Appeal Court Refuses to Stop Onnoghen’s Arraignment

Walter Onnoghen
Walter Onnoghen

 Courts order Buhari, others to maintain status quo

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, 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 alleged non-declaration of assets 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.

In a motion on notice, brought before the court yesterday, counsel to the applicant, 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 cease jurisdiction, pending the determination of the matter at the appellate court.

However, counsel to the federal government, Mr. 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, Omonuwa, however, said he came to court out of respect he had for the court.

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

But Omonuwa 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 Abdul Aboki, held that there was no need for another order and adjourning till January 24 for hearing of Onnoghen’s motion on notice.

Meanwhile, with Justice Onnoghen due to be arraigned before the CCT today, the Federal High Court in Abuja and National Industrial Court have reinforced its order restraining the tribunal from proceeding with the arraignment.

In the first order, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja restrained President Muhammadu Buhari and the CCT from taking further steps in the arraignment of Onnoghen.

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

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

The complainant in the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/67/2019, urged the court to among others order the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th defendants whether by themselves, officers, agents, servants, privies or otherwise however from removing the 3rd defendant (Onnoghen) as the CJN pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.

The plaintiff 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 (NJC) and as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria 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 for substituted service on the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants (Buhari, AGF and Justice Ibrahim Tanko) “by delivering the processes of the 1st defendant to the 2nd defendant at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja.

The processes are also to be delivered on the 3rd and 4th defendants to the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court at the apex court’s complex in Abuja.

In the second, the National Industrial Court reinforced its order restraining the tribunal from proceeding with the trial of the CJN.

The NIC had earlier on January 15 restrained the CCT from proceeding with the arraignment of the CJN before adjourning till January 22 for the hearing of motion on notice.

At the resumed sitting yesterday, the NIC renewed its restraining order against the CCT.

The reinforcement of the order followed an ex-parte application moved by the claimant’s counsel, James Igwe (SAN), who said there was difficulty in serving the CCT Chairman, Justice Umar, the court’s papers personally.

The only defendant at the hearing yesterday was the NJC represented by Dr. Garba Tetengi (SAN).