THE federal government has asked the Code of Conduct Tribunal to issue an interim order for the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, to step aside, pending the determination of the case of false assets declaration against him.
Aliu Umar, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is the FG prosecutor in Onnoghen’s ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, made this known on Tuesday.
Onnoghen did not appear before the CCT on the first day of trial (January 14) and his defence team argued that he was not properly served. The matter was adjourned till Tuesday, January 22, so that the clerk of the CJN could be served the court summons appropriately.
But when the trial resumed on Tuesday, Onnoghen was again not in court. His defence team, led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN), told the court that the CJN’s absence was due to the cases that were instituted against the tribunal’s proceeding.
In his opening address, FG prosecutor, Aliu Umar, asked the tribunal to issue a temporary order directing the CJN to step aside pending the determination of the suit. Umar also informed the tribunal that the federal government had written to Onnoghen requesting him to step aside, but said he was not sure whether he received the letter or not.
In response, Olanipekun pointed out that the CCT does not have the jurisdiction to make such an order. Besides, “we have an application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear this case, and that application has not been heard”.
The defence counsel urged the tribunal to adjourn the case indefinitely until the other court cases had been completed.
A federal high court had restrained the CCT from going ahead with the trial, but some say such an order can only be issued by the court of appeal because the CCT has parallel powers with the high courts. The Court of Appeal fixed January 24 for hearing on the matter.
Already, the bank accounts which the FG accused Onnoghen of not disclosing in his asset declaration form have been frozen. Onnoghen was reported to have explained that he forgot to include those bank accounts while filling out the asset declaration form.
There have been several arguments for and against Onnoghen’s ongoing corruption scandal. While many say the CJN is not above the law and should be made to face trial and punished accordingly if found guilty, others are of the opinion that the issue should first be referred to the National Judicial Council (NJC) before being taken to the courts.
The third school of thought believes that the whole corruption allegation against Onnoghen is politically motivated and is aimed at getting him out of the office ahead of the general elections.