Inibehe Effiong, a Lagos based human rights lawyer, has condemned Tanko Muhammad, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), and other judicial officers for attending a private dinner with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari at the Villa on Thursday.
Effiong said on social media that the act was in contravention of the Code of Conduct for judicial officers.
He said it was not morally right for Buhari to host judges to social events when an election petition is pending against him.
He also berated the judges for associating with “President who has publicly asserted his disdain for the rule of law”.
According to Inibehi, Rule 1 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2016 states that judges must avoid gatherings that could appear to the public that they have been compromised.
He said” “Rule 1.4 states: ‘The Judge must be sensitive to the need to avoid contacts that may lead people to speculate that there is a special relationship between him and someone who the judge may be tempted to favour in some way in the course of his judicial duties’.
“1.5 states: ‘A judicial officer must avoid social relationships that are improper or may give rise to an appearance of impropriety or that may cast doubt on the ability of a judicial officer to decide cases impartially.’”
Effiong said propriety and the appearance of propriety, both professional and personal, were essential elements of a judge’s life as the public expects a high standard of conduct from them.
He said whenever a judge was invited to a gathering, they must ask: “How might this look in the eyes of the public?”
The lawyer said Justice Muhammad, who will most likely handle the election petition against Buhari, must not leave room for doubts.
Effiong added, “It is in Nigeria that intellectuals defend the madness and impropriety of politicians with so much passion.
“When you have the head of the judicial arm, dining with a President who has publicly asserted his disdain for the rule of law, a President who has a petition challenging his election before the courts, at a time that the judiciary is plagued by a crisis of confidence, and you still come here and insult me over my harmless observation, is there hope for the future of Nigeria?’’
“I have said it before and it bears repeating, it’s more about public perception and appearance of impropriety. Judges, unlike lawyers, are not allowed to associate or mingle with society they live in. The fact that a judicial officer is also the head of the judicial arm of government does not change this ethical standard.”
He recalled that President Donald Trump of the United States was berated across party lines for being too friendly with the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, when the former was under probe.
He also recalled how the Chief Justice of the US, John Roberts, publicly disagreed with Trump on how the judiciary should be run.