The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Monday threatened that a bench warrant may be issued against Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen if he refuses to appear at the next hearing slated for February 13th.
Onnoghen did not appear in the three previous sittings when his case came up for mention.
Drama ensued when Chairman of CCT Danladi Umar engaged counsel to the suspended CJN in war of words over adjournment request by the defendant.
The embattled CJN had through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, urged the tribunal to temporarily suspend the trial pending the National Judicial Council (NJC)’s decision on the matter.
“I humbly pray your Lordships to tarry awhile so that the defendant will not suffer double jeopardy. It is in the interest of justice to also let the NJC take a decision before proceeding with the case. I believe that the integrity of this tribunal will be further enhanced if this application is granted,” Awomolo said.
Responding, the prosecution, Aliyu Umar, SAN, did not oppose the adjournment request, but condemned what he described as “consistent absence” of the suspended CJN at the tribunal.
Umar thereafter said the matter be adjourned till Thursday, as the federal government would not hesitate to wield its powers and apply for an arrest warrant against Onnoghen should he fail to appear at the next hearing.
He said: “If he fails to appear on that day, we will be forced to apply for a bench warrant.”
At this point, the tribunal Chairman, Mr. Umar, said despite the preliminary objection the CJN filed to challenge jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him, he would proceed with the trial and allow the parties lay their arguments.
Another drama played out when the CCT chair accused Onnoghen’s legal team of deliberately employing delay tactics to frustrate the trial.
Enraged by Umar’s comment, the following shouting match ensued between the tribunal chairman and Awomolo.
Awomolo: “My lord, with due respect, I take exception to the fact that we delay justice and have been employing tactics. In my 42 years at the Bar, I have never been found wanting in the discharge of my duties and my mates can testify to that.”
But Umar, the tribunal chairman, again shouted down Awomolo asking him to sit down, an order that did not go down well with the SAN.
Awomolo: “With due respect again, I take exception to that. I will not stand here and allow anyone to disrespect me in front of junior lawyers who look up to me. I take serious exception to that.”
CCT chair: “My position is that you have to move your application today, if you don’t, I will ask the prosecution to move its own application for interlocutory injunction against the defendant.”
At this point, the tribunal adjourned sitting until February 13.
Senate makes U – turn
Meanwhile, the Senate, exactly a week after approaching the Supreme Court for interpretation of law on Onnohen’s suspension, yesterday made a U- turn and withdrew the suit.
The withdrawal as explained in a statement issued by the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, followed the intervention of the NJC on the issue.
The Senate, in the statement, said it has decided to give the NJC intervention a chance.
The statement reads: “The Senate has therefore decided to discontinue the case it filed in the Supreme Court. This decision also affirms the confidence of the Senate in the ability of the NJC to successfully and creditably resolve the issues.”
The withdrawn case had earlier been slated for hearing today by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision by the Senate leadership had last week pitched the APC and the PDP caucuses in the Senate against each other.
While the APC caucus led by Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) disassociated itself from the move, the PDP caucus led by Minority Leader Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South) accused the APC caucus of being mischievous, saying the decision was consented to, by majority of the Senate’s principal officers.