Asset Declaration: Legal Fireworks Over Prosecution of CJN Onnoghen At CCT

  • Tribunal Adjourns Hearing  To January 22

By SUNDAY DOMINIC

The sudden prosecution of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, at the instance of the Code of conduct Bureau, CCB, few days after receiving a petition from a former Publicity Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, against the CJN, has been generating controversies and threats of resistance from the judicial sector and other sections of the open society. The commencement of the prosecution at the CCT Courtroom Abuja on Monday, January 14, 2019, opened a vista of legal fireworks at the proceedings presided by CCT Chairman, Justice Danladi Umar.

Before the commencement of the trial on Monday, several legal practitioners, including seasoned Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, had argued that the licit procedure had been for the National Judicial Council, NJC, to first handle the matter, and thereafter, impose sanctions before such action at the CCT could be taken. They argued that the NJC is responsible for promotion and sanction of Judges

At the Monday sitting of the CCT, CJN Onnoghen was absent but had legal representations of over 47 lawyers, comprising of 40 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, and 47 senior lawyers who volunteered free legal services to defend the CJN and save the judiciary from being emasculated by the President and the Executive arm of government.

Wole Olanipekun SAN, leading the defence counsels at the CCT sitting on Monday, January 14, 2019, raised question on the jurisdiction CCT to hear the case.

The prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar, also expressed concerns over the absence of the CJN in court; which the lead defence counsel, Olanipekun, contended that it is not compulsory that the CJN appears in court in person, contesting that in criminal charges, summons are served directly on the accused. In this case, the summons was delivered to the Personal Assistant to CJN Onnoghen.

Olanipekun further contended that Onnoghen had not been indicted by the National Judicial Council, NJC, the body responsible for probing allegations levelled against serving judges. He protested that the CJN was not given enough time to prepare for his arraignment before he was summoned by the Tribunal.

Aliyu Umar, counsel to the Federal Government, however, presented a counter argument that since the CJN has been served with the summons, he ought to be arraigned.

Umar, acknowledged that the trial cannot proceed in the absence of Onnoghen, while Olanipekun countered the statement that the issue of the trial could not arise because the jurisdiction is being challenged.

Chairman of the CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, thereafter, adjourned hearing on the case to Tuesday, January 22, 2019.

The Tribunal also ordered that the summon be served on the CJN in the appropriate way.

The proceedings at the CCT had commenced at 10.00am on Monday.

A group, the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, ARDI, said to be led by a former Aid to incumbent President Buhari, had sent a petition to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, accusing the CJN of false declaration of assets and operating bank accounts in foreign currencies.

While the prosecution is in progress, the Federal Government further requested that the CJN should resign as the head of the Judiciary in Nigeria.  however, President Muhammadu Buhari has denied ever asking the CJN to resign. the mix-up continues.

Meanwhile, the suit has continued to raise suspicions of gagging the judiciary as well as making the Buhari administration and the All Progressives Congress, APC, Government unpopular.

 

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