The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, has ordered key security agencies in the country to arrest the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and produce him for trial on Friday.
The Mr. Danladi Umar-led panel tribunal specifically directed the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the Department of State Service, DSS, to execute the arrest warrant to ensure that Justice Onnoghen was brought before it on the adjourned date.
The order followed an application the Federal Government made for a bench warrant to be issued against the suspended CJN.
FG’s made the application after Justice Onnoghen’s failed to appear before the tribunal to enter his plea to the six-count charge pending against him.
Justice Onnoghen who was accused of failing to declare his assets as prescribed by the law, as well as operated foreign bank accounts in contravention of the code of conduct for public officials, had on three previous dates, refused to appear before the CCT for arraignment.
At the resumed proceeding, government lawyer, Mr. Aliyu Umar, relied on section 6 (1) of the CCT Practice Direction and section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, to apply for a bench warrant against the defendant.
“May I draw your attention and the honorable members to the fact that the defendant is not in court today.
“I hereby humbly apply for a warrant of arrest against the defendant”, Umar stated.
However, counsel to the embattled CJN, Chief Adegboyega Awolowo, SAN, urged the tribunal to refuse the application and proceed with hearing Onnoghen’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT and legal competence of the charge against him.
Awomolo further relied on section 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to argue that the tribunal ought to firstly determine the issue of its integrity and impartiality, before proceeding with the trial.
Besides, he argued that the presence of the defendant was not mandatory during hearing of an objection to the charge, adding that the Mr. Danladi Umar led tribunal earlier adjourned to hear all the pending.
“The defendant is entitled to fair trial and fair hearing and the constitution has mandated that he must be afforded every facility to establish his innocence.
“A criminal trial is a serious matter that affects the liberty of a citizen.
“The application that the tribunal should issue a bench warrant is persecuting by the prosecution. The tribunal is urged to preserve the defendant’s rights”, Awomolo pleaded.
FRN V. ONOGHEN
UPDATES FOR PROCEEDINGS ON 13 February 2019
▶Tribunal started sitting at 11.07am and the following happened.
▶Aliyu Umar SAN & 6 Ors for Prosecution
▶Adegboyega Awomolo SAN & 3 other Senior Advocates for Defence
▶Defence reports that NJC is this morning meeting in continuation of the proceedings before it. Court of Appeal is also sitting on related Appeal this morning. Defence says it is probable that Defendant may be at the NJC seeks Tribunal’s guidance. Says should Tribunal be minded would ask that all applications before the Tribunal be taken together.
▶Prosecution reacts by saying that Defendant is not in Court and has been consistently absent. Refers to CCT Practice Direction Section 6 (1) and applies for warrant of arrest against the Defendant. Refers to 393 (2) ACJA says that no motion is ripe for Hearing in view of Defendant’s absence.
▶Defence urges Tribunal to refuse application for warrant of arrest for 7 Reasons. 1) The Tribunal’s record of 22 January shows matter was adjourned to 28 January for arguments of all the applications, arguments as to absence of Defendant was raised on 22nd yet Tribunal said it wanted to hear applications and there is no appeal against the 22 January decision. On 28th and the matter was adjourned 4th February and the Tribunal on that date the matter was adjourned to today 13 February 2018 and records will show was no adjourned for arraignment this there was no order for arraignment today. Says section 6 applys where Defendant fails to appear on the ” date fixed for arraignment” so the Tribunal’s records show todays proceedings are for argument of all applications
▶2) Section 266(B) ACJA says that Defendant shall be present ” unless at the Hearing of an Interlocutory Application” says applications of today are Interlocutory Applications
▶Refers to Wuyep v Wuyep pt 523 for definition of “unless”
▶Refers to INEC v Oguegbe in which the SC held that Defendant need not be present for Interlocutory Applications challenging competence of proceedings
▶Says application for Bench Warrant amounts to persecution by Prosecution as Defendant retains the Right to challenge competence of proceedings refers to Kalu v State
▶Submits that Defendant is entitled to be heard on applications and if Defendant is rushed to the Dock his right to Fair Hearing will be violated
▶Submits that Jurisdiction is the lifeblood of any Proceedings and where there is no jurisdiction proceedings is a nullity thus once raised it is in the interest of Justice to resolve it first EFCC v Odigie Pt 1384
▶Says Tribunal ought to resolve the challenge to its Jurisdiction first before making any orders in the Charge.
▶Reads section 36(1) of the Constitution. Submits that independence and impartiality of Tribunal is key. In light of pendency of motion asking Chair to recuse himself it is important that the Application be taken before further proceedings.
▶Defence concludes that application to issue bench warrant is premature and inconsistent with ACJA. Says that the Defendants absence is not out of disrespect but ACJA says he need not be present.
▶Prosecution replying. Says that the Defence contention that the Court did not make any express pronouncement saying this date is for Arraignment is a “technical point”. Defendants were present in Court in all the cases cited by Defence just that they refused to take their plea unlike in this scenario where Defendant is outrightly absent. Refers to Gwandu v State. Refers also to section 36 says that there is nothing there that indicates Jurisdiction must be first determined or it would amount to a violation of the Defendant’s Right to Fair Hearing. Says Defendant has no business or role to play in NJC proceedings today.
▶Prosecution closes by urging the Tribunal to issue warrant of arrest
▶Tribunal Chair is ruling immediately. Says his recollection is that on the last date he stated expressly that Defendant must be present. Says by ACJA accused person must be present throughout Trial. Says Defendant must first submit to Jurisdiction before raising objection on validity of the Charge. Tribunal issues bench warrant to IGP & DG SSS to arrest the Defendant and bring him to Tribunal on Friday.