The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal has refused to stay proceedings in the trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, in the six-count alleged false declaration charges filed against him by the Federal Government, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The court refused to grant application for stay of proceedings brought by justice Onnoghen, on the grounds that section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, does not allow stay of proceedings in a criminal matter and that, the tribunal, being vested with a quasi criminal jurisdiction, is governed by the provisions of the ACJA and its proceedings in a criminal matter can not be stayed.
Justice Onnoghen had, in a motion on notice, asked the appellate court to halt his trial at the CCT on grounds that the tribunal erred in law when it adjourned on January 14 to rule on both his motion challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction as well as that of the federal government seeking for the tribunal’s order asking him to step aside as CJN pending the determination of the charges against him at the CCT.
However, in a unanimous decision, the 3-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, ruled that the prayers of Onnoghen that proceedings at the tribunal be stayed runs contrary to the provisions of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
Justice Aboki, who read the lead ruling, cited the case of Bukola Saraki, in which justice Onnoghen himself, at the Supreme Court, declined to stay Saraki’s trial on the same grounds that section 306 of the new law did not permit a stay of criminal trials.
According to him, there were no special circumstances in which Onnoghen’s prayer would be granted in the appeal argued by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).
The Court of Appeal in the ruling aligned with the respondent that the suspended CJN’s request for stay of proceedings ought to be refused. Justice Aboki held that applications seeking stay of proceedings are not granted as a matter of cause but must meet some condition precedents before they can be granted by court
“ Although a court has inherent jurisdiction to grant stay of proceedings at any court, so as to prevent the destruction of the res (subject matter) of litigation, and not to foist a state of helplessness on the court, there are, however, special conditions and guidelines governing the granting of stay of proceedings.
“Stay of proceedings can also be granted where it is necessary that there is a strong and special circumstances but not as a matter of right. While it is a discretion of the court, such discretion must be exercised judicially and judiciously. The court has been enjoined to carefully consider the conditions by evaluating the evidence placed before it vis-a-vis the guiding principles in granting a stay of proceedings.
“I have considered all the materials placed before this court by both parties in order to arrive to a conclusion as to whether the appellant has made out a case to warrant granting a stay of proceedings. In view of the ruling of the lower tribunal, which adjourned proceedings in the trial to January 28, whether this court has jurisdiction to stay proceedings in view of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act ( ACJA), 2015.
“The section reads: ‘Applications for stay of criminal matters shall not be granted. It is my considered view that the application did not meet up with the guiding principles for granting of stay of proceedings. This appeal, therefore, ought to be dismissed and is, hereby, dismissed. The substantive matter is adjourned to February 4 for hearing,” justice Aboki ruled
The CCT, at its last sitting, adjourned the CJN’s trial indefinitely to await the ruling of the Court of Appeal.