Ohanaeze, YCE, SMBL knock FG as court stops CJN’s trial
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday stopped the Federal Government’s arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on charges of non-declaration of assets.
But as the case was going on in Abuja, more groups including the Yoruba Council of Elders, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Southern and Middle Belt Forum and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, came hard on the Federal Government for planning to plunge the country into crisis with the CJN’s trial.
The groups stated this on Monday while commenting on the arraignment of Justice Onnoghen on charges of non-declaration of assets.
They said the way the matter was being handled could plunge the nation into anarchy, saying due process must be followed so that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration would not be seen as being desperate to ease out the CJN.
However, ruling on two separate ex parte applications brought before her by different groups, Justice N.E. Maha, made an order restraining the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the CCT and its chairman, Danladi Umar; the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris; and others from taking steps in respect of the case till January 17.
Also restrained from taking steps concerning the court order were the National Judicial Council and the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.
The judge ordered that the defendants be served with the processes filed by the defendants in the two suits.
She ordered the defendants to appear in court on January 17 for the hearing of the separate applications for interlocutory injunction to stop the prosecution from proceeding with the planned trial of the CJN.
She ruled in respect of the application filed by the incorporated trustees of the International Association of Student Economists and Management, on Monday, “It is hereby ordered as follows:
“That the defendants shall be served with all the processes filed in this suit and shall appear on January 17, 2019 for the hearing of the motion on notice.
“That in the meantime, parties shall maintain the status quo that exists as of today, January 14, 2019 and shall not take any steps that will interfere with the res or subject matter of the suit pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
“That the matter is adjourned till January 17, 2019 for hearing.”
The Federal Government, had through the Code of Conduct Bureau, on Friday, January 11, filed six counts of non-declaration of assets against the CJN.
Justice Onnoghen was due for arraignment before the CCT on Monday but he was absent.
His absence, which his defence team led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), anchored on faulty service on court summons on him and their motion challenging the CCT’s jurisdiction, forced the tribunal to adjourn till January 22.
While the CCT proceedings were ongoing on Monday, the plaintiffs who obtained an order against the proceedings were filing their papers before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Shortly after the filing, the matters were assigned to Justice Maha who heard the plaintiffs at about the time the CCT was concluding its Monday’s proceedings.
One of the two suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 was filed before the judge by incorporated trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
Those joined as defendants in the suit are the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, the Chairman of CCT, Danladi Umar; the National Judicial Council, 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 Student Economists and Management.
The suit has as the defendants, the AGF Malami; the CCT, the CCB, the Chairman of CCT, Umar; and the Inspector-General of Police, Idris.
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 on Monday, the one filed in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019 was moved by Mr Jeph Njikonye.
The two plaintiffs have pending before the court their motions on notice seeking an interim injunction restraining the defendants in both suits from proceeding with the trial of the CJN pending the determination of their substantive suit.
By the Monday’s order of Justice Maha, the defendants are to appear before the court on Thursday to show cause why the order of interim injunction should not be granted.
The plaintiffs in both suits argued in their applications that the CJN, as a serving judicial officer, could not be prosecuted without first being disciplined by the NJC.
They argued that the CCT charges were null and void.
The affidavit filed in support of the application by the International Association of Student Economists and Management, read in part, “That the Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen is not subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the 2nd defendant (CCT) unless and until he has been subjected to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council, which has not been done in this case.
“That in view of the foregoing, the 2nd defendant does not have any jurisdiction to try , arraign, charge or prosecute Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen in respect of Charge No CCT/ABJ/01/19.
“That subjecting a sitting judicial officer to the National Judicial Council is a condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction by the 2nd defendant.
That in view of the above, Charge Number CCT/ABJ//01/19 is null and void and ultra vires; the powers of the defendant and ought to be set aside by this honourable court.”
It added that the tribunal had on the basis of the reasons dismissed the charges against a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, in a ruling delivered on January 9, 2018 by applying the Court of Appeal in the case of Ngajiwa v. FRN.
Similarly, the CJN has filed before the tribunal a motion challenging its jurisdiction and asking for an order “striking out and/or dismissing in its entirety, the charge” preferred against him.
