CCT defers rulings on jurisdiction to try Onnoghen

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The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) yesterday deferred rulings on two separate motions filed by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. The motions are challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the criminal charges brought against Justice Onnoghen by the Federal Government. The tribunal also reserved ruling on another motion wherein Onnoghen prayed for the disqualification of the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar, from participating in the trial on grounds of bias.

After hearing the argument on the two motions by the defence counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), the CCT chairman said rulings had been reserved and would be delivered along with the substantive suit. Umar also invoked Section 296 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to arrive at his conclusion that “in line with the provisions of the law, rulings in all motions shall not be delivered until the final judgment of the main matter.

He consequently ordered that proceedings against Onnoghen shall be conducted on a daily basis so as to ensure speedy trial of the charges. On that ground, he unilaterally adjourned the matter till today for continuation of the trial.

Justice Onnoghen had insisted that CCT had no jurisdiction to proceed with the six-count charge brought against him by the Federal Government. He 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, Awomolo (SAN), prayed the tribunal to strike out or dismiss the entire charges against him for want of jurisdiction. He held that the powers of NJC are superior to that of the Code Conduct Bureau on issues affecting judicial officers.

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 excuses or disqualifies himself from further participating in the trial for likelihood of bias. He 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.

But in his argument against the motion, the prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN), urged the tribunal to dismiss Onnoghen’s application for lacking in merit. He stated that there was a difference between a judicial misconduct and failure of a public officer to comply with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau.