By Martins Odeh
The Court of Appeal on Thursday ordered a stay of proceedings on the trial of Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) until Jan. 30.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the order is sequel to an application by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) on behalf of the CJN.
Justice Abdul Aboki, leading two other justices of the appellate court, held that the order was a temporary stay pending ruling on a substantive motion brought by the CJN.
Olanipekun had approached the court praying for an order restraining the Code of Conduct of Tribunal (CCT) from proceeding with Onnoghen’s trial pending the determination of an application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
NAN recalls that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) had filed a six-count charge against Onnoghen bothering on allegation of non-assets declaration.
At the resumption of the trial on Jan.14, the arraignment of the defendant was stalled as his team of counsel claimed he was not properly served with the notice of summons.
However, on the following adjourned date, being Jan. 22, the tribunal was prepared to commence the trial when it had established that the defendant had been properly served with the notice of summons.
The process was stalled again with the absence of the defendant and a motion brought by Olanipekun urging the tribunal to restrain itself from continuing with the trial.
The defendant’s counsel had brought to the knowledge of the panel of three subsisting restraining orders from High Courts in Abuja barring it from continuing the trial.
Olanipekun had also insisted that the defendant’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to handle the matter should be treated first before any other proceeding could happen.
Malam Umar Aliyu (SAN), Counsel to the Federal Government, had objected to such order of trial, adding that the defendant must take his plea by being arraigned before any motion could be heard.
The prosecution had along the charge, filed an application urging the tribunal to order the stepping aside of the CJN pending the determination of the petition.
Chairman of the tribunal, Umar Danladi, went ahead to describe the orders from three High Courts restraining the tribunal from continuing with the trial as unconstitutional.
The Federal High Court, FCT High Court and the National Industrial Court at various times in Abuja gave the restraining orders halting the trial of the CJN pending the determination of suits bearing Danladi as defendant.
Aggrieved by the decision of the tribunal, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) also Counsel to Onnoghen, filed an appeal challenging the decision of the tribunal to continue with the trial.
Aboki held that the appellate court had no definitive order to make in the present circumstance and therefore went ahead to fix Jan. 24 to hear the merit of the appeal.
At the resumed session, Olanipekun had submitted that the tribunal was wrong to have discountenanced the restraining orders made by the three courts.
He said such action was capable of enthroning anarchy in the system if not checked.
Olanipekun, who cited many legal precedents to support his argument, said it was incumbent on the tribunal to respect the order of court and its practice direction.
He said the insistence of the tribunal to force the arraignment of the CJN when a motion challenging its jurisdiction was unknown to law.
Olanipekun also informed the court that three suits had been filed against the President Muhammadu Buhari, CCT, CCB, AGF and the chairman of the tribunal on matters that related to the trial of the CJN at the tribunal.
He said it was only just and fair for the tribunal to abide by the restraining orders in the trial of the CJN pending the determination of those suits.
Olanipekun therefore, prayed the court to stay proceedings at the tribunal pending the determination of all pending motions the defendants had brought before the appellate court.
Mr Oyekole Oso, Counsel for the Federal Government, raised objections on the issues canvassed by Olanipekun.
He said the orders made at three high courts were not binding on the tribunal, adding that the tribunal also had co-ordinate powers as those courts.
Oso said the applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated the willingness to submit himself for trial.
According to him, the interlocutory applications before the appeal would not stop the prosecution of the CJN at the tribunal.
Oso said the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal must be first heard at the tribunal, adding that the court should impress it on the applicant to stand justice at the tribunal.
He prayed the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.