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Onnoghen to CCT: You cannot try me


News » Politics
Nigeria

IMAGE: CJN vs CCB - Regiment of SANs and Lawyers come to Chief Justices Defence »

Jan.15.2019

Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Omeiza Ajayi, Dirisu Yakubu & Ike Uchechukwu

  • Declines to appear for trial; court stops his arraignment
  • CCT shifts arraignment to January 22, orders fresh service of charge
  • Lawyers down tools in Cross River
  • CJN Onnoghen must face trial – APC
  • Onnoghen’s ordeal shows Buhari, APC are desperate— PDP

 

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen, yesterday, said the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, has no right to try him over false assets declaration charge by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB. This came as a Federal High Court, also sitting in Abuja, halted the federal government’s plan to dock the CJN who refused to appear before the CCT.

 

CJN challenges CCT’s jurisdiction

Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, who is facing a six-count charge the Federal Government entered against him, was absent at the tribunal when the matter was called up for his arraignment.

The CJN, who stalled his planned arraignment, following his refusal to appear before the Justice Danladi Umar-led three-member tribunal, was, however, represented by a battery of 89 lawyers that included 46 SANs.

The legal team which was led by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, told the tribunal that their appearance at the proceeding was “in protest.” Olanipekun told the tribunal that the CJN has already filed a motion dated January 14, to challenge the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the charges the Federal Government levelled against him.

“My lord, we are not just challenging jurisdiction, we are even challenging the jurisdiction of this tribunal to even sniff that charge. We have served the Complainant/Respondent”, Olanipekun submitted.

 

CJN to capitalise on FG’s errors

Though the said motion was not moved, nevertheless, a member of the team who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said the CJN would capitalise on the Federal Government’s failure to channel the petition against him, as well as the outcome of the investigation that was purportedly conducted on his assets declaration forms by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, to the National Judicial Council, NJC, before it rushed the case to the CCT.

The CJN is contending that the Federal Government failed to abide by existing judicial precedent as encapsulated in a recent Appeal Court decision in Nganjiwa vs Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), to the effect that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer, must first be reported to and handled by the NJC, pursuant to the provisions of the laws.

He argued that only after the NJC has pronounced against such judicial officer could prosecuting agencies of the Federal Government proceed to initiate a criminal proceeding.

Also, relying on a recent decision of the CCT on a similar charge the Federal Government  lodged against another Justice of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta, the CJN’s legal team maintained that government’s decision to sideline the NJC stripped the tribunal its jurisdiction to entertain the instant case.

 

CCT chairman queries CJN’s absence

Shortly after the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/19 was called up at exactly 10 am, yesterday, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Umar, demanded to know why the CJN was not in court and if he was served with the charge.

Responding, a former Commissioner of Justice in Kano State, Alhaji Aliyu Umar, who the Federal Government engaged to head its five-man prosecution team, told the tribunal that the CJN was served through one of his personal assistants.

“When we went to his house, he directed his personal assistant to collect the charge on his behalf. His personal assistant endorsed it, so he has been served,” he said.

However, Olanipekun immediately countered the prosecution and challenged the competence of the service of a criminal charge on anybody aside the defendant himself.

He insisted that under sections 123 and 124 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, the charge ought to have been served on the CJN personally, except when there is an order for substituted service.

Not swayed by Olanipekun’s argument, the government’s lawyer insisted that the CJN could not file an application to challenge jurisdiction of the CCT in absentia.

“It is our position that there is no law that says that a defendant can refuse to appear before the court. He should be here to take his plea first before raising any application. He has been summoned to appear before a court of law, he should be here before he can register his protest. This is a quasi-criminal matter and under Section 396 of the ACJA,  no motion can be heard in the absence of the defendant”, the prosecution argued.

However, after a clerk of the tribunal, following a query from the Chairman, confirmed that the charge was received on behalf of the CJN, by one Sunday O. Ossai who was identified as his assistant, the Federal Government’s lawyer applied to be allowed to effect another service of the charge on Justice Onnoghen.

“We apply that the service be done again with instruction from the tribunal that it must be personal and should not be handed to another person apart from the CJN”, the prosecution added.

Meantime, before the matter was adjourned till next Tuesday, Justice Umar queried to know if the essence of the service was not to draw the attention of the CJN to the fact that a charge had been entered against him.

In his response, Olanipekun maintained that under the law in operation in Nigeria, every defendant must be personally served with the charge against him and equally afforded adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence.

“Our appearance here today is on protest by virtue of our application. We are not here because of arraignment”, he added.

 

The charge against Onnoghen

Aside allegation that he failed to disclose his assets as prescribed by law, the Federal Government, in the charge filed by the CCB, accused the CJN of operating foreign bank accounts.

The prosecuting agency alleged that contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct of public office holders, the CJN maintained a domiciliary foreign currencies accounts that comprised of Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account. Lawyers protest at CCT Meanwhile, a group of lawyers, yesterday, besieged the CCT premises to protest the planned arraignment of the CJN. The protesters brandished several placards with inscriptions as: “No to intimidation & Stiffling of our Democracy”, “Avoid A Constitutional Crisis”, “You Cannot Manipulate the Judiciary”, “No to Assault, Intimidation and Desecration of the Judiciary”, “Respect the Rule of Law & Separation of Powers”, among others.

Other Senior Advocates of Nigeria sighted at the CCT as part of the defence team of Justice Onnoghen included Adegboyega Awomolo, Chris Uche, Yusuf Ali, Garba Tetengi, Effiong Offiong, Kehinde Ogunwumiji, Paul Erokoro, Tawo Tawo, Victoria Awomolo, Sebastine Hon and Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume among others.

