Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Amidst heavy protest in Abuja for and against the suspension of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko presided over a five-member panel of Supreme Court justices who sat and heard some pending appeals before the court.
Meanwhile, staff in the office of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, have been allegedly turned back from their offices by security personnel.
Although the office not sealed, when our correspondent visited, police personnel led by an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Umar Abubakar, were positioned at the main entrance to the office.
He denied that the place was sealed adding that the police were there on normal duty.
However, the media aide to Justice Onnoghen, Mr. Awassam Bassey told our correspondent that staff working in the office of the suspended CJN were refused from accessing their offices.
“They denied them access into the offices and those who were there earlier were asked by the police to leave or risk being arrested. Although nobody turned me down when I went there but some of our staff were turned down. If you are saying the office is not sealed then what is the difference? Bassey reacted.
However, in the courtroom, the acting CJN, Justice Tanko presided over some pending appeals together with other justices of the court.
Those on the five-member panel of the Supreme Court Justices were Justice Mary Odili, Justice Adamu Galenje, Justice Kekere Ekun: Justice Hamiru Sanusi and Justice Abah Aji.
They presided over some pending appeals including Edak Okon Edak & ors V Patrick Archibong& ors: Eddy Motors Nig. Ltd V Mainstreet Bank Ltd, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) V Tony Anyawike, Nigerian Communications Commission vs Motorphone Limited & Anor and Alhaji Danyaya & Ors V Alhaji Ishiaku Yakubu among others.
Meanwhile, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), has adjourned further proceedings on the non-assets declaration charge the Federal government filed against the suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen, indefinitely.
The tribunal said its decision to suspend Justice Onnoghen’s trial was based on the order of the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
Chairman of the Tribunal, Danladi Umar said: “In view of the Court of Appeal order for stay of proceedings and out of respect for the Court of Appeal, the tribunal hereby adjourns this matter sine-die (indefinitely) pending the determination of the appeal before the Court of Appeal,” Mr. Umar ruled.
Only the CCT chairman and the third member of the panel, Mrs. Julie Amabo, attended the sitting.
The second member of the panel, Mr. William Agwaza was absent.
The CCT had on January 22, adjourned to today January 28, for hearing on the motion filed by Onnoghen, challenging the tribunal’s powers to hear the charge against him.
Umar had fixed Monday, January 28, for the hearing of the motion after he held that the CCT was not bound by court orders halting the trial at the CCT.
At the resumed hearing, CCT Chairman, Umar and another member, Mrs Juli Anabor sat, while the other member of the panel, Williams Agwaza, was however absent.
Agwaza had given a dissenting ruling on January 22 holding that the tribunal ought to defer to the orders of the Federal High Court, FCT High Court, and the National Industrial Court on the grounds that a valid order of the court must be obeyed until it was set aside.
When the matter was called, counsel to the Federal government, Musa Ibrahim, drew the tribunal’s attention to the appellate court order and applied for an adjournment pending the ruling of the Court of Appeal slated for January 30.
Defence counsel led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), however, did not oppose the request for adjournment but, complained bitterly about the challenges faced by defence in obtaining the records of the tribunal.
Meanwhile, another defence lawyer, Chris Uche (SAN), who was mandated by Agabi to speak with journalists outside the court disclosed that the defence was already probing the circumstances in which the tribunal issued the exparte order directing President Muhammadu Buhari to place the CJN under suspension pending the determination of the charge against him at the CCT.
He said the defence was surprised at how the order was made, served and implemented even when the matter was already adjourned till January 28 for the hearing of all pending motions.
Uche said with the suspension of the CJN, it appeared the complainant had already achieved its aim and the case looking lifeless but that the defence was hopeful that justice would still be done in this matter.
Buhari had announced the suspension of Onnoghen as CJN. Buhari also immediately swore in the next in line to Onnoghen, Justice Tanko Muhammad in an acting capacity as CJN and head of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The president based his action on a purported exparte order by the CCT obtained on January 23. The CCT in the said ruling of January 23 had ordered Buhari to suspend Onnoghen pending the determination of the charge of non-declaration of assets pending at the CCT.
It also ordered Buhari to swear in the most senior justice of the Supreme Court as acting CJN and adjourned till Monday, January 28 for the hearing of the motion on jurisdiction.
It would be recalled that Mr. Agwaza had openly disagreed with the Tribunal’s chairman over the procedure adopted in the trial of the suspended CJN.
The Chairman, Umar, relied on Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, to reject a motion Justice Onnoghen filed for the tribunal to suspend his trial and await the outcome of his appeal.
On the other hand, Mr. Agwaza relied on Section 287(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and plethora of Supreme Court decided cases, to insist that the CCT panel ought to have respected four different interim injunctions that restrained all the parties, including the tribunal from taking further steps in the matter.