Nigeria’s judicial system yesterday witnessed a landmark case as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) initiated the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, over alleged constitutional breaches on asset declaration. However, Onnoghen’s arraignment could not hold as he was absent at the CCT’s session over improper service even as he got reprieve from the Federal High Court, Abuja, which halted his trial by the tribunal.
The high court ordered the parties to the case to maintain the status quo till January 17, 2019 while the CCT adjourned sitting till January 22 for the CJN’s proper arraignment. Ruling on two separate motions, the trial high court judge, Justice N.E. Maha, ordered the parties to maintain status quo till January 17. He ruled in two separate suits that the defendants should be served with all the papers and should appear in court at the next hearing. One of the suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 was filed by the incorporated trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
Joined as defendants in the case are the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar, the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. The second suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019 was filed by the incorporated trustees of the International Association of Students Economists and Management. Malami, the CCT, the CCB, the chairman of CCT and the IGP were also the defendants. While the ex-parte application in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 was moved by Mr. R.A. Lawal-Rabana (SAN) before Justice Maha yesterday, the ex- parte application filed in the second suit was moved by Mr. Jeph Njikonye.
At the CCT, its chairman and members of the tribunal arrived in the courtroom at exactly 10am. The court official who announced the case observed that Onnoghen was not present and then notified the tribunal of the development. Onnoghen, who was absent at the tribunal sitting, explained through his counsel that he was not served with the charges filed against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). The CJN was charged before the tribunal for alleged non-declaration of his assets and operating foreign bank accounts contrary to the provisions of the law for officers of his calibre. A total of 45 senior advocates and 47 other lawyers appeared for him at the tribunal sitting.
The CCT adjourned the case after the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN), conceded that Onnoghen was improperly served with the charges and the summons. Umar affirmed that the CJN was not personally served with the charges and the court’s summons as required by the law. He, therefore, requested the three-man tribunal led by Danladi Umar to direct a fresh service on the CJN. When the tribunal asked why the CJN was absent from court, the defence team led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said that Onnoghen needed not to be present, having filed a motion to challenge the tribunal’s jurisdiction. Olanipekun said that he and other defence lawyers only appeared in court in protest against the jurisdiction of the CCT. He also said that from the account given by the court official earlier in the proceedings, the CJN was not served with the charges and summons personally, but through his aide.
Olanipekun insisted that the law requires that the defendant be personally served. But the prosecuting lawyer said the law only requires the defendant to be aware of the pending charges, and that it was the CJN’s choice to ask his aide to receive the charges and summons on his behalf. After a heated argument for 45 minutes, the prosecuting counsel conceded that the service of the charges and the summons ought to have been personally served on Onnoghen.
He said: “By what the registrar has said, although the defendant was the one who directed his personal assistant to accept service on his behalf and what the law says is that he must be personally served. “We agree that that the service should be properly done. The processes should be served personally on him. “After the service is done, and the defendant is not present, we can then argue whether or not he needs to be present on the grounds that he has filed a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court,” he said. Consequently, the CCT adjourned the case till January 22 to enable the CJN to be properly served. NJC Postpones Meeting Indefinitely Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has cancelled its 88th regular meeting scheduled for today over the uncertainty trailing Onnoghen’s trial.
We gathered that the meeting which was fixed today was postponed and a new date is yet to be announced. Although, no official reason was given for the action, a reliable source hinted that the NJC postponed the meeting to avoid discussing the allegations against the CJN. He said: “You know that the matter is very sensitive, council members have to take time to understand the merit of the allegations and prepare for deliberations.” The source could not confirm if there was a petition against the CJN before the NJC. “I really can’t confirm if there is such petition before the NJC,” he said. APC Desperate Over General Polls – PDP On the political turf, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO) and the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) returned to the trenches over the federal government’s legal battle against the CJN.
