A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday ordered the Federal Government to stop the arraignment of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Mr. Onnoghen was accused of non-declaration of his assets including bank accounts with local and foreign currencies which are domiciled with Standard Bank. Consequently, the Federal Government through the Code of Conduct Bureau filed six counts of non-declaration of assets against Chief Justice Onnoghen.
Justice N.E. Maha ordered the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar; the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris; and others from taking an step regarding Onnoghen’s trial till January 17.
Her ruling came following two separate ex parte applications brought by different groups (the International Association of Student Economists and Management; and the Incorporated Trustees of Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative) on the case.
The case was however ongoing in Abuja when some groups; the Yoruba Council of Elders, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Southern and Middle Belt Forum, and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), vehemently berated the Federal Government, saying that the APC-led government wants to push the country into crisis.
The group on Monday noted that the way the trial was being handled could push the nation into anarchy, adding that due process must be followed.
Justice Maha in her Monday ruling ordered the defendant to appear before the court on January 17 for hearing on the separate suit.
In the application filed by one of the groups, the incorporated trustees of the International Association of Student Economists and Management, she ordered that;
“That the defendants shall be served with all the processes filed in this suit and shall appear on January 17, 2019 for the hearing of the motion on notice.
“That in the meantime, parties shall maintain the status quo that exists as of today, January 14, 2019 and shall not take any steps that will interfere with the res or subject matter of the suit pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
“That the matter is adjourned till January 17, 2019 for hearing.”
Mr. Onnoghen who was supposed to appear before the CCT on Monday was however absent. The South-South governors following an emergency meeting on Sunday in Abuja over the CJN’s arraignment had asked Onnoghen to ignore the CCT.
His defence team led by Wole Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), however said that his absent was due to faulty service on court summons on him, saying that the CJN was not personally served the charges and summons. The CCT was also forced to adjourn the trial till January 22.
Despite Onnoghen’s absence, 87 lawyers (including 40 SANs) appeared before the CCT for the CJN.
The chains of lawyers appeared against the prosecuting team which had only one SAN, Aliyu Umar, a former Director of Public Prosecutions in Kano State.
The groups in its separate suit moved before Justice Maha by Mr. R.A Lawal-Rabana (SAN) and Mr. Jeph Njikonye seek an interim injunction restraining the defendants from proceeding with the trial of Chief Justice Onnoghen pending the outcome of their suits.
Justice Maha consequently ordered the defendants which includes; AGF Malami, IGP Idris, CCB, CCT Chairman Danladi Umar, the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to appear before the count on Thursday, 17 January, to show why the interim injunction order should not be granted.
The group noted that the CJN could not be prosecuted without first being disciplined by the NJC. Consequently, they argued that the charges by the CCB were null and void.
Chief Justice Onnoghen also filed a suit challenging the CCT jurisdiction and asking for an order striking out completely the charge preferred against him.
Onnoghen through his lawyers noted that the tribunal should be bound by its ruling delivered on January 9, 2018 in Justice Sylvester Ngwuta’s case with the Federal Government of Nigeria.
He noted that the Court of Appeal had ruled that; “no criminal investigation or prosecution can be initiated or instituted in any court of law or tribunal against a serving judicial officer without first presenting such allegations to the National Judicial Council and a determination thereof by the National Judicial Council.”
“Under the doctrine of stairs decisis, the decision of the Court of Appeal is binding on all courts and the tribunals in Nigeria, which are subordinate to the Court of Appeal, including and particularly, this honourable tribunal.
“In the unreported ruling of this honourable tribunal in Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, charge number CCT/ABJ/01/2017, delivered on January 9, 2018, this honourable tribunal applied the binding decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v. FRN (supra) struck out the charge preferred against a judicial officer and discharged the said judicial officer accordingly.
“This honourable tribunal neither has the jurisdiction nor vires to countenance or entertain the charge preferred against the applicant by the respondent,” he added.
SERAP tells FG to take CJN’s case to NJC
SERAP in its statement on Monday advised President Buhari to direct the AGF, Abubakar Malami, to withdraw the charges against Chief Justice Onnoghen and file it before the National Judicial Council.
According to Bamisope Adeyanju, the Senior Legal Adviser of SERAP, the law on asset declaration by public officer must be enforced, but the Federal Government must also follow due process regarding Onnoghen’s case.
National Industrial Court restrains AGF, others from sacking CJN Onnoghen
Meanwhile the National Industrial Court in its ruling on a separate suit on Monday ordered that Chief Justice Onnoghen must not be sacked from office.
Justice Sanusi Kado who ruled on the suit also stopped the planned trial of the CJN on charges of non-declaration of assets before the CCT.
According to Justice Kado in the suit filed by Mr. Peter Abang through his lawyer, J.U.K. Igwe (SAN), the ordered were necessary to avert a threat and constitutional breaches regarding the position of Mr. Onnoghen as the number one judicial officer.
Justice Kado in his ruling said; “The court observed that it is a fact of common knowledge that since January 12, 2019, the print, electronic and social media have been awash with issue of threat of constitutional breaches regarding the position of the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, without due regard to the extant provisions of the constitution.”
“The case law regarding the issue is not in any doubt, as to how a judicial officer should be prosecuted in a situation where there is need for him to be tried or dealt with in a criminal court.
“In view of the importance of the constitutional issues involved in this matter regarding the threat to the position of the number one judicial officer of the country, I hereby grant the application for interim injunction in the terms stated below:
“An order of interim injunction restraining the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants (AGF, CCT chairman, CCB, and the IGP) from proceeding with the hearing of charge number CCT/ABJ/01/19 between the Federal Government of Nigeria v. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen pending the determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
“An order of interim injunction restraining the defendants in this suit, either by themselves, their privies, servants, agents, assigns or whatsoever described from forcing the Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from vacating his office as Chief Justice of Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
Yoruba Elders, Ohanaeze Ndigbo berates FG
The spokesman of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Achi-Okpaga, has vehemently condemned the way the petition against Mr. Onnoghen was handled, saying that the proper procedures must be followed;
“We are not saying they should not prosecute anybody who has stolen but there are laid down procedures to be followed. Let them follow due process in this matter.
“I agree that the President is not a lawyer but the attorney general who is a senior lawyer should be de-robed for this. They should not plunge the nation into anarchy because this is election period. People are saying they want to change the CJN by all means and put their person in charge so their man, who would be in charge would use his position to discard any petition against his benefactors.”
Dr. Kunle Olajide, the Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, also condemned the arraignment of CJN Onnoghen without following due process.
“It is imperative that every effort must be made to preserve the sacredness and the sanctity of the judiciary because the judiciary, as it is often said, is the last hope of the common man.
“Moreover, our economy is still in the woods and we are seeking foreign investors. So, this is not the time, to deliberately or otherwise , do what can tarnish the image of our judiciary because foreign investors must have confidence in the judiciary before they come in.
“We will appeal to Mr President to act swiftly in this matter and perhaps revert to the status quo ante and then seek wider consultations from legal experts to know how to proceed if the CJN has been found to have breached the laws of the land.”
South and Middle Belt Leaders berates President Buhari
Leaders from the South and Middle Belt have condemned the Federal Government over the charges against CJN Onnoghen.
Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman of the South and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, said that the conspiracy against the CJN was to held Buhari replace him with a judicial officer from the North.
“The petition filed within 72 hours received accelerated investigation and charges were filed against the CJN by a government which had not prosecuted Babachir Lawal, a government which did not try Maina or probe Governor Ganduje of Kano State,” Odumakin said.