CUPP fixes protest for Friday as CCT orders Onnoghen’s arrest
The Code of Conduct Tribunal on Wednesday ordered the police and the Department of State Services to arrest the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and produce him before it on Friday.
But Onnoghen hurriedly headed for the Appeal Court in Abuja on Wednesday and asked the court to stop his arrest as ordered by the CCT.
Also, the Coalition of United Political Parties has fixed a nationwide protest for Friday to protest the directive that Onnoghen should be arrested by security agents.
The tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, made the order in a ruling on the prosecution’s application for the issuance of the arrest warrant on the grounds that Onnoghen had continued to snub the tribunal by refusing to obey summons to answer to the charges of non-declaration of assets preferred against him by the Federal Government.
However, as of the time of filing this report at about 5pm on Wednesday, The PUNCH learnt that the suspended CJN had not been arrested as he was still occupying his official residence in the Three Arms Zone.
It was learnt that the CJN would avert any possibility of his arrest by reaching an agreement with the security agencies to voluntarily submit himself to the CCT on Friday.
Onnoghen’s case adjourned till February 20th
Meanwhile, the Justice Abdul Aboki-led three-man panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on Wednesday adjourned the hearing of Onnoghen’s three pending appeals till February 20.
The adjournment followed a request by the Federal Government represented by Mr Oyin Koleosho, a lawyer in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Koleosho had told the court that his request for an adjournment was based on the directive of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), that the private lawyer prosecuting Onnoghen before the CCT, Mr. Aliyu Umar, should take up the prosecution of the appeals from the lawyers of the Ministry of Justice.
Onnoghen’s legal team led by Chief Chris Uche (SAN) had opposed the respondent’s application for adjournment but was over-ruled by the court.
The court then adjourned the matters till February 20.
One of the CJN’s three appeals is challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the charges against him.
Another of the appeals is challenging the exparte order on which President Buhari relied on to suspend the CJN and appoint Justice Muhammad as the acting CJN.
The third appeal challenges the CCT’s refusal to be bound by the orders made by the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court directing the tribunal to halt the CJN’s trial.
Onnoghen asks Appeal Court to stop his arrest
Onnoghen on Wednesday asked the Appeal Court in Abuja to stop his arrest.
The suspended CJN, who faulted the CCT’s decision to arrest him, based his argument on 11 grounds.
The suspended CJN said his decision to be absent from the CCT was not in disobedience to any order as no order to compel his attendance was served on him.
He said the tribunal erred by ordering his arrest when the application challenging its jurisdiction to hear and determine the complaints of the respondent had not been heard.
The court document read in part, “The appellant (Onnoghen) has a pending motion challenging the competence of the charge preferred against him and the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain same.
“Until the issue of the CCT jurisdiction being challenged by the appellant is heard and determined, the physical presence of the appellant to take his plea is not mandatory or necessary.
“The order of the bench warrant is a breach of the respondent’s right to appellant’s right to liberty under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
Onnoghen said that the CCT contravened Section 266(b) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act when it ordered his arrest as the Act clearly states that an appellant has a right to be absent from court during the argument of an interlocutory application.
Onnoghen challenged the decision of the CCT chairman not to step down despite calls for him to recuse himself due to a pending corruption charge against him and “likelihood of bias.”
Onnoghen asked the Appellate Court to “give an order setting aside the order of the tribunal made on February 13, 2019; an order for the constitution of a different panel at the CCT to try him and an order dispensing his presence from the CCT.”
CUPP to protest against Onnoghen’s arrest on Friday
But the CUPP has declared a nationwide protest for Friday to protest the CCT’s directive that Onnoghen should be arrested by security agents.
The protest, it said, would coincide with the day Onnoghen’s trial was expected to start at the CCT.
The coalition’s spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere, stated this in a statement on Wednesday.
He was reacting to the arrest warrant issued by the CCT chairman, Umar, against Onnoghen.
He said, “It is ridiculous that a government that has been promising free and fair elections can be planning to arraign the country’s CJN on Friday, 24 hours to the country’s presidential election.
“We see this as a last minute effort to divert attention, confuse the Nigerian voters and cover the President’s incompetence few hours to election.
“It is also an attempt to divert attention from electoral violence being planned by the ruling All Progressives Congress.
“We therefore call for a mass protest across the 36 states of the federation on Friday, (tomorrow) being the day scheduled for the arraignment of the CJN.
“Friday is dedicated as a National Action Day Against the rampaging Dictator. All Non-Governmental Organisations, activists and political parties should hold rallies at their local government areas, state and at the federal levels.
“All lawyers, activists, youths and opposition politicians must stage protests and remain vigilant from Friday till Sunday to avoid the political barbarians using the CJN matter to divert attention and sneak in to steal the will of the people.”
The CUPP had earlier on Wednesday said it had uncovered fresh plan by the Presidency to forcefully remove Onnoghen before Saturday.
It alleged that the Presidency was threatening Onnoghen to resign immediately or risked being arrested ahead of the election.
Ugochinyere made the allegation in a statement in Abuja.
He said, “The opposition is armed with evidence of a failed attempt around 11pm on Tuesday night to force the CJN to sign a draft resignation letter taken to him by a former Attorney-General of the Federation.
“The Senior Advocate of Nigeria was sent to threaten the CJN to avert a planned arrest and humiliation by signing his resignation as the President has directed that he must step down before the Saturday election for the acting CJN, Tanko Mohammed, to have his illegal appointment regularised before Saturday election.”