Assets declaration: CCT defers ruling on Onnoghen’s motion on jurisdiction

Orders day-to-day trial

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Monday deferred rulings in the two motions brought before it by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the criminal charges filed against him by the federal government.

Also deferred is ruling on another motion in which Onnoghen prayed for the disqualification of the Tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, from participating in the trial on account of demonstrated bias.

After the submissions of Onnoghen’s counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) on the two motions yesterday, the CCT boss announced that rulings have been reserved and shall be delivered along with the substantive suit.

Umar invoked section 296 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to arrive at his conclusion, adding that in line with the provisions of the law, ruling in all motions shall not be delivered until the final judgement of the main matter.

Besides, Umar ordered that proceedings against Onnoghen shall be conducted on a daily basis so as to ensure speedy trial of the charges.

He consequently fixed today for the continuation of the trial even without consulting the prosecution and defence counsel in the matter.

Earlier, the suspended CJN, through his counsel, insisted that the CCT has no jurisdiction to proceed with the six-count charge brought against him by the federal government.

Onnoghen told the tribunal that, as a serving judicial officer, it is the National Judicial Council (NJC) that is vested with powers to entertain any misconduct against him.

Onnoghen through his counsel, prayed the tribunal to strike out or dismiss the entire charges against him for want of jurisdiction.

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Awomolo submitted that the CCT has no requisite power to deal with erring judicial officer without first resorting to the NJC.

He said the powers of the NJC are superior to that of the Code Conduct Bureau when it comes to the issue of judicial Officer, adding that in line with section 292, the NJC must first indict a judicial officer before any Judiciary measure can be taken.

The senior lawyer reminded the tribunal that it had earlier recognized this position last year when it declined to assume jurisdiction in the case of Federal government against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, a justice of the Supreme Court. based on the Court of Appeal decision that ordered that serving judicial officers must first be referred to the NJC in matters of misconduct before prosecution in any court.

Awomolo accordingly urged the tribunal to maintain its earlier decision by striking out the charges against Onnoghen.

In the second application dated January 31, 2019, and predicated on section 36 of the 1999 constitution, Onnoghen demanded that the chairman of the tribunal recuses or disqualify himself from further participating in the trial on the grounds of a fair hearing and the likelihood of bias.

The defendant claimed that Umar had demonstrated sufficient bias against him in the conduct of proceedings and that it would be in the interest of Justice for the CCT boss to step aside from the proceedings.

Onnoghen stated that in the instant case, the executive arm of government where Umar belongs to is the complainant, investigator, prosecution and the judge contrary to the provisions of the law.

In his response, counsel to the Federal government, Aliu Umar (SAN) urged the tribunal to dismiss Onnoghen’s application for lacking in merit.

He said there is a difference between judicial misconduct and a public officer not complying with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau, adding that in the case of Ngajiwa cited by the defendant, Ngajiwa was accused of bribe-taking, while the defendant, in this case, is charged with violating constitution provisions.

Umar adjourned till today for the continuation of the matter.

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