Lawyers speak as High Court stops CJN Onnoghen’s trial

Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen
Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen

An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Monday restrained the Code of Conduct Tribunal from proceeding with the trial of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen for alleged false asset declaration.

The allegations against Mr Onnoghen were raised in a petition by a former official of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change, a party formed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The case which was has been described by many lawyers as an attempt to intimidate the judiciary, was suspended to January 22, after Mr Onnoghen’s lawyers challenged the jurisdiction on Monday and argued that their client was not properly served.

The CJN was also absent at the first trial on Monday.

Following two separate ex-parte applications seeking the same objective at the federal high court, a judge, N.E Maha, directed that parties involved in the matter appear before it on Thursday to explain why the trial should not be halted.

The ruling, reported by the Punch Newspaper, added that the parties expected to appear in court on Thursday include the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the National Judicial Council, headed by Mr Onnoghen and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.

The applications were brought by the incorporated trustees of two groups: the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, and the International Association of Students Economists and Management.

In various reactions, lawyers explained the implication of the ruling on the ongoing CCT trial.

Simon Ameh, a senior advocate of Nigeria, told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that said the tribunal is under an obligation to obey the federal high court.

“A Federal High Court can order a temporary stay of proceedings at the CCT. Though the court is also willing to finish with its matter before the next adjourned date at the CCT, being the 22,” he said.

“But FHC can restrain the CCT and it will be under obligation to obey the order. But they can also decide to disobey it and be ready to face whatever punishment that the court, in this case the FHC, will give it.”

Another senior advocate, Chijioke Okoli, said the federal court was only exercising its right of judicial review of matters within a lower court.

“The CCT is not a superior court of record. So that being the case, the FHC can control it by means of judicial review,” he said. “It is the class of action called judicial review and control of inferior tribunals. In this situation an administrative action may be to quash the proceedings for excess of jurisdiction.

“Under the judicial review, the high court can control the proceedings in an inferior court. Tribunal members are not judicial officers,” Mr Okoli told PREMIUM TIMES.

In a similar opinion, another lawyer, Ngozi Ikenga, says the two courts are not the same in many ways.

“CCT cannot be the same jurisdiction with the federal high court. Appeal moves from the CCT to the federal high court. The CCT is a tribunal while the federal high court is a court of higher authority. The FHC can restrain the CCT and it will have the obligation to obey,” Mrs Ikenga said.

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