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CJN Onnoghen ill; trial adjourned
Walter Onnoghen

CJN Onnoghen ill; trial adjourned

The trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, on failure to declare assets brought against him by the federal government was Tuesday stalled at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, in Jabi, Abuja, due to a sudden sickness he developed.

Onnoghen is standing trial on a six-count charge bordering on failure to declare some of his assets as required by law for public office holders.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been admitted to bail on self recognisance.

However at the resumed hearing Tuesday, Onnoghen was absent in court for the trial as required by law.

His lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, explained to the tribunal that Onnoghen’s absence was occasioned by a tooth-ache and high blood pressure which was said to be around 210/121.

The senior counsel tendered a medical report from Ideal Medical Services, Abuja where the defendant was said to have been treated.

The medical report signed by one Dr Francis Uche, the Medical Director of the hospital recommended among others that Onnoghen must observe 72 hours bed rest for his high blood pressure to be properly monitored.

Reacting to the development, counsel to the Federal government, Alhaji Aliyu Umar  SAN, admitted been copied with the letter and informed the tribunal that the issue of health is paramount in any human endeavour.

He however applied that the trial be adjourned till March 18 to enable Onnoghen have sufficient rest as recommended by his doctor.

The prosecution counsel said although his witnesses were in court and that he was ready to proceed with the trial, he however said that he had to concede to an adjournment because of the importance of the health of the defendant.

In his short ruling, the tribunal chairman, Danladi Yakubu Umar, agreed with the position of the prosecution and the medical report and shifted the trial till next Monday.

The Tribunal had on Monday deferred rulings in the two motions of Onnoghen, challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the criminal charges brought against him by the Federal government.

Also deferred is ruling in another motion in which Onnoghen prayed for the disqualification of the tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, from participating in the trial on account of demonstrated bias.

Delivering ruling in the two motions, argued by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN on behalf of Onnoghen, the CCT chairman announced that rulings had been reserved and shall be delivered along with the substantive suit.

Umar, also in the short ruling, invoked Section 296(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to arrive at his conclusion, adding that in line with the provisions of the law, ruling in all motions shall not be delivered until the final judgment of the main matter.

Besides, Umar ordered that proceedings against Onnoghen shall be conducted on a day-to-day so as to ensure speedy trial of the charges.

Earlier, Onnoghen insisted that the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has no jurisdiction to proceed with the six count charge brought against him by the Federal government.

Onnoghen told the tribunal that as a serving judicial officer, it is the National Judicial Council (NJC) that is vested with powers to entertain any misconduct against him.

In a motion dated January 14, 2019, Onnoghen through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, prayed the tribunal to strike out or dismiss the entire charges against him for want of jurisdiction.

Awomolo, cited sections 34 and 292 of the 3rd scheduled of the 1999 constitution as grounds that the CCT has no requisite power to deal with erring judicial officer without first resorting to the NJC.

He said the powers of the National Judicial Council are superior to that of the Code Conduct Bureau when it comes to the issue of judicial Officer, adding that in line with Section 292, the NJC must first indict a judicial Officer before any Judiciary measure can be taken.

The senior lawyer, reminded the tribunal that it had earlier recognized this position last year, when it declined to assume jurisdiction in the case of Federal government against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, a Supreme Court Justice, based on the Court of Appeal decision that ordered that serving judicial officers must first be referred to the NJC in matters of misconduct before prosecution in any other court.

Awomolo, accordingly urged the tribunal to maintain its earlier decision by striking out the charges against Onnoghen.

In the second application dated January 31, 2019 and predicated on Section 36 of the 1999 constitution, Onnoghen demanded that the chairman of the tribunal recuse or disqualify himself from further participating in the trial on the grounds of lack of fair hearing and likelihood of bias.

The defendant claimed that Umar had demonstrated sufficient bias against him in the conduct of proceedings and that it would be in the best interest of Justice for the CCT boss to step aside from the proceedings.

Onnoghen stated that in the instant case, the executive arm of government where Umar belongs to is the complainant, investigator, prosecutor and the judge contrary to the provisions of the law.

Responding, counsel to the Federal government, Aliyu Umar SAN, however urged the tribunal to dismiss Onnoghen’s application on the grounds that the application lacked merit.

He said there is a difference between a judicial misconduct and failure of a public Officer not complying with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau, adding that in the case of Ngajiwa cited by the defendant, Ngajiwa was accused of bribe taking, while the defendant in this case is charged with violating constitution provisions.

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