Onnoghe At Risk

By Oji Odu

As anxiety mounts over threat to issue a bench warrant on the suspended Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Walter Onnoghe who has, again, boycotted the court at the resumption of his trial, who can stop him from being arrested by the police that had earlier locked up his office? Who can stop the CJN from being brought for trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), maybe in chains if his prosecutors liked? What can wipe off the disgrace suffered by not only the Onnoghe, the Judiciary and the Nigerian nation by his arrest and maybe conviction?

The trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, resumed at the CCT in Abuja today February 4th with Justice Onnoghen, again, conspicuously absent.

The resumption of the case comes after last Wednesday’s ruling of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which dismissed the application filed by the suspended CJN seeking to stop his trial at the tribunal. Justice Onnoghen who assumed office in March 2017 is being tried for allegations of non-declaration of assets.

As the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja, resumed hearing on the six-count charge pending against the suspended CJN, his defence team comprising of 48 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN),  has expressed fears over alleged plot to issue a bench warrant for his arrest.
They expressed apprehension over alleged plan to persuade the Danladi Umar-led CCT panel to order security agencies to arrest the suspended CJN if he failed to appear in court.

The Magazine learnt that Onnoghe had declined to appear for arraignment on January 14 on the premise that the summon was not personally served on him, and on January 21, he equally failed to appear before the tribunal which he argued was bereft of the requisite jurisdiction to try him.
He contended that Federal Government’s failure to channel the petition against him, as well as the outcome of the investigation that was purportedly conducted on his assets declaration forms by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, to the National Judicial Council, NJC, legally invalidated the charge it entered against him at the CCT.
The suspended CJN stressed that the Federal Government failed to abide by existing judicial precedent as encapsulated in a recent Appeal Court decision in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), to the effect that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer, must first be reported to and handled by the NJC, pursuant to the provisions of the laws.
Following his repeated absence for his scheduled trial,the Federal Government, on the last adjourned date, said it has the right to apply for a bench warrant to be issued against the suspended CJN.
“We have the right under Paragraph 6(6) of the Code of Conduct Tribunal Practice Direction to apply for warrant of arrest”, government’s lawyer, Aliyu Umar told the tribunal.
He said that government decided not to make the application at that time so as not to overheat the polity in view of the exalted position of the defendant.
It was learned last night that Onnoghen who has gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge his trial, may not appear before the tribunal today, a situation that could warrant an application for his arrest.

Speaking to the Magazine in a chat, Paul Uwaekwe, a political analyst said that the embattled CJN is in a fix. “ His prosecutors are holding him on some of his judgements on similar cases, which makes him guilty if he refuses to appear before the CCT.

“ The Appellant court which had earlier vacated its initial order to stop the CCT from carrying out the trial in a ruling of January 30, 2019 held that staying further proceedings in the matter would amount to a violation of extant laws regulating criminal trials in the county,” he said.
He noted that Onnoghen himself had in a judgment he delivered in a case involving a firm owned by former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic, PDP, Chief OlisaMetuh, Destra Investment Limited, banned the grant of stay of proceeding in criminal matters, and therefore wondered why he should not be at the trial.
He added that it was the  suspended CJN who had in another case that involved the Senate President, Dr. BukolaSaraki, identified the CCT as a special court with quasi-criminal jurisdiction as Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, expressly forbade courts from granting orders to stay proceedings in criminal cases.
Meanwhile, The Source’s findings reveal that embattled CJN had rejected the soft landing package he was given to avoid the looming disgrace, including being a member of the Council of States if he voluntarily retired. This is said to be dividing his Defense team.

Why did he reject it? Why also has he been mute to the public since the unfolding issue? What are his plans? What will happen if the Federal Government succeeded in getting a bench warrant against him to face CCT trial with days to the 2019 election? Time will tell.

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