Ozekhome flays Awomolo, Falana over comments on Saraki’s case
CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) has described the views of Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) and Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) on the Supreme Court’s grant of stay of proceedings in the case against Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, as an incredible “perverse interpretation” of the law in which both men “sought to bind the Supreme Court with the uninterpreted provisions of a law that only applies to trial courts”.
Ozekhome, in a write-up titled “Awomolo-Falana’s Comment- A Case of Unfortunate Sentiments Vs Law,” replied to what he called the “brash and unwarranted criticism of the apex court”.
He stated that Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), only states that “An application for a stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be granted,” a position which applies only to the trial court, and not to appellate courts.
“It ought to be noted that the trial of Saraki, which is currently before the CCT, is not before the Supreme Court of Nigeria. What is before the apex court is an appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal. From the plain wording of section 306, the ACJA does not apply to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, or any other appellate court for that matter, but to the CCT,” he stated.
The fiery lawyer and social critic argued that it was obvious that those criticising the order made by the Supreme Court “are merely expressing biased political sentiments rather than the correct position of the law,” since the right of appeal being preserved by the Supreme Court in the stay of proceedings is sourced directly from the Nigerian Constitution, not the ACJA which a mere statute.
“It is common knowledge that the Constitution is the supreme law, and is superior to any other legislation. And where the provisions of any law are inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, such law will be void to the extent of such inconsistency. That is what Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution says in unambiguous lucidity,” he clarified.
The powers of the Supreme Court to decide a case to finality cannot be compromised, whittled down, abated, or negated by any legislation subordinate to the Constitution. The Supreme Court is not in the habit of making orders in vain and it possesses undoubted powers to ensure that whatever decision it arrives at would not be nugatory or overtaken by events.
Indeed, the Supreme Court is the apex court of the land. Once the legislature has passed laws, the function of interpreting such laws falls within the realm of the courts. Even the High Court or Federal High Court can strike down the provisions of the ACJA for being inconsistent with section 6(6) and 36 of the 1999 Constitution. A Law that takes away a litigant’s right of appeal for whatever reason is a bad and anachronistic law that must be struck down,” he stated.
Ozekhome argued that the trial of Saraki before the CCT is just about two months old and it was already before the Supreme Court, adding “Justice hurried at the expense of due process and constitutional rights of appeal is also justice denied. Indeed, it is worse than justice delayed,” he argued.
“The appellant,” argued the renowned constitutional lawyer, “Dr Saraki, is contending that all trials before the CCT are for breaches of the Code of Conduct for public officers.
They are not crimes in penal statute books such as the Criminal and Penal Code and the EFCC and ICPC legislations. That is why Section 23(3) the CCBT Act provides that even after a person has been tried and convicted by the CCT, he is still liable to be tried before the ordinary courts of the land for the same criminal offences. The attempt therefore to turn the Code of Conduct Tribunal into an anti- corruption court has failed, woefully, from the get-go. It is dead on arrival, as dead as dodo. It is indeed a mark of intellectual somersault to seek to portray a tribunal such as the CCT set up to try recalcitrant public officers, who did not get their paperwork right even when advised by the Code of Conduct Bureau to correct same, into a criminal court,” Ozekhome stated.
He expressed utmost regrets that senior and otherwise respected lawyers would go on the pages of newspapers to denigrate and criticise a valid ruling of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, particularly when they are aware that the prosecution itself offered not to proceed with the trial before the tribunal, until the Supreme Court disposes of the appeal.
Stay of proceedings has always been part and parcel of our Criminal Justice System, and it will remain so. This is an unfortunate situation, which showed that Awomolo and Falana are crying more than the bereaved. It will be a very sad day when a court of law, any court of law, not to talk of the Supreme Court, is shackled and manacled from interpreting the law, its primary function and the very reason for its existence,” the leading rights crusader added.