Abuja — The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), yesterday, set aside all existing orders against the trial of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.
The tribunal chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, held that all orders of court restraining the CCT from proceeding with the trial of the CJN were not binding on it.
In a dissenting ruling of two justices to one , Umar discountenanced the orders of other courts on the ground that they were made by courts of equal jurisdiction, and CCT being a unique court empowered to handle issues exclusively relating to assets declaration, cannot be bound by their orders.
Umar described those who obtained the orders of the High Court as busy bodies since they are not parties in the matter at the tribunal.
He explained that section 246 of the constitution makes it very clear that the tribunal has unquantified jurisdiction to hear any assets declaration case as may be referred to it by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
He also disagreed with the request to adjourn the trial sine die on the ground of a pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.
According to him, section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, does not make provisions for stay of proceedings in a criminal matter and in the instant case, it shall not be entertained.
That was the position of Justice Umar and the female member of the panel, Justice Juli Anabor, who aligned herself with the decision of the tribunal chairman as the second member of the panel.
Justice Williams Atedze, however, gave a dissenting ruling. He held that the CCB cannot be in isolation, and went ahead to uphold the argument of the defence counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), that the matter be adjourned sine die pending the outcome of motions in other courts.
Atedze held that it would result in judicial anarchy for the tribunal to proceed with the trial in view of the four subsisting court orders and the pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.
According to him, orders are binding on the tribunal until they are set aside in view of section 287(3) of the 1999 Constitution, which allows court orders to be enforced in all parts of the county.
He said: "Having summarized argument from both parties, it is my submission that CCT as a creation of law is bound by the existing court orders to avoid judicial anarchy."
He held that the issue of jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the charge against CJN must first be resolved, and that status quo must be maintained by adjoining proceedings sine die until all contending issues are resolved.
Following the ruling, Justice Umar ordered that the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal be moved immediately.
However, counsel to the defendant, Olanipekun, informed the tribunal that the response of the complainant (Federal Government) was served on him late Monday and as such, would need time to study the response .
The counsel to the Federal Government, Aliyu Umar, agreed that the government's response was served late on the defendant, making the tribunal chairman to adjourn further proceedings till Monday, January 28.
The CJN has been in the eye of the storm in the past two weeks following alleged false assets declaration brought against him by the government. Consequently, he was scheduled to be arraigned on January 14.
The arraignment was halted over irregular service. But shortly after, four motions were filed at the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court, Abuja, all seeking court orders to stall the planned arraignment and trial. The orders were granted.
The CJN on Monday obtained another order from the Court of Appeal that the status quo should be maintained. But the tribunal yesterday declared them null and void.
The decision of the tribunal elicited a protest yesterday in Abuja.
The National Chairman, Action Peoples Party (APP), Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, who led the protest, called on Nigerians to resist an alleged move by the government to muzzle the judiciary.
"Lawyers in defence of democracy are hereby called upon to march on the streets to defend our nation's democracy. On 30th October 2016, we also marched following the midnight gestapo-like invasion of the homes of judges on the 7th of October 2016, by security agents. Then, we warned about the plan of the APC-led Federal Government to intimidate the judiciary and annex it.
"Nigerians are also witnesses to their failed plot to also annex the National Assembly, Nigerian people and the judiciary resisted the invasion.
"We register our apprehension over the persecution of the CJN, the plot to remove him from office illegally and install another to help All Progressives Congress (APC) get a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court in the Rivers and Zamfara APC crises, where they are afraid they will lose elections.
"The 1999 Constitution is very clear on how a judicial officer and particularly, the CJN can leave office before the age of retirement," Ugochinyere said.