Breaking: Drama as ‘improper’ service order on Onnoghen forces tribunal to adjourn trial

The defence box where CJN Onnoghen was meant to stand for trial on Monday

After a heated controversy over whether or not the Code of Conduct Tribunal has the jurisdiction to try the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, the matter took off today at Dakinbiu , Abuja, with the tribunal chairman, Mr Danladi Umar adjourning sitting till January 22.

The CJN was however not at the tribunal, because, according to his legal team, the nation’s chief judicial officer was not properly served.

Onnoghen is being arraigned before the three-man tribunal over charges of non-declaration of assets, and for also operating multiple domiciliary accounts.

However, at the tribunal yesterday, the issue of jurisdiction which lasted for about one hour, became a subject of legal firework  between the prosecution and defence counsel.

Leading other counsel in the defence team, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, said  his team was at the tribunal to contest the issue of jurisdiction.

 Asked why Onnoghen was not at the tribunal, Olanipekun said, the CJN did not necessarily have to be present, having filed a motion to challenge the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

The defence team further submitted that from the earlier account given by the court official during the proceedings, the CJN was not personallyserved with the charges and summons, even when the law law requires that the defendant should be served personally.

But in a counter argument, the prosecuting counsel, Aliyu Umar, SAN, contended that  the law only requires the defendant to be aware of the pending charges, stressing that it was the CJN’s choice to ask his aide to receive the charges and summons on his behalf.

 “By what the registrar has said, although the defendant was the one who directed his personal assistant to accept service on his behalf and what the law says is that he must be personally served.

“We agree that that the service should be properly done. The processes should be served personally on him.

“If, after the service is done, and the defendant is not present, we can then argue whether or not he needs to be present on the grounds that he has filed a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court,” Umar submitted.

The prosecuting counsel, therefore, urged the CCT to direct a fresh service on the CJN.

Upon the prosecuting counsel’s admission that  the defendant was not duly served, the CCT Chairman, Mr. Umar ruled that the tribunal would hear Onnoghen’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal at the next proceedings.

Consequently, the tribunal directed that the CJN be personally served, and adjourned the case till January 22.

After intense argument by various counsels, he Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, has directed that the six-count charge the Federal Government preferred against Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, should be served on him personally.

A three-man panel of Justices of the tribunal headed by Justice Danladi Umar further slated Tuesday next week for the CJN to appear before it to enter his plea to the charge bordering on his alleged refusal to declare his assets.

The tribunal chairman had at exactly 10am when the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/19, was called up, 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 was enlisted by the Federal Government to lead the prosecution team, told the court 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”, Umar who led five other government lawyers, told the tribunal.

However, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, who led 46 other Senior Advocates of Nigeria and 43 other lawyers, told the tribunal that the CJN had filed a motion dated January 14, challenging jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him.

He said: “My lord we are not just challenging jurisdiction, we are even challenging the jurisdiction of this tribunal to even sniff that charge”, Olanipekun submitted.

Olanipekun further challenged the competence of service of the charge, insisting that under sections 123 and 124 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, criminal charge ought to be peronsally served on a defendant.

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. Osai who was identified as his assistant, the prosecution counsel, applied for FG to be allowed to effect another service of the charge on Justice Onnoghen.

The prosecution however pleaded the court to direct that the charge should not be handed to another person aside the CJN. Justice Umar subsequently adjourned the matter till next week Tuesday.

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