The trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen over alleged non declaration of assets took a dramatic turn as the Code of Conduct Tribunal yesterday ordered security agencies to arrest and produce him before the tribunal for trial on Friday.
The tribunal specifically directed the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu.and the Director General of the Department of State Service, DSS, Yusuf Magaji Bichi to effect the arrest of Justice Onnoghen and produce him before the court on the adjourned date.
The federal government had accused Justice Onnoghen of failing to declare his assets as prescribed by the law, as well as operating foreign bank accounts in contravention of the code of conduct for public officials.
The order of the Mr. Danladi Umar-led three-man tribunal was sequel to an application for a bench warrant to be issued against the suspended CJN.
His application was predicated on the failure of Justice Onnoghen to appear before the tribunal.
When the case was called yesterday, the prosecution counsel Aliyu Umar drew the attention of the tribunal to the absence of the defendant in court.
Accordingly, he applied for a bench warrant against him relying on the provisions of section 6 (1) of the CCT Practice Direction and section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
“May I draw your attention and the honorable members to the fact that the defendant is not in court today. “I hereby humbly apply for a warrant of arrest against the defendant”, Umar stated.
But Onnoghen’s, counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, opposed the application and urged the tribunal to refuse same.
Rather, he prayed the tribunal to proceed with hearing his client’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT and legal competence of the charge against him.
In addition, Onnoghen’s counsel relied on section 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to argue that the tribunal ought to first determine the issue of its integrity and impartiality, before proceeding with the trial.
He further argued that the presence of the defendant was not mandatory during hearing of an objection to the charge, adding that the Mr. Danladi Umar led tribunal earlier adjourned to hear all the pending
“The defendant is entitled to fair trial and fair hearing and the constitution has mandated that he must be afforded every facility to establish his innocence. “A criminal trial is a serious matter that affects the liberty of a citizen.
“The application that the tribunal should issue a bench warrant is persecuting by the prosecution. The tribunal is urged to preserve the defendant’s rights”, Awomolo pleaded.
In the ruling, Umar ordered that a bench warrant be issued against Onnoghen for his arrest either by the Inspector General of Police or the Director General of the Department of State Services and to produce him before the Tribunal on Friday.
Umar said that Onnoghen must be in the dock on Friday unfailingly, adding that he must first submit himself to the jurisdiction of the CCT before raising any objection he has to the trial.
“I recall at the last adjournment that the defendant must appear in court today. My memory is Intact, but since he has chosen not to be in court, this Tribunal has no option other than to use machinery at its disposal to compel the appearance in court.
“For this reason, bench warrant is hereby issued to the Inspector General of Police or the Director General of the Department of State Services to produce him before this Tribunal on Friday.
“He must be in the dock on Friday unfailingly”, he said.
Umar, who did not allow the two other members of the Tribunal, William Atedze and Juli Anabor to make input or react to the ruling announced that the matter be adjourned till Friday.
Meanwhile, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba, has said that the arrest warrant against Onnoghen by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), is a step taken too far.
On Wednesday, the CCT ordered the nation’s security agencies to arrest Onnoghen for failing to appear before it. Reacting to the arrest warrant issued against Onnoghen, Agbakoba said the CCT subverted due process and the rule of law.
He argued that the tribunal ought to have waited till the application challenging its jurisdiction to entertain the matter has been heard.
“I am shocked that the Code of Conduct Tribunal will issue a Bench warrant for the arrest of Hon. Justice Walter Onnogen, 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,” Agbakobs said.
“The CCT is aware that there is now before the National Judicial Council, a petition against Justice Walter Onnogen 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.”
In another development, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has constituted a five-man probe panel under the chairmanship of Justice S. A. Akintan, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, to investigate petitions against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen as well as the acting CJN. Justice Ibrahim Tanko.
The NJC took the decision yesterday at its emergency meeting where it accepted the result of the preliminary assessment of the petitions against Justice Onnoghen and Justice Tanko.
The meeting held that the petitions against the two judicial officers were worthy of further investigation and should not be terminated under Rule 17 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations of the Council.
The decision of the Council was in line with Rule 20 (1) of its Regulations.