Onnoghen, who filed the application through his battery of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said the tribunal should be bound by its ruling delivered on January 9, 2018, in Justice Ngwuta’s case in which it applied the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the case of Nganjiwa v. FRN.
He argued that the Court of Appeal in the Nganjiwa v FRN (2018) had ruled that “no criminal investigation or prosecution can be initiated or instituted in any court of law or tribunal against a serving judicial officer without first presenting such allegations to the National Judicial Council and a determination thereof by the National Judicial Council.”
He added, “Under the doctrine of stairs decisis, the decision of the Court of Appeal is binding on all courts and the tribunals in Nigeria, which are subordinate to the Court of Appeal, including and particularly, this honourable tribunal.
“In the unreported ruling of this honourable tribunal in Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, charge number CCT/ABJ/01/2017, delivered on January 9, 2018, this honourable tribunal applied the binding decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v. FRN (supra) struck out the charge preferred against a judicial officer and discharged the said judicial officer accordingly.
“This honourable tribunal neither has the jurisdiction nor vires to countenance or entertain the charge preferred against the applicant by the respondent.”
Court restrains AGF, others from sacking Onnoghen
In a separate ruling on Monday, the National Industrial Court in Abuja ordered that Onnoghen must not be forced out of office.
The court presided over by Justice Sanusi Kado, while ruling on an ex-parte application by a Nigerian citizen, Mr Peter Abang, also stopped the planned trial of the CJN on charges of non-declaration of assets before the CCT.
The court held that the orders were necessary to avert a “threat” and constitutional breaches “regarding the position of the number one judicial officer of the country.”
The court restrained all the seven defendants including the AGF joined in the suit from attempting to force Onnoghen out office pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiff’s motion for interlocutory injunction.
Justice Kado noted after hearing the plaintiff’s lawyer, J.U.K. Igwe (SAN), on Monday, “The court observed that it is a fact of common knowledge that since January 12, 2019, the print, electronic and social media have been awash with issue of threat of constitutional breaches regarding the position of the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, without due regard to the extant provisions of the constitution.”
He added, “The case law regarding the issue is not in any doubt, as to how a judicial officer should be prosecuted in a situation where there is need for him to be tried or dealt with in a criminal court.
“In view of the importance of the constitutional issues involved in this matter regarding the threat to the position of the number one judicial officer of the country, I hereby grant the application for interim injunction in the terms stated below:
“An order of interim injunction restraining the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants (AGF, CCT chairman, CCB, and the IGP) from proceeding with the hearing of charge number CCT/ABJ/01/19 between the Federal Government of Nigeria v. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen pending the determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
“An order of interim injunction restraining the defendants in this suit, either by themselves, their privies, servants, agents, assigns or whatsoever described from forcing the Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from vacating his office as Chief Justice of Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
CCT adjourns proceedings
Meanwhile, the Danladi Umar-led three-man Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday adjourned proceedings involving the charges of non-declaration of assets preferred against the CJN till January 22.
Umar ruled that the tribunal would hear Onnoghen’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal at the next proceedings.
The tribunal adjourned the case after the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr Aliyu Umar (SAN), a former Director of Public Prosecutions conceded that Onnoghen was improperly served with the charges and the summons.
Umar conceded that the CJN was not personally served with the charges and the court’s summons as required by law.
He therefore requested the three-man tribunal led by Danladi Umar to direct a fresh service on the CJN.
CJN absent from CCT
Onnoghen was absent from Monday’s proceedings.
Upon an inquiry by the tribunal chairman about Onnoghen’s absence from court, the defence team led by Olanipekun said the CJN needed not to be present having filed a motion to challenge the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
Olanipekun said he and other defence lawyers only appeared in court in protest against the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
He also said from the account given by the court officials earlier in the proceedings, the CJN was not served with the charges and summons personally but through his aide.
Olanipekun insisted that the law required that the defendant should be personally served.
But the prosecuting counsel said the law only required 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 that went on for about 45 minutes, the prosecuting counsel conceded that the service of the charges and the summons ought to have been personally served on Onnoghen.
Monday’s proceedings of the scheduled arraignment of the CJN started with the arrival of the three members of the tribunal at 10am.
At 10.01am, the matter was called.
The court official who announced the case observed that the CJN was not present and then notified the tribunal chairman 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.
