Assets declaration charge: FG snubs suit against Onnoghen’s trial

…as court re-activates order stopping arraignment at CCT

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal Government, on Thursday, shunned two separate suits seeking to abort the scheduled arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja, following his alleged failure to declare his assets.

Onnoghen
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen

The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had last Monday, okayed the suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 and FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019, for hearing.

The suits were lodged by the incorporated ‎Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, and the Incorporated ‎Trustees of the International Association of Students Economists and Management, respectively.

The groups had approached the high court to challenge the legal propriety of the six-count criminal charge that FG entered against Justice Onnoghen before the CCT.

On the strength of an ex-parte motion that was filed by the groups, the high court, ordered FG to suspend every move to dock the CJN over the charge before the tribunal, pending the determination of the suits.

The court, in a ruling that was delivered by Justice Evelyn Maha, specifically directed all the parties in the matter to maintain the status quo until all the legal issues that were raised in the suits, are resolved.

Justice Maha equally directed the plaintiffs to serve all the relevant processes, as well as hearing notices, on all the Defendants in the matter.

Whereas the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, the National Judicial Council, the Inspector-General of Police, ‎Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, were cited as Defendants in the first suit.

Listed as Defendants in the second suit were the AGF, the CCT, the CCB, the Chairman of CCT, and the Inspector-General of Police.

Meanwhile, at resumed proceedings on the two cases on Thursday, none of the Defendants, apart from the NJC, was represented in court.

Following a query from the Judge, counsel to the 1st Plaintiff, Mr. Lawal Rabana, SAN, notified the court that all the Defendants, except the Senate President, were duly served with both the processes and the enrolled interim order of the court stopping the planned arraignment.

He however applied for a short date to enable his client to effect service of the processes on Saraki, “in the interest of justice”.

The NJC which was represented by Dr. Garba Tetengi, SAN, confirmed that it was duly served with all the processes, saying it was not opposed to the Plaintiff’s request for adjournment.

Before she adjourned the case to January 28, Justice Maha ordered fresh service of the court summons on all the Defendants, even as she directed the Plaintiffs to include the date of service in the proof of service that will be filed before the court.

Besides, the court re-activated the restraining order it issued against Onnoghen’s trial, warning that none of the parties should take any step in the matter pending the determination of the Originating Summons before it.

Similarly, the National Industrial Court sitting in Abuja, equally fixed next week Monday to hear another suit that is also challenging FG’s powers to try Onnoghen before the CCT without recourse to the NJC.

It will be recalled that plans to dock the CJN failed last Monday after he refused to appear before the Justice Danladi Umar’s three-member tribunal to enter his plea to the charge FG levelled against him.

Rather, the embattled CJN, through a consortium of 86 lawyers that appeared in his defence, challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him.

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He contended that FG 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.

The CJN further argued that only after the NJC has pronounced against such judicial officer could prosecuting agencies of the Federal Government proceed to initiate a criminal proceeding.

Meanwhile, aside allegation that he failed to disclose his assets as prescribed by law, FG, in the charge that was filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, accused the CJN of operating foreign back accounts.

The prosecuting agency alleged that contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct of public office holders, the CJN, maintained a domiciliary foreign currencies account that comprised of Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account.

FG had since ordered the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, to immediately freeze the five bank accounts that were linked to the CJN.

In a memo that emanated from office of the AGF, the NFIU was directed to restrict banking activities on the accounts, pending the determination of the case against Onnoghen.

The CCT had earlier adjourned till next week Tuesday for FG to arraign the CJN who it ordered should be personally served with a copy of the charge against him.

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