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Onnoghen’s trial must continue, FG tells CCT

I deserve fair hearing, suspended CJN insistslAs tribunal orders day-to-day hearing

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA—The Federal Government, yesterday, explained why it would pursue the six-count charge initiated against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to its logical conclusion.

The government, through its lawyer, Mr. Aliyu Umar, SAN, insisted that Justice Onnoghen, who was suspended from office by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, acted in breach of the oath he took as a public officer.

It maintained that contrary to Onnoghen’s contention, he was not charged for misconducting himself as a judicial officer, but for violating the code of conduct for public officers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

Onnoghen
Justice Onnoghen

The government said it was, therefore, unnecessary for it to first, channel the allegation against the suspended CJN to the National Judicial Council, NJC, for consideration since the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, was statutorily empowered to investigate and prosecute such infraction.

Consequently, it urged the Danladi Umar-led three-man panel tribunal to okay full-blown hearing of the charge against Onnoghen.

I deserve fair hearing, suspended CJN insists

Government took the position on a day the suspended CJN, who mounted the dock for the second time, challenged the powers of the tribunal to entertain the charge, which he said was grossly bereft of any merit.

Onnoghen, through his lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awolowo, SAN, said he was afraid that he would not be accorded fair hearing by the tribunal he described as an appendage of the Presidency.

He insisted that he was entitled to fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, under section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

Specifically, the defendant argued that the CCB, which recommended his trial; Attorney-General of the Federation, who is prosecuting him, and the tribunal itself, were all answerable to the executive arm of the government.

“The tenet of fair hearing is that no one should be a judge in his own case. It is our position that the principle of natural justice, equity and good conscience requires that the defendant’s right to fair hearing deserve a thorough examination by this tribunal,” Awomolo submitted.

He noted that chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Umar, had in a recent letter to the NJC, made it clear that he was only answerable to the Presidency.

“We agree with that position. In the interest of justice, we urge my lords to hold that from circumstances demonstrated in the affidavit, without freedom and impartiality of the tribunal, right of fair hearing of the defendant would be jeopardised,” Awomolo added.

 Tribunal orders day-to-day hearing

Meanwhile, in a bench ruling, chairman of the CCT, Mr. Umar, relied on section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA,  2015, and Paragraph 5(5) of the Practice Direction of the CCT, and held that ruling on Onnoghen’s objections would be delivered alongside the substantive judgement.

Umar equally held that the tribunal was empowered under section 396(3) of the ACJA to conduct day-to-day trial of the matter.

He said the decision to conduct the trial with utmost dispatch was owing to the sensitive nature of the case and the pivotal role the leadership of judiciary plays in ensuring stability and preventing the nation from descending into lawlessness and chaos.

 

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