The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal on Friday threw out four appeals filed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, regarding his trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
But the court in its one of the four unanimous judgments of the three-man panel, faulted the ex parte order issued by the CCT on January 23, 2019 for Onnoghen’s suspension.
President Muhammadu Buhari acted on the same order to suspend Onnoghen and swear in Justice Tanko Muhammad as acting CJN on January 25.
The three-man bench of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Stephen Adah in four separate unanimous judgments held that three of the appeals had become academic since the trial had been concluded by the CCT.
One of the appeals was ruled to be incompetent.
All the four appeals were filed to challenge various interlocutory decisions of the Danladi Umar CCT before the tribunal handed down its final judgment convicting Onnoghen on April 18, 2019.
Justice Adah said, “Since the substantive matter before the CCT has already been concluded, this appeal is already spent and there is no basis to go into the nitty-gritty of the ex parte order.”
The Federal Government on January 11, 2019 charged Onnoghen with breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by failing to declare his assets between 2005 and 2016 and also making false declaration by not declaring five domiciliary bank accounts as part of his assets in 2016.
Onnoghen remained suspended until April 18 when the CCT convicted him on all six counts and ordered his removal from office.
But Justice Adah said in one of the judgments that the ex parte order for his suspension was not only made when the defendant had yet to be arraigned before the CCT, it was obtained in the proceedings “shrouded in secrecy and clandestine manoeuvre”.
He said while all the parties to the case during the January 22, 2019 proceedings of the trial agreed with the tribunal to have the case adjourned till January 25 for the hearing of pending applications, the prosecution went behind the defendant to obtain the ex parte order on January 23.
“The mode of secrecy the ex parte order has raised some questions,” he said.
He also said courts must be wary not to address the merit of a substantive matter in an interlocutory application.
“The merit of the matter ought not be taken at the interlocutory stage,” he said.
Justice Adah also agreed with Onnoghen’s lawyers, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), and Chief Chris Uche (SAN), that the ex parte order breached the ex-CJN’s right to fair hearing.
“The appellant has said the order was in breach of his fundamental right to fair hearing. This is true and it ought not to be so,” he said.
Justice Olabisi Ige, who read the lead judgment in another appeal, also held that the CCT ought to have suspended proceedings in reverence for the various interim court orders issued by the National Industrial Court and the Federal High Court, restraining the tribunal from going on with the trial.
Justice Ige said, “The judgments, rulings, decisions and orders issued by a court of law are sacrosanct and must be obeyed until set aside.”
He said the tribunal should have obeyed the restraining orders not minding if the orders were illegal or that “the court went on a voyage of its own”.
He added that the only option available to the tribunal was to file an appeal before the Court of Appeal to have the orders set aside.
However, the Justices, including Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, who delivered the lead judgment in another appeal, held that there was nothing wrong with the CCT’s decision to hear the appellant’s notice of preliminary objection along with the prosecution’s interlocutory motion on notice.
They also ruled that the CCT rightly applied the provisions of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act by refusing the defendant’s application for stay of proceedings.
Justice Adah, in another judgment dismissed Onnoghen’s appeal challenging the warrant of arrest issued against him by the CCT.
The appeal was struck out on the basis that the appellant failed to present a copy of the arrest before the court.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal has yet to fix a date for the hearing of Onnoghen’s appeal challenging his conviction by the CCT. – Punch.