Court halts prosecution of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen

Mr Onnoghen has described the case instituted by the Code of Conduct Bureau as unconstitutional and lacking merit.

A Nigerian appeals court issued an interim order on Thursday stopping a tribunal from charging the chief justice with breaching asset-declaration rules, a month before a presidential election.

Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen has been asked to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for trial. He has not responded to the charges and says the tribunal, which tries asset-declaration misdemeanors, does not have the authority to try him, a Reuters report stated. 

The Court of Appeal asked all parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the powers of the CCT to hear the case between the Nigerian government and Chief Justice Onnoghen.

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The Buhari government has been accused by opposition politicians of hunting down Onnoghen as part of its alleged plans to rig the February 16 presidential election, so as to install a puppet judge as Chief Justice, in a situation the post-election matter gets to the Supreme Court, which is the country’s constitutional court.

But senior lawyers while not against the charges filed against Chief Justice Onnoghen said the Nigerian government was going about the case wrongly without following due process as the case should have first been referred to the NJC before the tribunal. They said Onnoghen would have simply recused himself from the NJC. 

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The case was filed against Onnoghen on January 14, amidst protests by governors of the oil-rich states of the Niger Delta who advised the embattled Chief Justice to shun the CCT proceedings.

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