The Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to halt its arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The CCT slammed corruption charges against Onnoghen following a petition accusing him of asset declaration offences. He stands accused of failing to declare a series of bank accounts, denominated in local and foreign currencies.
Onnoghen, Nigeria’s 17th Chief Justice, is facing six charges of non and fraudulent declaration of assets.
While ruling on two ex parte applications on Monday, January 14, 2019, Justice N.E Maha, ordered all concerned parties to maintain status quo till January 17 for substantive hearing of the suits.
He ruled that his court must first hear the plaintiffs’ motions before the trial can continue at the tribunal.
One of the suits, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019, listed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar; the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, as defendants. It was filed by incorporated trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
The other suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019, also listed Malami, Umar, Idris, the CCT, and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as defendants, and was filed by the incorporated trustees of the International Association of Students Economists and Management.
Justice Maha’s ruling came shortly after the CCT hearing where Onnoghen failed to appear. When his case, marked CCT/ABJ/01/19, commenced at 10am he was nowhere to be found.
However, the arraignment commenced as the Aliyu Umar-led prosecution team assured the CCT that the defendant had been served with the charges and summons.
The defence team led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) was present in court when the arraignment commenced.
During proceedings on Monday, Olanipekun, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), challenged the tribunal’s jurisdiction to even entertain the case.
“You have to first determine whether you have the jurisdiction to try this matter,” he told the three-member panel.
He said allegations of a crime against a serving judge should have first been entertained by the NJC before other federal agencies can hope to prosecute for such allegations. He further said the CJN had not been given enough time to properly prepare a defence before he was asked to appear before the tribunal.
While insisting that Onnoghen must appear before the panel to enter his plea, Danladi Umar said he would hear the application challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction during the next hearing scheduled for January 22, 2019.