The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, yesterday declined the request by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to make an order stopping the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) from proceeding with his trial.
The CCT had, on January 14, fixed January 22 for hearing in the six counts of false assets declaration filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) against Onnoghen.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had also filed a motion asking for an order directing Onnoghen to step down as the CJN pending the conclusion of his trial before the CCT.
Two non-governmental organisations, Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative and International Association of Students, had approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, praying for orders quashing the charges against the CJN.
In response to the NGOs, Justice Evelyn Maha of the Federal High Court, Abuja, issued two separate orders directing that the status quo should be maintained in Onnoghen’s case before the CCT.
In furtherance of the steps to stop Onnoghen’s arraignment before the CCT, his lawyers, led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, went before the Court of Appeal to obtain another restraining order against the CCT.
Awomolo told a three-man Court of Appeal panel, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, that the restraining order was necessary to preserve the subject matter of the case at the CCT.
But the Federal Government’s counsel, Emmanuel Omonuwa, said he was only served with the court process by Onnoghen’s legal team yesterday morning and he needed at least three days to reply.
After a short deliberation, the three justices of the appeal court declined granting Awomolo’s prayer to halt the CCT’s proceedings against the CJN.
“We are of the view that no form of order shall be made at this stage, pending hearing of motion on notice adjourned till January 24,” the panel ruled.
Meanwhile, the Justice Inyang Ekwo-led Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday restrained President Muhammadu Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) from removing Onnoghen from office pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed by Action Peoples Party (APP).
The court adjourned the hearing of the motion on notice to January 29 with an order to parties to maintain the status quo ante.
However, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Abuja reaffirmed its interim order of last week stopping the CCT proceedings against Onnoghen.
The industrial court gave the restraining order in a suit filed by a lawyer, Peter Abang.
The also ordered the service of an interim order and hearing notice on the chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar.
The orders follow the suit seeking to restrain the tribunal from persecuting Onnoghen.
At the hearing, counsel to the claimant, James Igwe, SAN, informed the court that originating processes and interim order had been served on all parties, except the tribunal’s chairman and the Senate President.
Igwe said it was the secretary to the tribunal’s chairman that received the document and not the chairman personally.
He, however, said the Senate President not being served was an oversight that should be corrected immediately.
The judge, Justice Sanusi Kado, therefore, ordered that the processes and interim order be served on the tribunal’s chairman through substituted means.
He equally ordered that notice should be placed on the wall of the tribunal’s office. He held that hearing notices should be served on all parties.
He also gave the order that the interim order made on January 14, restraining the defendants from further proceeding with the trial against the CJN, should subsist.
The judge adjourned the matter until January 30 for hearing of motion on notice of the interlocutory injunction in the substantive suit.
The CJN is facing a six-count charge before the CCT over alleged false declaration of assets. The trial is based on a petition filed by a group, the Anti-Corruption, Research and Data-based Initiative.
However, the claimant in the suit, Abang, has filed an ex parte motion before the court seeking an order to suspend the trial at the tribunal.
Joined as co-defendants in the suit are the CCB, Umar, the AGF and the National Judiciary Commission.
Others are the Federal Judiciary Service Commission, the Inspector-General of Police, Senate President Bukola Saraki, and National Judicial Council.
Mr. Garba Tetengi, defence counsel to the NJC was the only defence counsel in court.