Andrew Orolua, Abuja
Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria ( CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen who standing trial on six count charge before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for failure to declare some of his assets on Monday asked the tribunal Chairman Hon Danladi Umar to rescue himself from the trial.
Though, the tribunal in a brief ruling suspended it decision on the applications filed by Justice Onnoghen till the date it will deliver final judgment on the trial, counsel to Onnoghen, Chief Adegboyaga Awomolo (SAN) who spoke at the trial made it clear that the objections of the defendant centred around jurisdiction.
Onnoghen who walked into the dock yesterday with his personal chair and sat all through the session, probably had hoped that he would get a date for ruling on his two applications that touches on jurisdiction.
Chairman of the tribunal however ruled contrary to that expectation and hung Onnoghen hope of early relieve from the case until the end of his trial.
The CJN who spoke through his lawyer, Awomolo SAN said the core of the application is an invitation for the tribunal to consider the plight of the defendant who is entitle to fair hearing under an independent Tribunal.
He said that the tribunal must not only be seen to be impartial but its independence must be clear to all who come before it. He said that the proceeding which the defendant is subjected to is fundamentally defective.
The defendant is facing a trial in which the accusers, prosecution ,investigation and the jury are same person.
Even a letter written by the chairman of the tribunal to the National Judicial Council (NJC), attested to this , when he explained that he is not accountable to the council but the President who appointed him.
Owomolo (SAN), said the second leg of Onnoghen fear is that he is being treated unfairly.
There is a grave fear of bias against the defendant/applicant. He urged the tribunal to hold that the circumstances of the case which were documented in the affidavit filed demonstrated impartiality.
The federal government , however, disagreed with Onnoghen application on the ground that the tribunal is part of the Executive arm.
Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN), who represented the federal government at the tribunal maintained that at all criminal trial , either police or any other law enforcement agencies must investigate while the office of the Attorney General prosecute the matter in Courts.
According to Umar, the situation above is similar to the case in hand at tribunal where the Code of Conduct Bureau investigated the defendant and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation is prosecuting.
He said that if the defendant had issue with composition of the tribunal , he should direct it on the act that established it.
He said that the tenure of members of the tribunal insured their independent .
Besides, if the tribunal were to accept the prayer of the defendant , nobody will present him or herself before it for trial.
Umar said however that the crux of Onnoghen complaint is the tribunal order that directed the President to suspend him from office.
Onnoghen, he said , had appealed against that decision and his appeal is pending at the Court of Appeal where ruling is reserved.
Umar said that the Court of Appeal has power to look into his complain and reach a decision that will bind the tribunal since the defendant feel strongly about it. So it is not an issue that should be reopened at the tribunal.
But Awomolo said that the record of the appeal was before the tribunal so it can not look into what was not before it.
The federal government also yesterday made an attempt to extend the tribunal order suspending Onnoghen from office.
Umar who orally move the application stated that its was necessary to give live to the exparte order whose life is limited to a certain period of time.
Umar said that the oral application for the extension will be moved today at the tribunal.
Earlier, yesterday Justice Onnoghen, while moving his first application had insisted that the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has no jurisdiction to proceed with the six count charge brought against him by the Federal government.
Onnoghen told the tribunal that as a serving judicial officer, it is the National Judicial Council (NJC) that is vested with powers, first to entertain any misconduct level against him .
In a motion dated January 14, 2019, Onnoghen through his counsel, Chief Awomolo (SAN), prayed the tribunal to strike out or dismiss the entire charges against him for want of jurisdiction.
Awomolo, cited sections 34 and 292 of the 3rd scheduled of the 1999 constitution as grounds that the CCT has no requisite power to deal with erring judicial officer without first resorting to the NJC.
He said the powers of the National Judicial Council are superior to that of the Code Conduct Bureau when it comes to the issue of judicial Officer, adding that in line with section 292, the NJC must first indict a judicial Officer before any legal action can be taken.
In the second application dated January 31, 2019 and predicated on section 36 of the 1999 constitution, Onnoghen demanded that the chairman of the tribunal rescue or disqualify himself from further participating in the trial on the grounds that of fair hearing and likelihood of bias.
The defendant claimed that Umar had demonstrated sufficient bias against him in the conduct of proceedings and that it would be in the best interest of Justice for the CCT chairman to step aside from the proceedings.
Onnoghen stated that in the instant case, the executive arm of government where Umar belongs to is the complainant, investigator, prosecution and the judge contrary to the provisions of the law.
Responding, counsel to the Federal government, Aliyu Umar (SAN), however urged the tribunal to dismiss Onnoghen’s applications on the grounds that the applications lacked merit.
He said there is a difference between a judicial misconduct and failure of a public Officer to comply with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau, adding that in the case of Ngajiwa cited by the defendant, Ngajiwa was accused of bribe taking, while the defendant in this case is charged with violating constitution provisions.
Hearing of the substantive matter continues Today at the tribunal.