There was a mild drama at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday at the resumed hearing of charges of false asset declaration filed against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
It all began when the Defence lawyers led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) asked the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, to adjourn hearing of the matter since the Attorney General of the Federation had forwarded a petition to the National Judicial Council on the allegations.
Awomolo said since the seven-day ultimatum issued to Onnoghen to reply the petition would lapse on Wednesday (tomorrow), the tribunal should adjourn to allow the NJC to decide on the matter.
The Prosecuting Counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN), did not object to the request.
But the CCT chairman insisted that the matter must go on. He accused the defence counsel of engaging in delaying tactics.
This angered Awomolo who stood up to protest against the remarks.
He said, “I have been at the bar for 42 years, 25 years as a senior advocate; no judge could accuse me of delaying tactics. I take exemption to that.”
The tribunal chairman shouted back saying, “You can take exemption to that but hearing must continue. Sit down.”
But Awomolo again protested against the order saying as a senior member of the bar, he deserved some respect from the tribunal.
At this point, the prosecutor intervened and pleaded with the tribunal to rule on the request.
The tribunal rose for about 30 minutes and reconvened to give ruling.
Upon resumption, Awomolo apologised on behalf of the defence team for the tension.
He said, “What happened was most unfortunate. On behalf of my colleagues on this part, we apologise.”
The prosecutor also assured the tribunal that “this kind of case won’t repeat itself again.”
Justice William Atedze also apologised on behalf of the tribunal.
“Let us continue to exhibit patience and humility,” he said.
Delivering the tribunal’s ruling, the CCT chairman conceded to the request for a short adjournment till February 13 for hearing of application.
Umar, however, said Onnoghen’s presence at the next adjourned date was necessary for him to take his plea.
He said no application would be taken on his behalf if he failed to come and take his plea.
“The presence of the defendant is important. His presence is necessary; plea must be taken before any application can be considered. That’s the position of the law. I want to see the defendant on that day, plea must be taken before issues of preliminary objection or any application can be considered,” Umar ruled.
Confusion as Senate withdraws Supreme Court suit
Also, there was confusion on Monday as the Senate withdrew the case it filed at the Supreme Court on Onnoghen’s suspension.
The leadership on the red chamber had last week filed a suit at the apex court seeking its interpretation on the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the CJN, and immediate reinstatement of Onnoghen.
The Senate, had in the suit marked SC.76/2019, asked the apex court to declare Onnoghen’s suspension without a support of two-thirds majority of the upper chamber as a violation of section 292(1)(a)(i) of the constitution.
The suit also asked the apex court to issue an order restraining the two defendants in the suit – President Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami – from continuing or repeating the violation of the constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect of the suspension of the CJN.
But the upper chamber through a statement by the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, said that its decision to discontinue the case followed the intervention of the NJC on the issue.
It explained that the Senate announced that it had decided to give the NJC intervention a chance.
The statement read, “The Senate has decided to discontinue the case it filed at the Supreme Court. It should be noted that the case has been slated for hearing tomorrow (today).
“This decision also affirms the confidence of the Senate in the ability of the NJC to successfully and creditably resolve the issues.”
However, 56 members of the All Progressives Congress in the Senate on Monday rejected their leaders’ decision and applied to the Supreme Court to join them in the suit.
The Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, in a statement said, “The APC senators rely on the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act 2002 which provides that the resolution of the respective chambers of the National Assembly is a prerequisite of filing such suit.
“The caucus is therefore challenging the said suit and object to the inclusion of its members.”
Appeal Court adjourns till Feb 12
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal also adjourned sitting till February 12 for hearing of consolidated appeals.
Justice Steven Abbah granted the adjournment following a request by the Defence counsel, Chris Uche (SAN), that the three appeals before the court be consolidated.
He noted that only one of the appeals was listed for hearing on Monday.
The prosecuting counsel, Oyin Koleoso, did not object.
The appeals before the court include the one challenging the decision of the CCT to take the preliminary objection and the interlocutory application of the prosecutor together and the appeal challenging the ex parte order relied on by President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend Onnoghen.