The first hearing in the false asset declaration suit filed against Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen opened on Monday at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja has been adjourned till January 22 (Next week Tuesday).
The scheduled trial, which has sparked reactions across the the country with many accusing the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration of trying to oust the chief judge shortly before presidential election, to ensure he faces no risk of unfavourable court decision should the poll be disputed.
At the hearing on Monday, dozens of senior lawyers stormed the court to defend the chief justice who was conspicuously absent.
Wole Olanipekun (SAN) led a team of 46 other senior lawyers to enter defence for the chief justice.
Onnoghen, Nigeria’s 17th Chief Justice, is the first serving Chief Justice to be arraigned for criminal offences. There is no immediate record of any former chief justice being charged in a similar manner, either.
How the charges were filed has been amongst the most controversial aspects of the development since its disclosure on Saturday.
The petition was forwarded to the Code of Conduct Bureau on January 9 by Dennis Aghanya, a former media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari and a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Enugu State.
They rely on a decent decision of the Appeal Court in Lagos, which said the NJC must first sanction a serving Judge before they can be arraigned in any court.
Although that Appeal Court judgment, which was delivered against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was appealed by the anti-graft office to the Supreme Court, no verdict had been reached on the matter.
Onnoghen, who was confirmed Chief Justice in March 2017, is from Cross River State.
On Sunday, five governors of the South South region, where where the embattled CJN hails from, held an emergency meeting and urged the jurist to ignore the charges and not attend the trial.
how the trial went in court
Meanwhile, when Danladi Umar, the Code of Conduct Tribunal chairman, called the CJN’
“You have to first determine whether you have the jurisdiction to try this matter,” Olanipekun said to the tribunal chairman.
Olanipekun said the CJN has not been indicted by the National Judicial Council (NJC) as legally required of serving judges before his matter was picked up by the tribunal following a petition filed by a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Olanipekun also said Onnoghen was not given enough time to prepare for his arraignment before being summoned by the tribunal.
The prosecution lawyer, Aliyu Umar, however said he had just been served with the application and argues that the arraignment ought to have taken place before any application is brought.
Responding, Olanikpekun, asked if the tribunal had ordered a specific date for the arraignment.
Olanipekun said the prosecution cannot talk of the arraignment of the person who has not been properly served and who has even appeared in protest of the matter.
the prosecution counsel, however said there is no law that states a defendant shall refuse to appear before a court and say that he is contesting a suit.
“He should be here. He may refuse to be arraigned and say that he is contesting the case,” he said.
To which Olanipekun responded, “My learned friend with due respect is talking of what he thinks. We are talking of the law”.
Reading through a 2018 judgement, Olanikpekun insisted that the arraignment cannot start where there is a problem with the process.
“He said the presence of the accused person is only mandated when the trial officially commences.”
Aliu responded by saying that no application should be heard where a plea has not be taken.
He has asked the tribunal to give an order that the CJN be served again, but on a personal note.
Umar also asked that a date be selected this week to serve the CJN.
However, Olanikpekun insisted that the date cannot be within this week because the matter involves direct service to the CJN.
Following pleas by Olanikpekun, the tribunal adjourned the matter till next Tuesday.