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The case of Justice Walter Onnoghen, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, has been adjourned at the Code of Conduct Tribunal Monday, February 4, 2019, a few minutes after the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, and Justice Walter Onnoghen’s defence counsel led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo engage in a hot exchange of words.
Reports say that the argument began after the tribunal Chairman insisted that proceedings must continue despite the agreement by the lawyer to the prosecution, Aluyu Umar (SAN) and Awomolo, that the case should be adjourned to a later date just the negotiation is ongoing on how to settle the case out of court.
A few minutes after, the case has been adjourned, The Punch reported.
Last, report from Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, said a team of lawyers who are on the side of the troubled CJN were in Aso Rock to push for “settle out of court” or possibly drop the charges against Onnoghen after other options had failed.
Onnoghen’s lawyers had tried to sue the Federal Government on his suspension, but that seemed not going to work before they resort to lobbying at the Aso Rock, the seat of power.
Apart from his lawyers, a Lagos lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Femi Falana (SAN), is one of the prominent lawyers in Nigeria pushing for the case to be dropped so that the office of the CJN wouldn’t be dragged in the mud.
Falana was quoted as saying he made the request having confirmed that a petition had been submitted to the National Judicial Council alleging grave misconduct against Onnoghen.
In February 3 letter addressed to the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Falana urged him to advise President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the suspension because a public officer could not be removed from office on the basis of an ex parte order granted by any Court or Tribunal in Nigeria.
Falana’s letter read:
“Since the charge of false declaration of assets was filed against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, by the Code of Conduct Bureau, I have repeatedly requested you to use your good offices to discontinue the case. My request was anchored on the case of Elelu-Habeeb v Attorney-General of the Federation & Ors (2012) 40 WRN 1 where the Supreme Court held that by virtue of Section 292 of the Constitution of Nigeria the head of any of the judicial arms of State and Federal Governments cannot be removed from office without a prior investigation conducted by the National Judicial Council.
“Having confirmed that you have since submitted a petition to the National Judicial Council alleging grave misconduct against the Chief Justice, I am compelled to request you, once again, to file a nolle prosequi to discontinue the charge pending against his Lordship at the Code of Conduct Tribunal without any further delay.
“The charge should not be allowed to hang like a Sword of Damocles on the head of the Chief Justice while he is being investigated by the National Judicial Council. In view of your implicit confidence in the ability of members of the National Judicial Council to resolve the matter you ought to accede to the request to terminate the proceedings at the Code of Conduct Tribunal forthwith.”
Falana posited that the withdrawal of the case from the Code of Conduct Tribunal would lead to the immediate vacation of the ex parte order relied upon by the President to justify the illegal suspension of Onnoghen and the appointment of Justice Tanko Mohammad as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Even though by virtue of Paragraph 10 (2) (a) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) the Code of Conduct Tribunal is empowered to order any public officer to vacate office the power cannot be exercised until such a public officer has been tried and convicted for breaching the provisions of the code of conduct for public officers.
“But as a public officer cannot be removed from office on the basis of an ex parte order granted by any Court or Tribunal in Nigeria we urge you to advise President Buhari to reverse the suspension of the Chief Justice.
“Once the suspension is reversed Justice Walter Onnoghen will then be prevailed upon to resign as the Chief Justice having lost the moral authority to preside over the affairs on the juridical organ of the Government of the Federation.
“However, if his Lordship does not call it quits or if the National Judicial Council does not recommend his removal from office you may wish to exercise your powers under section 174 of the Constitution to prosecute him for failure to declare his assets which is a punishable offence under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
As the case continued, we will keep you updated.