A Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has dismissed a suit filed by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, seeking to halt his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over asset declaration.
Essentially, Onnoghen sought to stop the tribunal from arresting, arraigning and trying him on the six-count charge brought against him by the Federal Government.
The presiding Justice Abdul Aboki, in his ruling on the matter, dismissed the appeal and declared that the trial of Onnoghen at the CCT should proceed.
The Court of Appeal had earlier urged the CCT to stay proceedings in the trial of Onnoghen pending the outcome of the application before it. The three-member panel of the court granted an interim order filed by the embattled CJN, after listening to submissions from parties in the application.
A ruling on the application for temporary order was delivered by Justice Abdul Aboki who said: “This ruling is adjourned till Wednesday January 30. The tribunal is ordered to stay all proceedings.”
Justice Onnoghen, in the suit, prayed the court to grant the stay until the determination of the appeal against the order of the tribunal made on January 14.
The CCT had ordered the CJN to proceed with his argument on the jurisdiction. This was in view of the subsisting orders of court, including the Court of Appeal.
The CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, had declined to obey court orders restraining him from proceeding with the trial. 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. The tribunal declared all the orders for stay of proceedings null and void. The decision of the CCT sparked some protests in Abuja.
At the resumed sitting of the CCT on Monday, the tribunal adjourned proceedings pending the determination of the case at the Court of Appeal.
The verdict of the Court of Appeal yesterday may now give direction to a date for the continuation of proceedings at the tribunal.
Meanwhile, individuals and groups have continued to react to the suspension of Onnoghen.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) faulted the position taken by the embattled Onnonghen that he should first be tried by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The northern group said Onnonghen could not sit as a judge over his own case.
According to a statement by its Secretary General, Anthony Sani, the ACF, at its meeting held on Tuesday said it could not defend Onnoghen’s insistence that he should first be tried by the NJC, of which he is chairman, as doing so would have allowed him to sit in judgment over his own case.
“ACF deeply regrets the conduct of Justice Onnoghen, particularly his refusal to step aside and allow the due process of the law to take its course. He has created the impression that his personal interests in this matter supercede that of the judiciary and the nation.”
The president general of Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC), Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, yesterday expressed backing for the move against the CJN.
In a statement in Abakaliki, Isiguzoro urged Nigerians to join hands with the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to eliminate corruption in the nation.
But the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, commended the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, as well as the entire leadership of the National Assembly for approaching the Supreme Court over Onnoghen’s suspension.
Ortom, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, said Saraki and Dogara had demonstrated true patriotism by leading the National Assembly to seek the interpretation of the apex court on the action against the CJN.
“Nigerians are patiently waiting to know the court’s verdict, whether or not the decision of the presidency to suspend the CJN amounts to usurpation of the powers of Senate as provided for in Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
According to him, it is only when due process, rule of law and separation of powers among the three arms of government are respected that the country’s democracy can grow.
He urged Nigerians to reject impunity and high-handedness in any disguise and be prepared to vote without the fear of intimidation during the coming elections.
Ortom spoke yesterday as suspected political thugs attacked members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Rivers State branch who tried to enforce boycott of courts.
The incident occurred as the Appeal Court was set to hear the motion on stay of execution against the judgment of a Federal High Court, which directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to exclude All Progressives Congress (APC) from fielding candidates for the 2019 elections in the state.
Shortly before the court resumed sitting yesterday, scores of lawyers carrying placards led by the Port Harcourt NBA chairman, Sylvester Adaka, stormed the court premises to compel lawyers to boycott the court over the suspension of Onnoghen.
As soon as the justices led by the presiding Justice A.A Gumel entered the court, they allowed Adaka to address them on the mission of the NBA. After listening to the NBA chairman, Justice Gumel explained that the court had already scheduled to sit yesterday. He appealed that the protesters should just allow the court to record the day’s proceeding and then adjourn, but to no avail.
Realising that it would be impossible to convince the judges to discontinue sitting, Adaka tried to persuade his colleagues representing the litigants to boycott the court session. The protesters left Justice Gumel’s court to picket another. They later returned to disrupt the court proceedings, chasing their colleagues to leave the courtroom.
Suddenly, suspected political thugs went after the protesting lawyers and started throwing punches at them. Most of the thugs ran after Adaka and inflicted injury on his eye, head and legs before forcing them out of the court.
Justice Gumel, who later continued sitting, described the NBA protest as a desecration of the temple of justice. He said it was wrong for lawyers who are ministers in the temple of justice to behave in a manner that desecrates.