Accused of corruption, Nigeria’s Chief Justice fails to appear in court

Chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, was absent from the first day of his fiercely-disputed trial

The three-man CCT judges urged both parties to ensure that there is no further delay concerning the appearance of the defendant to take his plea. Journalists, lawyers and civil society advocates had laid an early siege at the CCT headquarters in the Jabi district of Abuja with high hopes that the accused chief justice would show up before the tribunal. Security at the premises of the CCT was increased with policemen visible at all entry and exit points but only his lawyers showed up.

Defence team for Walter Onnoghen

Legal analysts are divided on whether the case should not have been referred to the National Judicial Council (NJC), that is constitutionally charged with the discipline of erring judges. But those against such moves say the case at hand is one of assets declaration and not a judicial malfeasance hence the CCT remains the appropriate court to hear the matter. They also said that as head of the NJC, Onnoghen would influence any matter taken to body, even if he recuses himself.

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The charge against Nigeria’s number five citizen and head of the judicial arm of government comes a year after a similar charge was filed against Bukola Saraki who is the country’s number three citizen and head of the National Assembly. Saraki was later acquitted by the Supreme Court which coincidentally is headed by the same man being charged by the government too.

Following a huge public outcry especially from their people, governors of the oil-rich states of the Niger Delta where Onnoghen comes from had earlier asked him a day before, not to appear before the CCT, accusing the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government of political witchhunt and dictatorship. The legal fireworks resume next week.

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