The court official confirmed that the CJN was served through his personal assistant.
He said, “He was served through his personal assistant. We went to his house and the defendant directed his personal assistant to collect the charges and other processes on his behalf. So, the defendant has been served.”
87 lawyers appear for CJN
Meanwhile, about 87 lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) appeared for the CJN at the CCT on Monday.
Among the 87 lawyers were about 40 SANs.
They appeared against the prosecuting team with only one SAN, who is a private legal practitioner, and four lawyers from the CCB.
Aliyu Umar, the SAN leading the prosecuting team, is a former Director of Public Prosecutions in Kano State.
Buhari prefers his kinsman as CJN -South, M’Belt leaders
Meanwhile, the SMBL has castigated the Federal Government over the criminal charges filed against Onnoghen.
The SMBLF spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said the conspiracy against Onnoghen was to help Buhari replace him with a judicial officer from the North.
Odumakin said, “The petition filed within 72 hours received accelerated investigation and charges were filed against the CJN by a government which had not prosecuted Babachir Lawal, a government which did not try Maina or probe Governor Ganduje of Kano State.”
Yoruba elders, Ohanaeze knock FG
Also, the Secretary-General of YCE, Dr Kunle Olajide, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Lagos condemned the move to arraign Onnogehn without following the laid down procedures.
The YCE secretary said, “It is imperative that every effort must be made to preserve the sacredness and the sanctity of the judiciary because the judiciary, as it is often said, is the last hope of the common man.
“Moreover, our economy is still in the woods and we are seeking foreign investors. So, this is not the time, to deliberately or otherwise , do what can tarnish the image of our judiciary because foreign investors must have confidence in the judiciary before they come in.
“We will appeal to Mr President to act swiftly in this matter and perhaps revert to the status quo ante and then seek wider consultations from legal experts to know how to proceed if the CJN has been found to have breached the laws of the land.”
Also, the spokesperson for the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Achi-Okpaga, condemned the way the petition against the CJN was handled, adding, “We are not saying they should not prosecute anybody who has stolen but there are laid down procedures to be followed. Let them follow due process in this matter.
“I agree that the President is not a lawyer but the attorney general who is a senior lawyer should be de-robed for this. They should not plunge the nation into anarchy because this is election period. People are saying they want to change the CJN by all means and put their person in charge so their man, who would be in charge would use his position to discard any petition against his benefactors.”
Take CJN’s case to NJC, SERAP tells FG
But SERAP in a statement on Monday by its Senior Legal Adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, advised Buhari to direct the AGF to withdraw the charges against the CJN and then file a petition against Onnoghen before the NJC.
Adeyanju said he believed that the laws on asset declaration by public officers should be enforced to the letter, but urged the Federal Government to follow due process in Onnoghen’s case.
SERAP advised that after submitting a petition to the NJC, Justice Onnoghen, who is the body’s current chairman, should be asked to recuse himself while other members of the NJC investigate the matter.
CJN must face trial
But the APC has insisted that Onnoghen must face trial at the CCT.
The APC, during a press conference on Monday by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, berated the PDP.
It stated, “While we would not want to be lured into discussing issues that are presently before the courts and for which any respectable political party hoping to hold positions of responsibility should restrain itself, we regret to suggest that the PDP’s attempt to hoodwink Nigerians into believing that there is a political motive behind the allegations brought against the CJN might itself be indicative of some unholy alliances.”
According to the APC, the likely affinity existing between the PDP and a section of the judiciary “is further accentuated by the non-appearance of Justice Onnoghen before the CCT on Monday in line with the suggestions made by the PDP governors from the South-South on Sunday.”
The APC rejected what it called a “dangerous attempt to designate the CJN’s arraignment along ethnic and religious lines thereby trying to heat up the polity by evoking primordial sentiments.”
The party stated, “The CCT trial is a legal matter, let the law run its course. The CJN must go through the instrumentalities of the courts, more importantly as an institution he represents. Indeed, this is the true test of our constitution, rule of law and will deepen democracy.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition of United Political Parties on Monday hailed the ruling of a Federal High Court that restrained the CCT from proceeding with Onnoghen’s trial.
The coalition, in a statement by its first national spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere, described the development as victory for democracy and rule of law.