Nigerian government threatens Suspended Chief Judge with arrest

Walter Onnoghen has been ordered to appear in person at a tribunal hearing his case.
A courtroom of a Lagos High Court vacated by the judge, lawyers and other judiciary officers as lawyers boycott courts to protest the results of the just concluded elections 18 May 2007. Nigerian lawyers have boycotted the courts to protest the fraud and irregularities that marked the presidential election. Meanwhile, the leadership of labour and civil coation has declared May 28 and 29 as days of work stoppage and national protest. AFP PHOTO PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The failure of Walter Onnoghen, suspended chief judge of Nigeria to appear before a special court for the third time to answer charges of partial assets declaration and other corruption allegations has led to the government issuing threats of arrest if he fails to show up at a fresh adjourned date on February 13.

At Monday’s resumption of proceedings in the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Onnoghen was absent before the three-judge panel hearing the case in the nation’s capital, Abuja.

Lawyers from both parties were informed by court officials about the absence of the suspended chief judge.

Defence Counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo quickly informed the assets declaration special court that lawyers for both parties had agreed on a further adjournment of the trial. 

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“The same petition sent to the Code of Conduct Tribunal here has now been forwarded to the National Judicial Council for investigation by the Attorney General of the Federation,” Awomolo said while informing the special court that he had agreed with the prosecutor that the trial be adjourned till a new date. 

Awomolo said no harm would be done to all parties if the case is adjourned until the outcome of the petition before the judicial council.

Prosecutor Aliyu Umar admitted to an earlier agreement for a further adjournment but warned the government would have no option than to use all its powers to compel chief judge Onnoghen’s presence in court to take his plea, if he fails to show up at the next adjourned date.

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“I have agreed that for the sake of justice, this matter be adjourned pending the outcome of NJC meeting. But if Onnoghen does not come to court, the prosecution would be forced to ask for the appropriate orders against him,” Prosecutor Aliyu said while alluding to a future request for a warrant of arrest against Onnoghen. 

The case was adjourned till February 13.after tensed arguments and emotions between Onnoghen’s lawyer and  Tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar,.

The arguments bordered on the need to take two urgent motions from both parties challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the case and request for an emergency order related to the suspended Chief judge to be taken immediately,

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Both parties, including the tribunal judges, had earlier apologised on the hot exchange that led to a 30-minutes break, to calm frayed nerves.

The chief judge was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25.

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