Nigeria: Onnoghen - Senate Withdraws Supreme Court Suit

Photo: Vanguard
Justice Walter Onnoghen.
5 February 2019

A week after the Senate approached the Supreme Court for reversal of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Upper House has withdrew the case.

Last Monday, the Senate approached the Supreme Court to seek interpretation over the suspension of Onnoghen by Buhari, who replaced him with Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad.

Ahead of today when the case was listed for hearing by the apex court, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday announced that the Senate has resolved not to continue with because of the intervention of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) in the matter.

In a statement signed by Saraki's media aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu, he explained that the Senate has decided to give the NJC's intervention a chance.

"The Senate has therefore decided to discontinue the case it filed in the Supreme Court. It should be noted that the case has been slated for hearing tomorrow (today). This decision also affirms the confidence of the Senate in the ability of the NJC to successfully and creditably resolve the issues," Olaniyonu said.

But, the Senate Caucus of the All Progressives Congress (AFC) said that it had applied to the Supreme Court to join it in the suit as an interested party.

In a statement signed by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe South), the APC Senate Caucus consisting 56 Senators, being the majority party in the Senate, requested the apex court to be allowed to be joined as a necessary party to the suit.

Lawan said that the APC senators relied on the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act of 2002, which provides that the resolutions of the respective chambers of the National Assembly are a prerequisite of filling such suit.

"The caucus is therefore challenging the said suit and objects to the inclusion of its members," he said.

The APC senators had on January 28, 2019 dissociated themselves from the suit.

Lawan, who signed the statement then, said the Senate had neither met nor resolved to mandate Saraki to file the suit to challenge constitutionality of Justice Onnoghen's suspension by Buhari.

He said: "It has come to the notice of the Senate APC Caucus that the Senate has approached the Supreme Court for the interpretation of the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen by the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

"For the records, the Senate never met to take such a resolution and at no time mandated anyone to approach the Supreme Court on this matter on its behalf.

Consequently, the Senate APC Caucus dissociates itself from the said request for the legal interpretation of the suspension", Senate Lawan said.

With the APC senators' suit for joinder, it is yet to be confirmed whether the request to discontinue the suit by the Senate president would be entertained by the Supreme Court.

The Senate which was to reconvene last Tuesday to debate the suspension of Onnoghen by Buhari in order to take a collective stand against the action, said since the suit would be subjudiced, it therefore cancelled its resumption.

The suit marked SC.76/2019, asked the apex court to declare the suspension of Onnoghen without a support of two-thirds majority of the Senate was a violation of Section 292(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution.

The suit also asked the apex court to issue an order restraining the two defendants in the suit - Buhari and the attorney-general of the federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) from continuing or repeating the violation of the constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect to the suspension of the CJN.

CCT Chair, SAN In War Of Words Over Adjournment Request

Meanwhile, there was hot arguments between the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar and counsel to Onnoghen, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) when the suspended CJN's trial resumed yesterday.

The feud was caused by the request for adjournment of the case on the alleged non-declaration of assets by Onnoghen.

The altercation led to the stand down of the matter for about 30 minutes.

At the resumed trial, Awomolo who led about six other senior advocates had informed the tribunal that the attorney-general of the federation forwarded a petition to the NJC, which contained the same content on which the matter before it was premised.

He added that the NJC had consequently given Onnoghen seven days to respond to the petition, adding that the ultimatum would lapse on February 6.

Awomolo however informed the court that the defence had met with the prosecution and that they had agreed to seek for an adjournment to await the decision of the NJC on the matter, so that the defendant will not suffer double jeopardy.

The prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN) corroborated the submission of the defence counsel.

He said: "I am not opposed to the adjournment because justice should be seen to be done. I however submit that the issue raised by the defence that the AGF filed a petition before the NJC is not necessary. I also observed that the defendant is not in court, I will be forced to exercise my power and make a request."

In his response, Umar noted that the business of the Tribunal for the day was to hear the motion challenging the jurisdiction and another interlocutory application praying the court to order Onnoghen to step aside and also directing the president to swear-in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the acting CJN.

"I therefore order that the two applications must be moved today (yesterday) before you go," he stated.

Awomolo, however, told the tribunal that it could not take the decision away from the two parties who had agreed to an adjournment and that the CCT could not force its will on them.

It was at this point that tempers rose, as Umar accused Awomolo of employing delay tactics.

He said: "You are a senior lawyer, and I don't expect you to be employing delay tactics in this matter. You talked about NJC. NJC is not a court of law. It is just a body that regulates the conduct of judicial officers. There is nothing that concerns the tribunal with the petition before the NJC," Umar stated.

Awomolo decried the accusation as he said: "I take exception to that accusation that I am employing delay tactics in this matter. I am 42 years old at the bar, and no one has ever accused me of such".

Umar cuts in, "maybe they did not want to tell you. Sit down".

Again Awomolo took exception to the manner in which Umar ordered him to sit down.

"I take exception to that language. I am 72 years old. Respect is reciprocal, if we respect the Bench, then the Bench should do same. Junior lawyers are here, who are looking up to me. It is an insult to say I am employing delay tactics", Awomolo stated.

All attempts to calm the two parties were rebuffed.

At this point, the prosecution counsel stood up and requested for a 10-minute stand down. The tribunal late stood the matter down for 20 minutes.

When the tribunal resumed, Awomolo apologised for all that transpired, stating that he respects the tribunal and its chairman.

Responding on behalf of the CCT, Williams Atedze, also on behalf of the chairman and the other member, apologised to Awomolo.

Umar said that he would adjourn the matter based on the request of prosecution and defence.

"I want to see the defendant at the next adjourned date. He should be here to take his plea before any application can be made. That is the provision of ACJA. The learned silk is to inform his client to be around at the next adjourned," he said.

The matter was them adjourned till February 13, 2019.

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