While the PDP accused President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC of desperation in the “assault” against the judiciary with the attempt to forcefully remove the Onnoghen, the ruling party charged the PDP to allow the law to take its full course in the matter ad stop exonerating the CJN. The PDP said that it was despicable that rather than retracing their steps from the ignoble act against the CJN, after the spontaneous public outrage that trailed the shameful act, the APC and the Buhari Presidency were attempting to blackmail Nigerians, who condemned the assault on the judiciary, as being sympathetic to corruption.
In a statement issued by PDP’s director of Media and Publicity, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party claimed that the presidency and the APC had exposed their desperation to subdue and annex the judiciary, particularly, following increasing agitations by Nigerians for the prosecution of Buhari’s cronies and APC leaders over exposed corruption. He said: “The Buhari Presidency and APC in turning around to fight Nigerians have further exposed their desperation to replace Justice Onnoghen with a pliable CJN, who will execute their plots to use the courts to detain opposition leaders as well as vocal members of the civil society during the elections. “It is now crystal clear to all Nigerians that apart from failing woefully in all its promises, the APC and its presidential candidate, President Buhari, are beginning to manifest their autocratic attributes.
“Furthermore, the Buhari Presidency is not only corrupt but has become an asylum for corrupt people. The PPCO therefore challenges the APC and the Buhari Presidency to name one APC member that has been investigated, prosecuted or arraigned before any court of competent jurisdiction in the last three and half years in spite of their humongous corruption. “If for anything, President Buhari has encouraged corruption in our nation more than any president that had the privilege of governing our country. “It is important to restate that the Buhari Presidency is now a refugee camp for known and well-advertised faces of corruption.
From the factional national chairman of the APC, the co-chairman of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, the director-general of the Buhari Campaign, the zonal directors and the recent entrants from Bauchi and Gombe states, all leaders of the APC and Buhari campaign structure are all candidates of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),” the PDP alleged. Let The Law Takes Its Course, APC Fires Back In a swift reaction, the APC insisted that the law should run its full course as regards the trial of the nation’s number one jurist (Onnoghen) at the CCT. APC national publicity secretary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, told a news conference yesterday in Abuja that the country’s democratic and constitutional institutions must be allowed to operate without interference and undue pressure from partisan and sundry interests as being done by the PDP and its cronies. He stressed that, “this is the only way we can build strong and lasting institutions.
“The CJN must go through the instrumentalities of the courts, more importantly as an institution he represents. Indeed, this is the true test of our constitution, rule of law and will deepen democracy. “Where there are contestations on institutional procedures, we must allow same institutions perform their functions unhindered, autocorrect if necessary and set good precedence on future matters,” he said. Issa-Onilu added that it had become apparent that the PDP and its presidential candidate were facing imminent defeat in the coming elections and may be searching for some unorthodox means of forcing itself on Nigerians. “If this were not so, the PDP should, before coming to these distracting conclusions, have taken cognisance of the facts of the allegations made against the CJN and his admission to the facts so stated.
“While we would not want to be lured into discussing issues that are before the court and for which any respectable political party hoping to hold positions of responsibility should restrain itself, we regret to suggest that the PDP has been attempting to hoodwink Nigerians into believing that there is a political motive behind the allegations against the CJN,” he said. This, the APC spokesman said, might itself be indicative of some unholy alliances between the PDP and the judiciary. He added that the likely affinity between the PDP and a section of the judiciary was further accentuated by the non-appearance of Justice Onnoghen before the CCT. Issa-Onilu, however, noted that this was in line with the suggestions made by PDP South-South governors on Sunday.
He wondered if Nigerians expected to see this as a mere coincidence and if the PDP and their governors were acting a script. “We have also noticed the very dangerous attempt to designate the CJN’s arraignment along ethnic and religious lines thereby trying to heat up the polity by evoking primordial sentiments which would do the country no good. “This is an ungodly ploy when we consider that the CJN was an officer of the federation rather than that of any region. “We, therefore, urge Nigerians of good conscience to caution the PDP as the country is bigger than any political party or the interest it represents,” he said.
Read More at: https://leadership.ng/2019/01/15/court-stops-onnoghens-trial-as-tribunal-adjourns-to-jan-22/