Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has been ordered to return to the Code of Conduct Tribunal to face trial.
Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has been ordered to return to the Code of Conduct Tribunal to face trial. The order was made by the Appeal Court in Abuja which dismissed a suit he filed seeking a stay of execution on his on-going trial at the tribunal. Ruling on the matter, Justice Abdul Aboki rejected the appeal, saying that the injunction is spent and the case at the CCT can continue. The appellate court held that Justice Onnoghen’s application runs contrary to section 306 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015 (ACJA). Justice Aboki who read the lead ruling cited a case of Dr Bukola Saraki in which Justice Onnoghen himself at the Supreme Court declined to stay trial of Saraki on the same ground that section 306 of the new law, did not permit the stay of criminal trial.
The Appeal Court said that there were no special circumstances under which the prayer of Onnoghen could be granted in the appeal argued on his behalf by his lawyer Mr Wole Olanikpekun. The Code of Conduct Tribunal had on January the 14th ruled to hear all motions that arose in the charges against Onnoghen together and give a decision on the motions. But Onnoghen, having been dissatisfied with the decision of the tribunal to hear all motions approached the court of appeal to set aside the decision of the tribunal. His appeal was predicated on the ground that the issue of jurisdiction raised against his trial ought to be resolved one way or the other first before any other motion could be entertained.
The Court of Appeal had on January 24, ordered a stay of proceedings on the trial of Onnoghen until Jan. 30. The order was sequel to an application by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) on behalf of the CJN. Justice Aboki, leading two other justices of the appellate court, held that the order was a temporary stay pending ruling on a substantive motion brought by the CJN. Olanipekun had approached the court praying for an order restraining the Code of Conduct of Tribunal (CCT) from proceeding with Onnoghen’s trial pending the determination of an application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal. The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) had filed a six-count charge against Onnoghen bothering on allegation of non-assets declaration. At the resumption of the trial on Jan.14, the arraignment of the defendant was stalled as his team of counsel claimed he was not properly served with the notice of summons.
However, on the following adjourned date, being Jan. 22, the tribunal was prepared to commence the trial when it had established
However, on the following adjourned date, being Jan. 22, the tribunal was prepared to commence the trial when it had established that the defendant had been properly served with the notice of summons. The process was stalled again with the absence of the defendant and a motion brought by Olanipekun urging the tribunal to restrain itself from continuing with the trial. The defendant’s counsel had brought to the knowledge of the panel of three subsisting restraining orders from High Courts in Abuja barring it from continuing the trial. Olanipekun had also insisted that the defendant’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to handle the matter should be treated first before any other proceeding could happen. Malam Umar Aliyu (SAN), Counsel to the Federal Government, had objected to such order of trial, adding that the defendant must take his plea by being arraigned before any motion could be heard.
The prosecution had along the charge, filed an application urging the tribunal to order the stepping aside of the CJN pending the determination of the petition. Chairman of the tribunal, Umar Danladi, went ahead to describe the orders from three High Courts restraining the tribunal from continuing with the trial as unconstitutional. The Federal High Court, FCT High Court and the National Industrial Court at various times in Abuja gave the restraining orders halting the trial of the CJN pending the determination of suits bearing Danladi as defendant. Aggrieved by the decision of the tribunal, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) also Counsel to Onnoghen, filed an appeal challenging the decision of the tribunal to continue with the trial.
Aboki held that the appellate court had no definitive order to make in the present circumstance and therefore went ahead to fix Jan. 24 to hear the merit of the appeal. At the resumed session, Olanipekun had submitted that the tribunal was wrong to have discountenanced the restraining orders made by the three courts. He said such action was capable of enthroning anarchy in the system if not checked. Olanipekun, who cited many legal precedents to support his argument, said it was incumbent on the tribunal to respect the order of court and its practice direction. He said the insistence of the tribunal to force the arraignment of the CJN when a motion challenging its jurisdiction was unknown to law. Mr Oyekole Oso, Counsel for the Federal Government, raised objections on the issues canvassed by Olanipekun.
He said the orders made at three high courts were not binding on the tribunal, adding that the tribunal also had co-ordinate powers as those courts. Oso said the applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated the willingness to submit himself for trial. According to him, the interlocutory applications before the appeal would not stop the prosecution of the CJN at the tribunal. Oso said the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal must be first heard at the tribunal, adding that the court should impress it on the applicant to stand justice at the tribunal. He prayed the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.