22 January 2019

Nigeria: Onnoghen Urges Appeal Court to Stop His Trial

Photo: Daily Trust
Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, yesterday approached the Court of Appeal, seeking an order to stop the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) from proceeding with his trial.

Onnoghen, through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), asked the court for an oral order stopping the CCT from proceeding with the trial.

Awomolo stated that the order became necessary to preserve the subject matter of the case at the CCT. But the three-member panel chaired by Justice Abdul Aboki declined the request, stressing that no form of order could be made at this stage.

"We are of the view that no form of order shall be made at this stage pending hearing of motion on notice", the court said as it consequently adjourned the matter till January 24.

Earlier, counsel to the Federal Government, Emmanuel Omonuwa, had demanded three days within which to reply to the motion on notice filed by the CJN. He stated that he was only served the process on Monday morning but had to be present in court out of respect.

The tribunal had on January 14 fixed January 22 for hearing in the six-count charge of false assets declaration filed against Justice Onnoghen by the Federal Government.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has also filed a motion seeking a court order directing Onnoghen to step down as the CJN pending hearing and determination of his trial.

Still on the matter, Justice Evelyn Maha of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had issued two separate orders asking parties to maintain status quo in the CJN's trial pending the determination of the motions filed by the Incorporated ‎Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, and the Incorporated Trustees of International Association of Students.

The two plaintiffs had on January 14 obtained interim orders directing the parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the substantive suits, which was fixed for last Thursday for hearing. But the matter could not hold following irregular service of process and was adjourned till January 28.

Also yesterday, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, issued an order restraining President Muhammadu Buhari and Malami from forcefully removing the CJN from office.

Justice Ekwo gave the order while ruling on a motion ex parte brought by the Action Peoples Party (APP).

Other defendants in the application are Onnoghen, Justice Ibrahim Tanko, the Code of Conduct Bureau chairman as well as the chairman of the CCT.

The court ordered the parties to maintain status quo ante pending the determination of the motion on notice.

"This means that parties must observe the rule of law by not doing anything that would tamper with the subject matter pending the determination of the Motion on Notice."

The court abridged the time within which the defendants may file their counter affidavit to the substantive originating summons to seven days from the date of service of the processes. It also granted an order for accelerated hearing and determination of the substantive originating summons.

The judge made an order of substituted service on President Buhari and Malami as well as the other defendants in the suit.

It was, however, silent on relief five which had sought "an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants, whether by themselves, officers, agents, servants privies or otherwise howsoever described, from appointing or directing the fourth defendant (Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad) to take over as the Acting Chairman of the National Judicial Council and as the Acting Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice."

But ahead of the scheduled resumption of proceedings at the CCT today, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has called on the executive to discontinue the prosecution of Onnoghen immediately.

The association, which said it had become obvious that the immediate aim of the government was to remove the CJN from office, advised it to follow due process in doing so.

In a statement signed by the body's president, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), it maintained that due process is not followed when the executive branch of the government files an interlocutory motion before the CCT for the removal of the CJN.

"Such an application disparages, and assaults due process as enshrined in Section 292(1) (a)(i) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). The said section is very explicit on the due process for the CJN's removal when it stipulates that a judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances. In the case of the CJN, by the president acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate."

NBA argued that the constitution leaves no room howsoever for the removal of the CJN from office, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, other than through the process afore-quoted.

"Being a country governed by laws, the Federal Government owes us a duty to comply strictly with these provisions of the constitution for the removal of the CJN.

"We therefore urge the executive to please retrace its steps and discontinue the entire proceedings before the CCT forthwith and follow the constitutional procedure afore-stipulated," it stated.

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