Andrew Orolua, Abuja
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on Friday, faulted the order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 23, 2019 that suspended former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, from office.
But, the Court declined to make an order. It however stated that the CCT order which was challenged by an interlocutory appeal filed by Onnoghen breached his fundamental right to fair hearing.
Justice Stephen Adah stated this in a unanimous judgment in one of the four interlocutory appeals filed by Onnoghen.
Delivering the lead judgment, he said that justice must not be shrouded in secret as done in the granting of the ex-parte order by the tribunal on January 23, 2019. The appellate court stated that the manner in which the order of suspension was issued was shrouded in secret and raised questions because the parties have joined issues.
Further faulting the suspension, the Court of Appeal held that it was wrong for the tribunal to have decided the substantive matter with the interim injunction, as part of the complainant prayer sought in substantive matter includes an order suspending the CJN.
The appellate court said from the record of proceedings, parties have joined issues, only for the Federal Government to go behind to take order that affected the interest of the appellant, adding that Onnoghen’s fundamental right to fair hearing was breached.
The court however, refused to make any order against the suspension because his trial had been concluded and that an appeal on the substantive matter is pending before the court.
“Since the ex-parte order had been spent and cannot serve any useful purpose and judgment in the substantive matter had been delivered, the appeal is hereby struck out”, Justice Adah held.
Justice Adah in another appeal filed by Onnoghen on the bench warrant issued against him by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) struck out the appeal on the ground that the records of proceedings transmitted to the court did not show that bench warrant was issued and that there were no supplementary records to establish that warrant for arrest was issued.
“There is nothing in this appeal that requires the attention of the court, it is here by struck out”, Justice Adah held.
In the third appeal, which challenged the CCT’s decision to hear a motion challenging jurisdiction along with the main trial and deliver judgement same day, Justice Tinuade Akomolafe Wilson, who delivered the judgment, agreed with the Tribunal that the new law allow the action of the Tribunal.
Justice Wilson said that the general principle of law is that when jurisdiction of a court is challenged, the issue of jurisdiction must be first determined, but said that the specific legislation in Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 overrides the general principle of law. She therefore dismissed the appeal.
In the fourth interlocutory appeal by Onnoghen, on the refusal of the CCT to obey a Federal High Court, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and the National Industrial Court, Justice Peter Igeh held that the tribunal erred in law by disobeying the orders.
He said judgments, rulings, decisions and orders issued by court of law are sacrosanct and must be obeyed until they are set aside. Parties are bound by court orders and the order must not be treated with levity,” the justice held and added that the tribunal was bound by the order of the three courts.
He said what the tribunal ought to have done was to tarry a while and make effort to set aside the court orders to avoid foisting anarchy.
Justice Igeh said that the tribunal cannot sit as an appeal court over the decisions of the high courts, adding that “the rule of law must be allowed to circulate for peace.”
The appellate court however, disagreed with Onnoghen on his request for the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, to disqualify himself, adding that it was not established who the prejudicial statement made by the CCT chairman would have affected in the main trial.
The interlocutory appeals arose from the decision taken by tribunal during Onnoghen trial. CCT has since delivered it judgment and convicted Onnoghen and barred him from holding public for next ten years.
It also confiscated all monies found in his five bank accounts that were not declared in his Code of Conduct Bureau form.
However, Onnoghen’s three appeals challenging his conviction are pending before the Court of Appeal.