Nigeria Chief Justice Onnoghen Must Step Down, FG Insists

Nigeria Chief Justice Onnoghen Must Step Down, FG Insists
Defence counsel, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, (left); Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, and Kanu Agabi, SAN,  at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Abuja …yesterday. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO

Nigeria Chief Justice Onnoghen Must Step Down, FG Insists

Nigeria Chief Justice Onnoghen Must Step Down, FG Insists

  • Protest as CCT dismisses court orders against trial of Onnoghen

The federal government yesterday insisted that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Samuel Onnoghen, must step down from his position as head of the judiciary to answer the case of non-declaration of assets filed against him.

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in a six-count charge filed at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on January 11 accused the Nigeria’s head of judiciary of failure to declare his assets between June, 2005 and December, 2016.

The prosecutor filed a motion on notice asking the CCT to order the CJN to step down as the head of nation’s judiciary and the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) as his case proceeds.

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However, the CJN through his counsel, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), also filed an application to challenge the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the case.

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During yesterday’s sitting, Olanipekun told the three-man panel that the defence was not ready to move its application because the reply of the prosecution was only received on Monday. He said the defence needed two days to reply on point of law before moving the application.

Prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN) thereafter urged the tribunal to allow him go ahead with his motion on notice seeking the CJN to step aside pending the determination of the suit.

He said the prosecution is not seeking for the removal of the defendant as the CJN and Chairman of NJC but the application is only seeking for him to step down in line with the decision of the NJC in 2016 that judges accused of corruption should step aside pending the determination of the cases against them.

However, the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar said since the CJN’s application was challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal, the ideal thing would be to first decide the application. He therefore adjourned proceedings to January 28 for the hearing of the CJN’s application.

Adding that all orders of court restraining the CCT from proceeding with the trial of the CJN were not binding on it. 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. Justice Williams Atedze, however, gave a dissenting ruling. He held that the CCB cannot be in isolation, and went ahead to uphold the argument of the defence counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), that the matter be adjourned sine die pending the outcome of motions in other courts.

Atedze held that it would result in judicial anarchy for the tribunal to proceed with the trial in view of the four subsisting court orders and the pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.

According to him, orders are binding on the tribunal until they are set aside in view of section 287(3) of the 1999 Constitution, which allows court orders to be enforced in all parts of the county.

He said: “Having summarized argument from both parties, it is my submission that CCT as a creation of law is bound by the existing court orders to avoid judicial anarchy.”

He held that the issue of jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the charge against CJN must first be resolved, and that status quo must be maintained by adjoining proceedings sine die until all contending issues are resolved.

Following the ruling, Justice Umar ordered that the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal be moved immediately.

The CJN on Monday obtained another order from the Court of Appeal that the status quo should be maintained. But the tribunal yesterday declared them null and void.

The decision of the tribunal elicited a protest yesterday in Abuja.

The National Chairman, Action Peoples Party (APP), Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, who led the protest, called on Nigerians to resist an alleged move by the government to muzzle the judiciary.

“Lawyers in defence of democracy are hereby called upon to march on the streets to defend our nation’s democracy. On 30th October 2016, we also marched following the midnight gestapo-like invasion of the homes of judges on the 7th of October 2016, by security agents. Then, we warned about the plan of the APC-led Federal Government to intimidate the judiciary and annex it.

“Nigerians are also witnesses to their failed plot to also annex the National Assembly, Nigerian people and the judiciary resisted the invasion.

“The 1999 Constitution is very clear on how a judicial officer and particularly, the CJN can leave office before the age of retirement,” Ugochinyere said.