THE CODE of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has instructed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Director-General of the Department of State Service (DG, DSS) to arrest the suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen for boycotting court sessions the third time.
This development is sequel to an application made by the Federal Government for a bench warrant to be issued against Onnoghen as a penalty for his failure to show up in the tribunal court in defense of the six-count charge against him.
Onnoghen is to be arrested by the joint force of the police and the DSS and taken to court on Friday, 15th February for the trial process to commence, according to CCT’s directive today.
On January 14, February 4 and today February 13, the suspended CJN’s trial was stalled because of his absence. This prompted Danladi Umar, leader of the panel tribunal to direct top security agencies to make Onnoghen present in the court for trial on the new date.
Just recently, EFCC discovered yet another Onnoghen’s account with $30,000 payment by a controversial senior lawyer. This is in addition to accusations already levied against him, including failing to comprehensively declare his assets as law demands and operating foreign bank accounts, as well as breaching the code of conduct for public officials.
Arguing with section 6 (1) of the CCT Practice Direction and section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, Aliyu Umar, a lawyer from the prosecution applied for a bench warrant against the defendant.
But Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, the defense counsel objected to this, questioning the jurisdiction of the CCT and legal competence of the charge against him and asking that the motion commences in Onnoghens’ absence.
“The application that the tribunal should issue a bench warrant is persecuting,” he added.
The issuance of a bench warrant against Onnoghen has thrown up fresh controversy about whether or not the CCT has the authority to give the order.
Speaking with The ICIR on Wednesday, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, said there are several issues surrounding the Onnoghen saga that is “not within the purview of ordinary legality”.
He, however, pointed out that “the appointment and removal of judges is the only process that requires the input of the three arms of government”; the judiciary nominates and recommends, the legislature confirms, and the President (the executive) swears in. Also, in the removal process, the three arms of government have roles to play, and the executive’s role is just to affirm what the two other arms of government had recommended.
The Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal are institutions under the executive arm of government, not the judiciary, Odinkalu further noted, so for the President to rely solely on the decision of the executive arm of government to remove the Chief Justice bothers on a possible constitutional breach.
Odinkalu, while calling for calm, hopes the Nigeria Bar Association will come up with an official position on the development.