Appeal Court Refuses to Stop Onnoghen’s CCT Trial

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* Fed High Court orders Buhari, others to maintain status quo

By Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal on Monday refused to stop the scheduled arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Abdul Aboki, refused Onnoghen’s request to stop his arraignment at the CCT while delivering ruling in an exparte application moved by Onnoghen’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN).

Onnoghen was initially scheduled for arraignment on January 14, 2019, over a six-count charge of false assets declaration filed against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), but the arraignment was adjourned to January 22, on account of improper service of the summons on the CJN.

But in a motion on notice brought before the court Monday, counsel to the applicant, Chief Awomolo, asked the Appeal Court to restrain the CCT from going ahead with the trial slated for January 22.

He also asked the court to stop the suit requesting him to step down as the CJN.

The senior lawyer submitted that it is settled law that once a matter is before the Appeal Court, trial courts ceases jurisdiction, pending the determination of the matter at the appellant court.

However, counsel to the federal government Emmanuel Omonuwa, who claimed he got to know of the matter on Monday and needed time to file a response, prayed the court for a short adjournment.

While he stated that the court process was served on the Federal Ministry of Justice at close of work on Friday, Omonua however said he came to court out of respect he has for the court.

Awomolo did not oppose the prayer for adjournment but sought order of the court to ask the respondent to maintain the status quo.

But Omonuwah countered that there were three orders stopping the trial already, adding that all the orders are subsisting and have not been set aside.

In a short ruling, Justice Aboki held that there was no need for another order and adjourned till January 24 for hearing of Onnoghen’s motion on notice.

Meanwhile, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja, has restrained President Muhammadu Buhari and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) from taking further steps in the trial of Justice Onnoghen.

The court also ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN); the CJN, Justice Onnoghen; Justice Ibrahim Tanko, a Justice of the Supreme Court; and the Chairman, CCT, Danladi Umar, to maintain the status quo ante pending the determination of the motion on notice.

The judge gave the interim orders after listening to a motion exparte brought by the Action Peoples Party.

The complainant in the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/67/2019 urged the court to, among others, order the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth defendants whether by themselves, officers, agents, servants, privies or otherwise however from removing the third defendant (Onnoghen) as the CJN pending the determination of the motion on notice.

The party also prayed the court for an order of interim injunction restraining them from appointing or directing the fourth defendant (Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad) to take over as the acting Chairman of the National Judicial Council and as the acting CJN pending the determination of the motion on notice.

The judge warned parties to observe the rule of law “by not doing anything that would tamper with the res (subject matter) in this matter pending the determination of the motion on notice”.

Before adjourning the case to January 29 for the hearing of the motion on notice, Justice Ekwo further ordered the substituted service on the first, third and fourth defendants (Buhari, AGF and Justice Ibrahim Tanko) “by delivering the processes of the first defendant to the second defendant at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja”.

The processes are also to be delivered on the third and fourth defendants to the chief Registrar of the Supreme Court complex.