CCT serves Onnoghen trial notice

Yusuf ALLI, Managing Editor, Northern Operation

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), yesterday served the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, a trial notice ahead of  his arraignment on Monday.

In addition,the Federal Government has filed a motion seeking an interlocutory order to give legal backing to the January 25,2019  suspension of Onnoghen pending the determination of his case   at the CCT.

The Nation gathered yesterday that  the earlier ex parte order cited by President Muhammadu Buhari in suspending  Onnoghen ought not to last more than two weeks.

Confusion is also brewing over a petition sent to  the National Judicial Council(NJC) , by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, against the CCT Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar.

The petition has been referred to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC).

It was gathered that Umar, at his inauguration,  only took the oath of office for public officers and not the one for  judicial officers.

This,some people say,means he is not a judicial officer  per se but a public officer and thus cannot be disciplined by the FJSC.

However, Onnoghen backers think otherwise.

They insist that  the FJSC can exercise disciplinary control on the CCT chairman by applying  the provisions of paragraph 13 part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The FJSC was yet to act on Agbakoba’s petition against the chairman of CCT at press time.

Sources said yesterday that  the CCT had served hearing notice on Onnoghen and expects the suspended  CJN to be personally present at Monday’s sitting.

The notice followed   Wednesday’s decision of the Court of Appeal that  the proceedings of the tribunal cannot be stayed.

The three-man panel said the Supreme Court had, in its a ruling on Saraki v the Federal Republic of Nigeria, declared  that the CCT is a “peculiar tribunal with quasi-criminal jurisdiction of which proceedings cannot be stayed.”

Although the CCT on Wednesday said it would  communicate a new trial date to all the parties before it, our correspondent exclusively gathered that Onnoghen has been notified of his trial on Monday.

It was also learnt that the tribunal has decided to sit   daily to ensure a speedy trial of the case.

A source familiar with the development  said: “The CCT notified the CJN through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun(SAN) and Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN) as  mutually agreed with the tribunal.

“At the previous sitting of the tribunal, the counsel asked the court to always relate with them on any communication or notice for the CJN. They are on record on this request which was granted.

“Once the trial begins on Monday, the CCT will sit every day to enable all the parties make their submissions. There are two applications pending before the tribunal including the defendant’s challenge of the jurisdiction of the court and a motion for an interlocutory order.

“With the ruling of the Court of Appeal, the jurisdiction is already resolved in favour of the tribunal. But the prosecution will have to argue its motion on interlocutory injunction to allow the CJN to remain on suspension till the determination of the case.

“The truth is that the ex parte order, which President Muhammadu Buhari relied upon to suspend Onnoghen,  has a lifespan of two weeks. This is why the government is seeking an interlocutory injunction for the CJN to be on suspension while his trial lasted.

“The tribunal will listen to all parties and deliver a ruling on the interlocutory application. If it issues the order, Onnoghen will be on suspension but if otherwise, the government has no choice than to reinstate the CJN in compliance with the order of the CCT.”

Confusion over Agbakoba’s petition

Agbakoba in his  petition against the CCT chairman gave reasons why he  should not preside over the trial of the CJN.

Investigation revealed that the NJC  has referred the  petition to FJSC.

A highly-placed source said: “Some issues have arisen over the petition sent to FJSC because the CCT chairman is not a judicial officer per se. He is not on the judiciary  payroll and he reports to the presidency.

“When sworn in, the CCT chairman only took  the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office meant for public officers.  The Judicial Oath was not administered on him.

“The CCT chairman does not collect judicial remunerations and allowances.

“I think the framers of the constitution anticipated this kind of situation and they left CCT on its own without any influence either from the Executive or the Judiciary.

“If the CCT chairman had been a judicial officer, he would  not be in a position to try the CJN who will be his boss.

“Also, if you look at the Judicial Oath in the Seventh Schedule to 1999 Constitution, only the CCT chairman was left out of the list of those who should take it.

The Judicial Oath reads: “I, …… do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that as Chief Justice of Nigeria/Justice of the Supreme Court/President/Justice of the Court of Appeal/Chief Judge/Judge of the Federal High Court/Chief Judge/Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja/Chief Judge of …… State/Judge of the High Court of …… State/Grand Kadi/Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja/ Grand Kadi/Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of …. State/President/Judge of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja/President/Judge of the Customary Court of Appeal of ……… State. I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability and faithfully in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, that I will abide by the Code of Conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions; that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”?  But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who spoke in confidence, said the FJSC can exercise disciplinary control on the CCT chairman.

The SAN said:  “I think the NJC was right in referring Agbakoba’s petition against Danladi Umar  to the FJSC. The CCT chairman is no an island unto himself.

“If you look at paragraph 13 part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,  FJSC is empowered to discipline the CCT chairman.

The section says: “The Federal Judicial Service Commission has power to: (a).   Advise the National Judicial Council in nominating persons for appointments to the office of :

  • The Chief Justice of Nigeria,
  • A Justice of the Supreme Court,
  • The President of the Court of Appeal,

A Justice of the Court of Appeal,

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court,

A Judge of the Federal High Court,

The President of the National Industrial Court;

A judge of the National Industrial Court; and

the Chairman and Members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal,

b).    Recommend to the National Judicial Council the removal of any of the Judicial Officers mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above

c).     Appoint, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over the Chief Registrars and Deputy Chief Registrars of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court and all other members of the staff of the Judicial Service of the Federation not otherwise specified in this Constitution and of the Federal Judicial Service Commission.”

As at press time, the FJSC was yet to  serve the CCT chairman any copy of the petition by  Agbakoba.

Another  source said: “I think the FJSC is also weighing options on the petition and issues around the trial of the CJN  and the status of the CCT chairman.

“If you look at the composition of the NJC, the CJN is the chairman. Both  Onnoghen and the Acting CJN,  Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad who should preside over FJSC have been queried by the National Judicial Council(NJC).

“Also, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami(SAN), who is a member of the FJSC, is in charge of the OAGF prosecuting CJN Onnoghen.

“The case at hand is jut interwoven. The more issues crop up, the more complex we dip into crisis in the Judiciary.”

Paragraph 12, part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, stipulates the composition of Federal Judicial Service Commission as follows:

The Federal Judicial Service Commission shall comprise the following members:

1.The Chief Justice of Nigeria, who shall be the Chairman;

  1. The President of the Court of Appeal;
  2. The Attorney-General of the Federation;
  3. The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court;
  4. The President of the National Industrial Court;
  5. Two persons, each of whom has been qualified to practice as a Legal Practitioners in Nigeria for a period of not less than fifteen years, from a list of not less than four persons so qualified and recommended by the Nigerian Bar Association; and
  6. Two other persons, not being Legal Practitioners, who in the opinion of the President are of unquestionable integrity.

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