The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) is protesting the Wednesday order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) to arrest the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, and produce him before it on Friday.
CUPP’s Spokesperson, Ikenga-Imo Ugochinyere, is alleging there is a backstage plot to compulsorily retire the embattled suspended CJN.
This is playing out as the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN is expressing shock on the arrest order by the Justice Danladi Umar’s CCT. This prominent activist lawyer is also accusing the CCT of subverting due process and the rule of law.
His words: ‘’I am shocked that the CCT will issue a bench warrant for the arrest of Justice Onnoghen, knowing full well that its jurisdiction to try the case has been challenged and the application on challenge is on the CCT docket, and no hearing has occurred.
‘’The CCT is aware that there is now before the National Judicial Council, a petition against Justice Onnoghen on exactly the same charges at the CCT. The CCT ought to await the outcome of the pending matters in the NJC, Appeal Court and Federal High Court. The conduct of the CCT subverts the Rule of Law and due process.’’
Onnoghen is already praying the Appeal Court in Abuja to stop his arrest as ordered by the CCT.
Umar however, made the arrest order in a ruling on the prosecution’s application for the issuance of the arrest warrant on the grounds that Onnoghen had continued to snub the tribunal by refusing to obey summons to answer to the charges of non-declaration of assets preferred against him by the Federal Government.
Before this development, the National Judicial Council’s (NJC) Information Director, Soji Oye, had said in a statement at the end of the ‘’continued emergency meeting’’ on Wednesday, that the council constituted a five-man panel to investigate the allegations levelled against Onnoghen and the Acting CJN.
Besides other petitions from some interest groups, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is accusing Onnoghen of having some suspicious lodgements of huge funds in his bank accounts.
Agbakoba is even requesting the NJC to sanction the Acting CJN for allegedly submitting himself to President Muhammadu Buhari to be sworn in without any recommendation by the council.
The NJC statement reads in part: ‘’In continuation of its Emergency Meeting, the National Judicial Council accepted the result of the preliminary assessment of the petitions against Justice Onnoghen, and Mr Justice I. T. Muhammad, that the petitions were worthy of further investigation and should not be terminated under Rule 17 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations of the Council.
‘’Consequently, the council constituted a five-member Investigation Committee pursuant to Rule 20 (1) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice S. A. Akintan, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
‘’A new petition against Justice Muhammad, by the Action People’s Party (APP) was referred to the Justice for his comments within abridged seven days. Council directed the Investigation Committee to work expeditiously, determine all the petitions and responses and report to the council for a final decision.’’
Danladi Umar had earlier dismissed the objection by the lead defence lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), to the application by the prosecution for the issuance of bench warrant against Onnoghen.
The lead prosecuting counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN), had orally applied for the arrest warrant following Onnoghen’s absence from the tribunal for the fifth time since January 14, 2019.
While Umar who based his application for Onnoghen’s arrest on Section 6(1) of the Practice Direction of the CCT, also opposed the call on the three-man tribunal by the defence to hear all pending applications, the prosecuting lawyer maintained that by virtue of Section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, no objections could be raised against the trial by the defendant until his arraignment.
The prosecuting counsel said Onnoghen having not taken his plea; the tribunal could not hear his objection to the charges. But Awomolo, in response, argued that Onnoghen was not duty-bound to appear in court while he was still challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the case.
He cited various judicial authorities to back his submissions as he urged the tribunal to give Onnoghen the opportunity of hearing all his three pending applications, in the same manner it accorded opportunity to the Federal Government in granting the ex parte application for the suspension of the CJN even while there was no prosecuting counsel to move it.
In a seeming dramatic turn, Umar after the close of arguments by both sides, quickly reached into his file for a hand-written ruling full of quotations of various Supreme Court and Court of Appeal’s authorities which he cited in issuing an arrest warrant against the suspended CJN.
He noted that the CJN had no justification to be absent from the Wednesday’s proceedings when the tribunal had earlier on February 4, ordered him to appear unfailingly, adding, ‘’in view of the above therefore, the tribunal, having given an order, on the last adjournment, directing the defendant/accused person to surrender himself before the raising of any objection about the validity of the charge against him and the tribunal; having given the accused person/defendant the opportunity to surrender himself on Wednesday, the tribunal has no option but to use every machinery at its disposal to compel the attendance of the accused person/defendant in court.
‘’Therefore, in the circumstance, the tribunal hereby issues a bench warrant to the Inspector-General of Police and or the Director General of DSS to apprehend the accused person/defendant and bring him to the tribunal on Friday (tomorrow) for the arraignment of the defendant/accused person.’’