Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal has reserved judgment on the multiple appeals lodged by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Justice Stephen Adah, leading a three-man panel of the appellate court, adjourned the four appeals for judgment after listening to submissions made by both Onnoghen and the Federal Government.
Justice Onnoghen’s counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, had in his submissions told the court that the Federal Government acted on “a questionable ex parte order” to suspend his client from office.
He also informed the court that the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on January 23 surreptitiously issued an ex parte order for his removal, a day after it had adjourned further proceedings on the six-count charge the FG preferred against him, till January 28.
Uche argued that it was legally wrong for the CCT to issue such ex-parte order when there was a pending motion questioning its jurisdiction to entertain the charge.
He further argued that such an order, which have far reaching consequences that impact on the rule of law, should not have been made ex parte.
“The tribunal ought to have determined the issue of jurisdiction first. We also want to urge your lordships to examine the circumstances surrounding the granting of that ex parte order.
“The processes showed that no counsel applied for the order, even though it indicated that the respondent’s lawyer was present when it was signed.
“We would not know if after the January 22 proceeding when the tribunal adjourned the case in the presence of all the parties, he later went back to the tribunal, behind the Appellant.
“We urge this court to interrogate the circumstances which we consider questionable and to set aside the ex parte order that asked the Appellant to step aside as the CJN,” Uche submitted.
He prayed the appellate court to allow all the four appeals marked CA/A/44c/2019, CA/A/CA/A/63c/19, CA:A/70c/2019 and CA/A/114c/2019.
Meanwhile, there was mild drama in court after counsel to the Federal Government, Alhaji Aliyu Umar, SAN, whose name appeared on the controversial ex parte order, said he took exception to the claim that he was the one that obtained it from the CCT.
“My lords, I want to take exceptions that he said I went back after the initial adjournment. Who said I was there? Did the record say that I was there?,” Aliyu queried.
But when a copy of the ex parte order was shown to him, Umar did confirm that his name was written on it.
Having confirmed the existence of his name on the order, Onnoghen’s counsel urged the court to take judicial notice of the development.
“My lords, it is very instructive that he was not aware that he was there. What we are asking my lords is to find our who moved that ex parte application,” Onnoghen’s lawyer added.
Regardless, the Federal Government, urged the appellate court to dismiss Onnoghen’s four appeals as grossly lacking in merit, and to uphold all the preliminary objections it raised against them.
Umar maintained that the appellate court was bereft of sufficient materials that would enable it to successfully evaluate the circumstance that culminated to the ex parte order that President Muhammadu Buhari relied on to suspend Onnoghen on January 25.
“We urge your lordships to dismiss the appeal as lacking in merit and also refuse the reliefs sought,” he added.
Justice Onnnoghen, in his first appeal, is challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the charge against him. He argued that being a serving judicial officer, FG ought to have channeled allegations against him to the National Judicial Council (NJC) before it entered the charges.
Secondly, he queried the legal propriety of a ruling the CCT gave on January 14, wherein it decided to hear preliminary objection challenging the competence of the charge, alongside the motion FG filed for him to step-aside as both the CJN and Chairman of the NJC.
In his third appeal, Onnoghen challenged the ex parte order that led to his eventual suspension, while the fourth appeal is seeking to invalidate the warrant of arrest the CCT panel issued against him on February 13.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had vacated the bench warrant after Onnoghen voluntarily submitted himself for trial on February 15. FG had in the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/2019 alleged that the suspended CJN failed to declare his assets as prescribed by the law, as well as maintaining foreign bank accounts.