Deji Elumoye and Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) yesterday adjourned till February 13, the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, insisting that the embattled CJN must appear for trial on the new date.
This is coming as the Senate yesterday ordered the discontinuation of its case before the Supreme Court, seeking the judicial interpretation of the suspension of the CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari, predicating its action on the intervention by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The adjournment of CCT was sequel to an oral application by counsel to the embattled CJN, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN).
Onnoghen is yet to be arraigned on a six-count charge bordering on non-disclosure of his assets preferred against him by the federal government.
The tribunal had last Friday fixed yesterday, February 4, for the arraignment of the chief justice as well as the hearing of all pending applications, shortly after the Court of Appeal in Abuja, dismissed Onnoghen’s motion on notice, seeking a temporary stoppage of his trial at the tribunal, pending the determination of his suit challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
When the matter was called yesterday, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN), informed the court that the matter was adjourned till yesterday for arraignment and hearing of two motions, one on preliminary objection to jurisdiction of the CCT and another one filed by the prosecution, asking for an order for the CJN to step aside.
However, defence team, led by Awomolo, drew the tribunal’s attention to the fact that the same petition forwarded to the Code of Conduct Bureau by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) has been forwarded to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Awomolo said since the NJC has sent the same petitions to the defendant to reply within seven days, which will lapse on Wednesday (tomorrow), February 6, it is in the interest of justice to allow NJC take a decision before continuing with the proceedings at the tribunal.
Prosecution counsel, however, said he was not opposed to the application for adjournment.
In a short ruling, tribunal Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, adjourned the matter till February 13 for the arraignment of Onnoghen and the hearing of all pending applications.
He, however, urged the defence team to ensure that the defendant physically appear in court at the next adjourned date, adding that “plea must be taken before the defendant can raise any objection regarding the case.”
Earlier, there was a mild drama when emotions were let loose between Awomolo and Umar.
Trouble started, when the CCT chairman interjected in the application for adjournment being moved by Awomolo.
Awomolo in moving the application noted that his client could suffer double jeopardy, if the application was not granted.
But interjecting, Umar insisted that the tribunal would go ahead with the preliminary objection brought by the defence challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
He said the approach of the defence counsel was tantamount to delay tactics in the hearing of the case.
He said with the experience of Awomolo in the bar, he did not expect him to come up with such approach.
Umar, accordingly, held that the matter would not be adjourned since the tribunal has assumed jurisdiction to hear the case.
In a swift reaction Awomolo stood up in anger to take exception to the remark of the chairman. He said that he has spent 25 years as Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and been in the bar for 45 years and cannot stand before the junior lawyers to be ridiculed and embarrassed by chairman of the tribunal.
At this point, prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar, urged the tribunal to stand down the matter for about 30 minutes to allow for calm.
When the tribunal reconvened after 30 minutes, Awomolo apologised to the tribunal over the altercation, adding that he has high respect for the tribunal.
Similarly, Aliyu Umar apologised on behalf of the bar, promising that such heated moment would not arise again while the matter lasts at the tribunal.
Also, the second member of the tribunal, Williams Atedze, apologised on behalf of the tribunal, just as the CCT chairman conceded to the adjournment and adjourned the matter till February 13.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, has adjourned till February 12, hearing in the three different appeals filed by the CJN.
When the matter came up yesterday, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), who led three other senior lawyers for Onnoghen, informed the appellate court of the decision by both the appellant and the respondent to have the three appeals heard together, so as to save the time of the court.
Uche told the three-man panel of the appellate court that he had already written a letter to the presiding justice, Justice Abdul Aboki, dated January 30, praying the court to determine the three appeals together and that the federal government as a respondent agreed to the position.
Counsel to the federal government, Oyin Koleoso, confirmed that the two parties have agreed that the three appeals be heard together.
Justice Stephen Adah adjourned hearing in the matter till February 12, in view of the urgency of the matter.
Senate Discontinues Case against Buhari, Lauds NJC
In a related development, the Senate yesterday directed the discontinuation of its case before the Supreme Court seeking judicial interpretation of the suspension of Onnoghen by Buhari.
The latest move by the Senate, according to a statement issued by the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, followed the intervention of the NJC on the matter.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly has decided to give the NJC intervention a chance, he said.
“The Senate has, therefore, decided to discontinue the case it filed in the Supreme Court. It should be noted that the case has been slated for hearing tomorrow.
“This decision also affirm the confidence of the Senate in the ability of the NJC to successfully and creditably resolve the issues,” the statement added
The Senate had last Monday directed its lawyer, Mr. Kanu Agabi, SAN, a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to approach the apex court to seek its interpretation of whether the president acted within the provisions of the Constitution in his suspension of the CJN.