The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) yesterday, ordered the inspector-general of police (IGP) and the director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS) to arrest and produce the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, in court tomorrow.
CCT chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, issued the bench warrant against Onnoghen following his absence in court yesterday for his arraignment.
At its last sitting, the tribunal ordered that Onnoghen must make himself available in court yesterday for arraignment over alleged failure to declare his assets.
When the matter came up for hearing, Onnoghen was not in court and his lawyers led by Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), prayed the court to take all pending applications relating to the trial, particularly, the issue of the tribunal’s jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Awomolo insisted that the issue of jurisdiction must be determined one way or another before the tribunal could proceed to take further motions.
He, therefore, prayed the CCT to allow the issue of jurisdiction being the foundation of the trial to be resolved in the interest of justice.
But, counsel to the federal government, Aliyu Umar (SAN), opposed the application and insisted that the issue of the defendant’s absence in court to take his plea, must first be addressed.
He said that until the defendant appears physically in court, the issue of jurisdiction and other motions cannot be taken, adding that while in court, Onnoghen has the right to refuse to take plea but has no right to refuse to appear in court.
The counsel recalled that since January 14, 2019 when Onnoghen ought to have been arraigned, he was not in court and that even after the service of the charge had been served on him in person, he still did not appear in court.
The government lawyer, who cited authorities to support his submission, promised to make the authorities available to the tribunal to enable it arrive at a just conclusion.
In a surprise move, Umar brought out a prepared and written ruling and read almost immediately Aliyu Umar concluded his argument.
In the ruling, the CCT chairman ordered that a bench warrant be issued against Onnoghen for his arrest either by the IGP or the DG of DSS and to produce him before the tribunal tomorrow.
Umar said that Onnoghen must be in the dock tomorrow unfailingly, adding that he must first submit himself to the jurisdiction of the tribunal and raise whatever objection he has thereafter.
Shortly after the ruling, the federal government’s lawyer drew the attention of the chairman to the fact that the Friday is the eve of the presidential election but, Umar dismissed the information and insisted that Onnoghen must be brought before him on the next adjourned date.
Umar, who did not allow the two other members of the tribunal to make input or react to the ruling, announced that the matter be adjourned till tomorrow.
Shortly after the ruling, some lawyers in their reactions condemned the tribunal chairman, accusing him of acting a script.
A United State-based lawyer, Mr. Emmanuel Ogebe of the US Nigeria Law Group, said that the persecution of Onnoghen started before he was appointed and is culminating now with his forced removal, false arraignment by fake judgements.
“The feudal owners of Nigeria have determined that by accident of his birth, he is not entitled to occupy a position that over 30 years he has professionally prepared and progressed to.
“Previous Chief Justices of Nigeria have been involved or implicated in astounding corruption amongst others but nothing of this sort has ever befallen them. “The extreme prejudice with which the witch-hunt and vendetta against Justice Walter Onnoghen is being pursued with venomous vengeance is alarming.
Another Abuja-based senior lawyer, Kasumu Ladile, said that the government has not been fair to Justice Onnoghen and has greatly humiliated him.
According to him, the case of Justice Onnoghen is the case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang him.”
He said that the chairman of the CCT has also been accused of graft, why has he not been removed?
“The question to ask at this point is, the chairman of the tribunal has been accused of bribery, why is he still in office? No doubt, he may have been acting under pressure to perpetrate the travesty he is doing in this case,” he said.
Another senior lawyer, Malomo Ologunro, accused the government of not being sincere in the trial of the suspended CJN.
He said: “It is clear to every discerning mind that the government is persecuting the poor justice rather than prosecuting him.”
NJC Sets Up C’tee On Onnoghen, Muhammad Cases
Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has constituted a five-man committee to investigate the petitions written against Onnoghen and the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad.
The committee is headed by Justice S. A. Akintan, a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
NJC director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, in a statement he issued after the council’s meeting yesterday in Abuja, said that the committee will determine the culpability of both Onnoghen and Muhammad, following their responses to the petitions written against them.
“Council directed the Investigation Committee to work expeditiously, determine all the petitions and responses and report to council for a final decision,” Oye said.
Also yesterday, the council forwarded a new petition written against Muhammad by the Action Peoples Party (APP) for his response within seven working days.
“In continuation of its emergency meeting, the NJC accepted the result of the preliminary assessment of the petitions against Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen and Justice I. T. Muhammad, that the petitions were worthy of further investigation and should not be terminated under Rule 17 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations of the council.
“Consequently, the council constituted a five-member Investigation Committee pursuant to Rule 20 (1) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations under the chairmanship ofJustice S. A. Akintan, a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, “ Oye added.
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