Supreme Court to decide Onnoghen’s fate May 17

justice-walter-onnoghen
justice-walter-onnoghen

The Supreme Court on Thursday fixed May 17 to deliver judgment on the suit seeking to set aside the six-count charge of non-assets declaration against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.

The suit filed by the Attorney General of Cross River State on behalf of the state government is challenging the suspension and trial of Mr Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Mr Onnoghen is from Cross River State.

The suit marked SC/45/2019 and dated January 22, 2019, has the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as defendants.

But the Federal Government has asked the apex court to dismiss the suit as the plaintiff has no right to institute it.

When the matter came up for hearing on Thursday, counsel for the plaintiff, Locius Nwosu (SAN), adopted his brief of argument, urging the court to grant the reliefs sought by the state.

On his part, counsel representing the defendants, Dayo Akpata argued his notice of preliminary objection urging the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that the plaintiff lacked the to institute right the action.

Legal fireworks

In a notice of preliminary objections filed by the AGF, Abubakar Malami, the Federal Government further challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter on the grounds that “there is ‎no dispute between the defendants in this suit and the plaintiff as envisaged under section 232(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended)”.

It is also the contention of the Federal Government that “the subject matter of this suit is personal to Hon. Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel and does not in any way affects the Cross River State government as to confer it with the locus to institute this suit.

“The reliefs and claims made herein by the plaintiff are not for the benefit of Cross River State but personal to Hon Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel.”

Mr Akpata informed the apex court that the subject matter of the suit is already before the Court of Appeal which has reserved judgment.

He submitted that the action of the Cross River State amounted to “forum shopping and an abuse of court process.”

Counter-argument

Regardless, Mr Nwosu insisted that the case of his client is different from the appeal filed by Mr Onnoghen at the Court of Appeal.

“My lords, the suit is not about Justice Onnoghen but about the interpretation of the constitution.

“It is for the interpretation of the provisions of the 1999 constitution, particularly sections 4,5,6, 153(1), 158(1), Paragraph 21(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 constitution (as amended), the purported filling of the charge in charge No. CCT/ABJ/01/19 between FGN vs Hon. Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel before the Code of Conduct Tribunal against a Judicial officer who in this case is the Chief Justice of Nigeria, without any formal complaint having been made against him to the National Judicial Council (NJC) robbed the tribunal of jurisdiction to try the charge, and all the proceedings relating thereto are null and void, a nullity.”

After taking all the arguments for and against the suit, the seven-member panel led by Bode Rhodes Vivour accordingly adjourned the case to May 17 for judgment.

‎Other Justices of the panel include Olukayode Ariwoola, Mary Odili, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Musa Mohammed and Dauda Sidi.

Mr Onnoghen was taken to the CCT on January 14, for failing to declare his bank accounts used for the transfer of foreign currencies after his appointment as CJN.

Mr Onnoghen pleaded not guilty to the allegations and was released on bail on self-recognition.

His trial is expected to resume before the CCT on March 11.

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