Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen has suffered yet another setback in his bid to stop his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over non-declaration of assets.
His prayer for a stay of proceedings in the trial was yesterday thrown out by the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
Onnoghen was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari last week following an order by the CCT asking him to step aside.
His travails followed the non-declaration of some of his bank accounts, which he reportedly admitted as being an oversight.
Twice he was billed for appearance at the tribunal and twice he failed.
With the suspension, the embattled CJN proceeded to the appellate court and asked that the CCT order be declared as procedurally wrong because he was not given fair hearing.
Ruling on the matter yesterday, the appellate court said Onnoghen’s request “was brought in a vacuum,” without a proper backing of legal provisions on why it should be granted.
According to the appellate court, the suspended CJN’s lawyers had argued that their application was brought because the tribunal, on January 14, refused to entertain their request challenging the jurisdiction of the court with other motions before proceeding with the main trial.
The court, however, read through the words used during the January 14 adjournment of the tribunal wherein the CCT slated January 22 for hearing of motions in the matter.
“Matter is hereby adjourned till Tuesday. Motions to be taken,” said Justice Abdul Aboki while reading through the tribunal’s ruling on January 14.”
“The above stated decision is an adjournment for motions filed by the two parties,” the appeal court ruled.
According to the appellate court, the words used by the tribunal did not suggest the submissions made by the applicant.
The court questioned the likelihood of its jurisdiction to grant such order as requested, given the evidence before it.
“A court has inherent jurisdiction to grant stay of proceedings where it is certified that enough evidence has been given for such,” said Aboki, who read the ruling with two other judges.
“Order for stay cannot be made in vacuum. It is a matter of law and fact,” the court ruled.
The court decided that the application for stay of proceedings will not be granted and subsequently refused it.
With the ruling, the CCT can now proceed with the trial which was put on hold last week based on the appeal court’s directive.
It is not, however, clear if the plaintiff’s legal team would proceed to the Supreme Court to appeal the judgement.
NGOs back Buhari’s action
Meanwhile, some 200 Civil Society Organisations yesterday declared their support for President Muhammed Buhari for suspending the CJN form office.
The CSOs, under the auspices of the forum of Non-Governmental Organisations of Nigeria, also asked Buhari to ignore those it described as ‘naysayers and men of rotten yesteryears’ and their orchestrated attempt to frustrate efforts at moving the country forward.
The CSOs staged a protest in solidarity with the president’s action, and marched from the Eagle Square to the Police Headquarters, the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council (NJC) carrying placards with various inscriptions.
The group’s spokesman, Comrade Wole Badmus, accused the suspended CJN of trying to use his office to frustrate investigations into allegations against him despite owing up that he forgot to declare his assets.
Badmus also assured the president of the group’s support for the 2019 general elections, and commended him for sanitising the judiciary.
“You are all aware that Mr. President took a bold step by carrying out the directive of the CCT which suspends the former CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen and subsequently sworn in Justice Tanko albeit in acting capacity. Since then, Nigerians have watched in awe the macabre dance in the justice section occasioned by the erstwhile CJN to pervert the course of justice.
“Despite owing up to infractions on the law in the course of discharge of his duty as a public officer, yet apart from not stepping down to allow a thorough investigation, he also used his privileged position to frustrate all efforts at bringing justice to the fold.
“From procuring various funny injunctions from different courts to the indefinite postponement of NJC sittings, the CJ N has shown to Nigerians that the only way for the nation to move forward is to be shoved out of the way for a non-partisan party to take charge. This is what Mr. President gallantly did.
“We salute his courage and boldness in doing this. We are here to tell Mr. President not to listen to the voice of naysayers and men of rotten yesteryears in their orchestrated attempts at frustrating his noble efforts at moving the Nation forward’’, he said.
But in another development, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria has called for the withdrawal of the suspension of the CJN to avoid what it called “crippling the independence and effectiveness of the Judiciary.”
In a statement signed in Abuja by its Country Vice President and National President, Rhoda Prevail Tyoden, and National Publicity Secretary Eliana Martins, the tribunal’s trial was speedy and its timing questionable.
The statement maintained that the action suggests a coup against the judicial arm of government, as well as an attack on the independence and integrity of the Judiciary.
It recalled President Buhari’s remarks in August 2018 at the opening ceremony of the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), that “the Rule of Law must be subjected to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.”
According to the statement, the President is acting against court orders from the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court, which he ought to be aware of, saying this is deeply distressing.
“President Buhari not only risks the credibility of the upcoming general elections in Nigeria but also demeans the legal profession and risks damaging the reputation of Nigeria in the international community.
“If the President can be seen to foster the culture of impunity which is already so entrenched in the Nigerian society, where then is the hope for regular citizens that the legal system can be entrusted?”