The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has filed an application before the Code of Conduct Tribunal demanding the disqualification of the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar.
Sunday PUNCH had exclusively reported that Onnoghen’s defence team would file an application seeking the disqualification of the CCT boss who has been indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for alleged N10m bribery.
The motion notice dated Monday, February 4, 2019 was brought pursuant to Rule 12(1) and (1A) of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2016 and under the inherent jurisdiction of the tribunal.
The motion was signed by Chris Uche (SAN), Chief Sebastine Hon (SAN), Okon Efut (SAN), Chief Ogwu Onoja (SAN), Noah Abdul and George Ibrahim.
Onnoghen is “seeking an order of this honourable tribunal for the honourable chairman of the tribunal, Honourable Danladi Umar, to disqualify/recuse himself from further participating in the adjudication of this case on the grounds of real likelihood of bias.”
The defence said Umar had “constructively convicted the CJN sought to be arraigned before him without either hearing from him or his being formally arraigned.”
The applicant noted that the CCT chairman directed President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the CJN and appoint Justice Tanko Muhammad without recourse to the constitution or the National Judicial Council.
Onnoghen noted that on January 23, 2019 the CCT boss entertained a motion ex parte which was not moved by any known prosecutor.
The CJN said Umar had a pending case before the EFCC and was therefore subject to blackmail and threats from the executive arm of government which could impair his ability to be a fair arbiter.
He added, “The learned chairman of the CCT (Hon Danladi Umar) is a tainted arbiter by reason of a criminal charge at the instance of the EFCC for receiving bribe money in the sum of N10m in charge number: CR/109/18 in FCT High Court by an organ under the supervision of the Attorney General of the Federation.
“Incidentally, he (AGF) is the prosecutor and complainant in this matter such that with such a sword of Damocles hanging over him, and himself not just recusing himself from a quasi-judicial function, he is himself not likely to be a fair arbiter, but instead more likely to trade in the charges against him in a quasi-plea bargaining in the charge against him and enter summary conviction in this proceedings to please the prosecutor.
“The applicant (Onnoghen) has no confidence in the chairman of the tribunal to do justice fairly between parties in this case as he is a man on a mission to please his masters.”
In an affidavit in support of the motion, a lawyer, Blessing Ezedimma, listed several alleged instances of bias displayed by the CCT chairman.
She noted that despite several orders issued by high courts and the National Industrial Court restraining the removal of Onnoghen, the CCT chairman decided to ignore everything and went ahead to grant an ex parte order.
“The chairman authored and signed an ex parte order directing a man that had not been convicted to step aside on account of a charge not yet before him as the CJN which is itself a conviction prior to arraignment and plea or trial,” Ezedimma said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has struck out the suit filed by the Senate, challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of Onnoghen.
When the case was mentioned on Tuesday, the counsel for the Senate, Paul Erokoro (SAN), referred the court to the notice of discontinuance he had filed on Monday marked: SC76/2019.
Lawyer to President Buhari, Mrs Maimuna Lami-Shiro, who led Tijani Gazali, did not object to the plaintiff’s counsel.
Lami-Shiro, however, said she was served a few minutes before the court began sitting.
In a unanimous ruling, a seven-man panel of the court, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, struck out the suit.
Although a lawyer, Chief A. A. Adeniyi, announced appearance for the party seeking to be joined in the suit (the All Progressives Congress caucus in the Senate), the court could not hear his application in view of the plaintiff’s notice of discontinuance.
The President had on January 25 suspended Onnoghen as the CJN and sworn in Justice Muhammad as the acting CJN.
He carried out the action based on an ex parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal where Onnoghen is facing six counts of false asset declaration.
Meanwhile, Onnoghen has written a petition to the Inspector-General of Police, alleging that some suspected herdsmen invaded his farm, Wanogan Farms Limited, located around the Masaka area of Nasarawa State, on Friday, February 1, 2019.
In the petition signed by one of his lawyers, Ogwu Onoja (SAN), the suspended CJN urged the police to investigate and provide security around his property.
