The Chief Justice of Nigeria CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen was conspicuously absent at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) where he was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of false declaration of assets.
Dennis Aghanya, the Executive Secretary of the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI), had petitioned the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over alleged non-declaration of assets by the CJN.
Aghanya was Buhari’s aide between 2009 and 2011 and the pioneer National Publicity Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He is also a founding member of The Buhari Organisation (TBO).
Announcing the case, the court official observed that Onnoghen was not in court and subsequently notified the Danladi Umar-led three-man tribunal of the development.
After the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN) announced his appearance, the tribunal asked the court official whether the CJN had been served with the charges and summons, to which he answered in the affirmative.
“He was served through his personal assistant. We went to his house and the defendant directed his personal assistant to collect the charge on his behalf. So the defendant has been served,” the court official said.
During the proceedings, the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN) concurred that Onnoghen was not personally served with the charges and the court’s summons as required by the law. Umar therefore requested the tribunal to direct a fresh service on the CJN.
When the tribunal chairman asked why Onnoghen was absent in court, the defence team led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) said the CJN needed not to be present, having filed a motion to challenge the tribunal’s jurisdiction to preside over the case.
Olanipekun said he and other defence lawyers only appeared in court in protest against the jurisdiction of the tribunal, arguing further that from the account given by the court official earlier in the proceedings, the CJN was not properly served with the charges and summons.
The prosecuting lawyer however argued that the law only requires the defendant to be aware of the pending charges and that it was the CJN’s choice to ask his aide to receive the charges and summons on his behalf.
But after a back-and-forth argument which lasted for about 45 minutes, the prosecuting counsel conceded that the service of the charges and the summons ought to have been personally made on Onnoghen.
The tribunal thereafter adjourned proceedings till January 22 when it would hear Onnoghen’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
A consortium of 89 lawyers which comprised of 46 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) appeared on behalf of the CJN while four lawyers appeared with the lead prosecuting counsel.
In a related development, the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday restrained the Federal Government from proceeding with its plan to arraign Onnoghen before the CCT.
Ruling on two separate ex parte applications on Monday, Justice N.E. Maha asked all the parties involved in the matter to maintain the status quo till January 17, 2019 when all parties to the two suits would return to court for the hearing of the plaintiffs’ motion on notice.
Joined in one of the suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 which was filed by the Incorporated Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative are the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the Chairman of CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The other suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019 was filed by the Incorporated Trustees of the International Association of Students Of Economists and Management.
The suit has as the defendants, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the CCT, the CCB, the Chairman of the CCT and the Inspector-General of Police.
While the ex parte application in the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 was moved by Mr. R.A Lawal-Rabana (SAN) before Justice Maha, the ex parte application filed in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019 was moved by Mr. Jeph Njikonye.