The ongoing trial of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, on Tuesday suffered a set back after hearing could not proceed into the main charges of non-assets declaration filed against him by the President Muhammadu Buhari government.
Defence Counsel, Wole Olanipekun, had in Abuja informed the CCT, a special court that receives petitions against public officials on assets declaration in Nigeria, that about four other courts had given separate interim judgments seeking the discontinuation of the matter for lack of jurisdiction and abuse of processes.
Onnoghen had been scheduled to appear before the CCT and for the second time, he failed to show up.
With his absence, prosecution lawyer Aliyu Umar said he had the powers to file an application before the tribunal seeking the arrest of Chief Justice Onnoghen but he would defer the use of such powers at the moment.
“Due to the absence of the accused, we have the powers to ask that an arrest warrant be served on him (Justice Onnoghen) as the prosecution but we won’t do that as he is the Chief Justice of Nigeria”, prosecutor Umar said.
Instead, he sought the leave of the CCT to file a motion seeking the stepping aside of Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria and recusing of himself as Chairman of the country’s powerful National Judicial Council, NJC, which is charged with the discipline of judges, pending the outcome of the court case.
The defence kicked and later urged that the case be adjourned until further notice pending when other court cases instituted on the powers of the CCT to hear the case are determined by other courts.
“May we urge the honourable tribunal to adjourn this matter sine dine”, the defence lawyer said on behalf of Chief Justice Onnoghen.
But ruling on the prayers of Onnoghen’s lawyers, the CCT insisted that the case should go on, asking his lawyers to go ahead with their challenge against the special court’s powers to hear corruption charges against their principal. Other two members of the tribunal opined that the court should however obey all court orders against its rulings despite having coordinate jurisdiction.
The case was later adjourned to Monday as agreed by all parties.
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.
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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