Onnoghen: CCT spits fire, says no going back on trial

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In a split ruling of two to one, the Code of Conduct Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday held that the multiple orders by both the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court stopping it from proceeding with the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen are not binding.

The tribunal also held that both the FHC and the NIC are courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction with no power to sit in appellate capacity over its (CCT) proceedings or judgments.

It further ruled that the CCT is a special court, exclusively clothed with the jurisdiction by the 1999 Constitution to handle issues relating to assets declaration, and not the regular high courts or NIC.

Tuesday was the  second time  the nation’s chief judicial officer would be staying away from court, having shunned the trial  on January 14, 2019, when the matter came up for mention.

Notwithstanding his absence, Chairman of the Tribunal, Danladi Umar, delivered the lead ruling while Justice Juli Anabor, concurred with him.

But Justice Williams Atedze, in a minority decision, disagreed with the position of the tribunal.

Blueprint reports that, however, beautiful and sound a minority decision is, the lead decision is the position of the court.

In the lead ruling, Umar held that those who obtained the orders of the High Court were busy bodies because they are not parties in the matter at the tribunal. 

He maintained that the orders of the High Courts and that of the National Industrial Court were null and void, on account of being inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution.

He further noted that Section 246(1)(a) of the Constitution(as amended), makes it crystal clear that the tribunal has unquantifiable jurisdiction to hear any assets declaration case as may be referred to it by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). 

Umar also disagreed with the request for adjournment of the trial sine die, by Onnoghen’s 50-man legal team, led by Wole Olanipekun, SAN, on the grounds of a pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.

According to the tribunal, Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, is averse to grant of stay of proceedings in a criminal matter, and that in the instant case, it shall not be entertained.

However, in a dissenting ruling, Atedze held that it would result to 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, stressing that the CCT cannot operate in isolation.

“Having summarised 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. 

The member, who further held that the issue of jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the charge against CJN must first be resolved, submitted that status quo must be maintained by adjourning proceedings sine die until all contending issues are resolved.

Although the Chairman ordered that the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal be moved immediately, Olanipekun, counsel to the defendant, however, informed the tribunal that the response of the complainant-federal government, was served on him late Monday, and as such, he needed time to study the response and then file reply on point of law.

On the CJN’s absence at the trial, the federal government’s team, led by Aliyu Umar, SAN, told the CCT that although he’s empowered under Paragraph 6 of the Code of Conduct Practice Direction, to cause a bench warrant against Onnoghen, he would still exercise some restraint.

But he urged the tribunal to invoke its power by making an interim order, the nature of which he never explained.

On the submission that government’s response was served late on the defendant, he agreed, prompting the chairman to adjourn further proceedings till Monday, January 28.

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