The Code of Conduct Tribunal has dismissed the preliminary objection raised by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, challenging his trial before the tribunal.
While assuming jurisdiction to adjudicate on the six count charge against Justice Onnoghen, the Tribunal in a ruling delivered by its chairman, Danladi Umar, overruled itself in its judgment that quashed a similar charge against another Justice of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta, on the ground that the NJC ought to have been allowed to look into the matter before the case was filed.
The Tribunal had while departing from the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391, held that Justice Onnoghen was not charged before it as a judicial officer but as a public officer in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act and the 1999 Constitution.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal was to the effect that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer, must first be reported to and handled by the NJC, pursuant to the provisions of the laws.
However, the CCT said although it respect the decision of the Court of Appeal and its judgment in the case of Justice Nwuta, “it will not hesitate to overrule itself having been satisfied that the case at hand is different.
“The tribunal hereby reversed itself in the case of Justice Nwuta. The preliminary objection of the defendant lacked merit and is hereby refused.”
The Tribunal equally rejected an application by Onnoghen asking the chairman of the tribunal to rescue himself from his trial on account of corruption charges against him by the EFCC, on the ground that the said charge against its chairman has since been withdrawn by the EFCC in November 2018.
Besides, the Tribunal held that a letter from the EFCC dated May 6, 2016, exonerated the chairman of allegation of corruption after a thorough investigation.
“Therefore, the chairman can never rescue himself. The tribunal hereby refused the application and the chairman is competent to adjudicate on the case.”
In addition, the Tribunal further held that the allegations by Onnoghen that he will not be given fair hearing because the Executive is the investigator and prosecutor lacked merit.
Umar noted that although the tribunal is not directly under the control of federal judicial service, “it does not mean that it will bound by the whims and caprices of the executive arm of government.
It further held that “Indeed, all judges of court of records are appointed by the president, that does not mean that judges are appendages of the Executive.
Having resolved all the preliminary issues against Onnoghen, the Tribunal is delivering its judgment on the substantive case.
The Federal Government had in the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/19, alleged that Onnoghen’s failure to properly declare his assets, was in violation of section 15(2) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
It further alleged that the ex-CJN, who was suspended from office by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, operated five foreign bank accounts, contrary to the code of conduct for public officers.