However, the Federal High Court in a ruling delivered by Justice Evelyn Maha, restrained the Federal Government  from going ahead with the planned arraignment, following two ex-parte applications moved by two separate groups.

The first application, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019, was filed by Incorporated  Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, and the second application, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019, was lodged before the court by the Incorporated  Trustees of the International Association of Student Economists and Management.

Cited as defendants in the suit were the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, the National Judicial Council, the Inspector-General of Police,  Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.

Whereas the first application was moved by Mr. R.A Lawal-Rabana, SAN, the second motion was moved by Mr. Jeph Njikonye.

In her ruling, Justice Maha ordered all the parties to maintain statusquo till January 17 when the case was adjourned to.

The court further ordered service of all the relevant processes on the defendants to enable them appear on the adjourned date.

Justice Maha specifically warned that no steps should be taken by any of the parties in respect of the planned trial of the CJN, pending the hearing and determination of the two suits before her.

 

Lawyers down tools in Cross River

Also, lawyers in Cross River State, where Justice Onnoghen hails from, downed tools, yesterday to protest against what they described as the unconstitutional attempt by the Executive Arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria to intimidate, coerce, and desecrate the Judicial Arm of Government via the proposed arraignment of the CJN.

Acting on the banner of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Cross River State, the lawyers in a communiqué issued and signed by the three branches that make up the NBA in the state, said they will resist any attempt by the Federal Government to arraign the CJN.

They took the decision at the end of a joint emergency general meeting held at the State Judiciary Headquarters, High Court Complex, Calabar.

Chairman of the Calabar Branch, Dr. Emmanuel Idaka, while reading the six-point communiqué said that the Cross River State Branch of the NBA was wholly in support and has adopted the position of national body on the issue as contained in the statement issued and signed by the NBA President, Chief Paul Usoro, SAN.

“We condemn in its entirety the unlawful manner in which the Federal Government and its agencies have assaulted, ridiculed and degraded the revered office of the Chief Justice Nigeria and indeed the entire Judiciary in the country by orchestrated media trial of the CJN.

“Whilst not condoning corruption in all its ramifications, we insist that, the rule of law must be followed by the Federal Government of Nigeria in its avowed fight against corruption, especially as it has to do with the proposed arraignment of the CJN or any other Judicial officer in the Federal Republic of Nigeria as laid down in its locus classsicus of Nganjiwa vs FRN(2017)LPELR-43391(CA)where the Court of Appeal made it absolutely clear that any misconduct attached to the office and function of a judicial officer must first be reported to and handled by the National Judicial Council, NJC pursuant to the relevant provisions of the law.

“We are aware that all these attempts are intended to precipitate the unlawful removal from office of the CJN which position they originally did not want him to occupy. It is pertinent to draw the attention of the initiators of this bizarre transaction to the fact that the removal of the CJN is regulated by the mandatory provisions of section 292(1) (a) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (As amended )which can only be effected by the President of the FRN acting on an address supported by two-third majority of the Senate.

“Democracy strives under the rule of law. The present administration of President Muhmmadu Buhari, having come under a constitutional democracy and not being a military dictatorship, must in all its dealings with the citizens of Nigeria and other Arms of the Government, abide by the Rule of Law,’’ they stated.

On his part, Mba Ukweni, SAN, said this kind of anomaly must not  be allowed to see the light of day as no sane person in Nigeria would allow such.

“We are gradually sliding into totalitarianism in this country, this cannot happen to that revered office without due process. We condemn it in totality and we reject it in its entirety. This ordeal is an orchestrated media trial and cannot be allowed to stand or even see the light of day. When it happened to the legislature we raised our voices and at this point, we can no longer keep quiet for this to happen to the Judiciary. It is an anomaly and a desecration and can never be condoned, “he said.

 

CJN Onnoghen must face trial – APC; says PDP too quick at defending corruption

Meanwhile, ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday asked the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to allow the law run its course, regarding the prosecution of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.

At a news conference in Abuja yesterday, APC wondered whether there was an unholy alliance between the PDP and the CJN, accusing the PDP of always being quick to defend corruption.

“Following the notice of the charges preferred against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by the Code of Conduct Bureau at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been on overdrive vituperating over an issue that should at best be left to the judiciary to resolve.

“While we would not want to be lured into discussing issues that are currently before the courts and for which any respectable political party hoping to hold positions of responsibility should restrain itself, we regret to suggest that the PDP’s attempt to hoodwink Nigerians into believing that there is a political motive behind the allegation brought against the CJN might itself be indicative of some unholy alliances,”

APC spokesman, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said. APC said the likely affinity existing between the PDP and a section of the judiciary was further accentuated by the non-appearance of Justice Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal yesterday, in line with the suggestions made by the PDP governors from the South South on Sunday.

It stated further:  “Are Nigerians expected to see this as a mere coincidence? Is the PDP and their governors acting a script? Haven’t we missed an opportunity to show confidence in an institution headed by the CJN?

“This becomes more worrisome, knowing that the PDP’s campaigns have been receiving a cold shoulder everywhere they have gone to and it has become apparent the party and its presidential candidate are facing imminent defeat in the February 2019 elections and may be searching for some unorthodox means of forcing itself on the people.”

 

Onnoghen’s ordeal shows Buhari, APC are desperate—   PDP

Replying the APC, Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Organization, PPCO, accused President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC, of desperation to ease Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, out of office.

In a statement issued by PPCO’s Director of Media and Publicity, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party chided the Presidency for attempting to blame Nigerians who faulted the manner charges were levied against Justice Onnoghen.

The statement read:  “It is 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 Presidency are attempting to blackmail Nigerians, who condemned the assault on the judiciary, as being sympathetic to corruption.

Article Credit: Vanguard Newspaper

Updated 1 Month ago
 

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Tags:     CJN     CCT     CCB     Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen

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