinary proceedings by either the National Judicial Council or the Federal Judicial Service Commission but the Presidency.
“The petitioner alleged that judicial oaths were breached and that the National Judicial Council should consider appropriate sanctions . It is to be noted that the chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal are not judicial officers.
“This is predicated on the fact that the chairman and members of the tribunal , during swearing – in, only subscribe to official oaths and not judicial oaths. Therefore , not being a judicial officer, I did not subscribe to judicial oaths as alleged.”
On why he granted the ex parte order, Umar said he did so because it was within his power but added that he could not speak further since the matter was before the Court of Appeal and commenting on it would be subjudice.
To further justify his position, Umar, adduced a letter dated May 18, 2015, which was signed by the then CJN and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
The letter marked NJC/CIR/HOC/1/74, had specifically barred members of the CCT from referring to themselves as Justices.
The then CJN, noted that going by provisions of Paragraph 15 (1 and 2) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, members of the CCT panel could not be regarded as judges.
“From the foregoing provisions, no member, including the chairman of the CCT on appointment, is a judicial officer as defined in Section 318 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended unless he or she has held office as a judge of the superior court of record in Nigeria,” the letter added.