The letter read in part, “We have been reliably informed by our client that some men who appear to be herdsmen were at the farm on Friday afternoon and also later at night inquiring about the owner of the farm and issued frightening threats to the farmhands working there.
“The workers are now living in fear and consequently have stopped all farming activities. The farm belonging to the family of the CJN is a large commercial venture wherein veritable investments in time, labour and financial resources have been committed.
“We consider such a threat as an indication of imminent attack on the lives and property on the farm and we implore you, in the discharge of your constitutional duty as the number one police officer of the nation, to deploy your men to secure the farm.”
Meanwhile, the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, has written to President Muhammadu Buhari on the state of investigation being conducted by the commission on Onnoghen.
Copies of the letter with reference number EFCC/EC/P/01 and dated January 30, 2019 were leaked to journalists on Tuesday evening by the first national spokesperson for the Coalition of United Political Parties, Imo Ugochinyere.
The memo was titled, “Interim investigation report: Alleged case of bribery, corruption and money laundering.”
Magu based the investigation on an intelligence report which he said alleged that Onnoghen was in possession of huge naira and foreign currencies that were far above his known legitimate source of income.
He listed the various monies discovered in bank accounts linked to the suspended CJN.
The EFCC boss noted that the investigation commenced before Onnoghen’s appointment as the CJN but could not continue after his appointment because of the commission’s inability to get his Assets Declaration Form from the Code of Conduct Bureau to enable it to conduct further investigation into his assets.
Magu also said the inability of the EFCC to invite Onnoghen for interview to confront him on the findings also posed a challenge.
As a public figure, he added that the commission did not want the investigation to be made public, so it did not invite other suspects who featured in his statement of account for questioning.
Magu wants a special investigation team be set up to carry out further investigation into the matter.
He wrote, “For speedy investigation, a special investigation team which will include lawyers and investigators will be constituted to specifically investigate allegations levelled against the suspect. The investigation is expected to be concluded within a short time frame.
“There is need to get the Asset Declaration Form of the suspect from the Code of Conduct Bureau for further investigation and to determine his net worth.
“Invitation of all individuals seen to have featured in his statements of account as having sent money to his account or received.
“Invitation of other individuals who paid money into the suspect’s Standard Chartered Bank account for interview.
“Determination of the source and mode of payments of the deposits into the SCB investment account held by the suspect with the aim of unraveling the individuals/entities that have given funds to the suspect over the years and expose his other sources of income.”
Magu also wants to confirm Onnoghen’s investments in some firms among others.
He however said preliminary findings showed that Onnoghen was in possession of money that was above his known legitimate means of livelihood.
He added, “It is no doubt indicative of the fact that the suspect must have been involved in bribery and corruption as well as using some corporate entities in perpetrating his money laundering activities.
“Your Excellency, investigation is still ongoing and further developments will be communicated.”
Meanwhile, Ugochinyere in a statement said the CUPP had uncovered plan by the EFCC to arrest Onnoghen on Wednesday.
“The secretariat of the CUPP has uncovered the latest plot by the Presidency to arrest the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter
Onnoghen tomorrow (Wednesday) being February 6, 2019 and immediately commence their final descent to infamy by forcing him to resign at gunpoint.
“The latest recruit in this plot against the CJN being the Chairman of the
EFCC has been given the mandate to execute this plot and has been told there would be no margin for error as the CJN must resign from office or from life one way or the other,” Ugochinyere claimed.
But the acting spokesman for EFCC, Tony Orilade, said he was not aware of plans to arrest Onnoghen.
“I don’t have any information on any plan to arrest him. I am not aware of anything like that,” he said.
In a related development, the CUPP on Tuesday alleged that it had uncovered a plan by the Federal Government to force Onnoghen to resign “at gunpoint.”
It said the decision was taken after Onnoghen turned down “all mouth-watering offers” made to him.
Ugochinyere disclosed this in a statement in Abuja.
Ugochinyere alleged that the government was making efforts to force some senior lawyers to withdraw from defending the CJN.