Senate drops Supreme Court case on Onnoghen’s suspension
• Jurist must appear before us, CCT insists
• Tribunal adjourns trial till February 13
The Senate yesterday ordered that the case it filed at the Supreme Court on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, be discontinued following the intervention of the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the issue.
Senate President Bukola Saraki in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Yusuph Olaniyonu, said the upper chamber had decided to give the NJC’s intervention a chance.
“This decision also affirms the confidence of the Senate in the ability of the NJC to successfully and creditably resolve the issues”, the statement read, noting that the case had been slated for hearing tomorrow.
The Senate had on the 28th of January, 2018, taken President Muhammadu Buhari to the Supreme Court over the alleged illegal suspension of Onnoghen.
It sought the interpretation of the apex court “on whether President Buhari acted within the provision of the constitution in his suspension of the CJN or whether the action of the president does amount to usurpation of the powers of the Senate as provided for in Section 292 of the constitution.”
But when the NJC met on the matter, it gave Onnoghen, and the acting CJN, Tanko Muhammad, seven working days to respond to petitions against them.
A former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umar Abdullahi, presided over the meeting as the interim chairman.
The withdrawal of the suit yesterday came even as the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus filed another suit challenging the power of the Senate leadership to institute the suit against President Buhari.
A statement by the Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, reads: “The Senate caucus of the APC consisting of 56 senators, being the majority party in the Senate, has today, Monday, 4th of February, 2019, applied to the Supreme Court, to be joined in the suit purportedly filed by the Senate, against the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as interested parties.”
According to the statement, the APC senators rely on the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act of 2002, which provides that the resolutions of the respective chambers of the National Assembly are a prerequisite of filing such suit. “The caucus is therefore challenging the said suit and objects to the inclusion of its members.”
President Buhari had suspended Onnoghen based on an ex parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), which directed him to step aside.
The President swore in Muhammad in his place in an acting capacity.
Meanwhile, the CCT has adjourned the trial of Onnoghen, until February 13, following an oral application made by the defence counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), who prayed the tribunal to halt proceedings pending the decision of the NJC on the petition forwarded to the defendant.
The chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Umar, had insisted that Justice Onnoghen must appear before the court and take his plea before the defence team could raise further objections on the jurisdiction and the competence of the tribunal to hear the case.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, the prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN), informed the tribunal that the matter was adjourned till Monday for the arraignment of the suspended CJN and for hearing on two separate motions.
The pending motions include a preliminary objection filed by the defendant challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal and that filed by the prosecution, asking for an order for Justice Onnogthen to step aside pending the outcome of his trial.
But responding to the submission of the prosecution, the defence counsel drew the attention of the tribunal to the petitions handed to the defendant by NJC for his response.
Awomolo further informed the tribunal that the petition was sent to the NJC by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubaka Malami (SAN), and that the said petition had equally been transmitted to Justice Onnoghen for his reaction within seven days, which lapse on Wednesday February 6.
According to him, NJC would be considering Justice Onnoghen’s response to the petition upon its reconvention on February 11. Consequently, he prayed the tribunal to adjourn trial pending the decision of NJC.
The prosecution counsel said he was not opposing the application for adjournment not because NJC waded into the matter but because the date was convenient to the tribunal.
According to him, the issue of petition raised by the defence counsel was unnecessary. He then drew the attention of the tribunal to the defendant’s continuous absence from court, stating that he might be forced to exercise his powers to apply for a bench warrant.
At this point, the CCT chairman insisted on proceeding with the trial by allowing the parties to argue the preliminary objection filed by Justice Onnoghen challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him.
Umar further accused Onnoghen’s defence team of deliberately employing delay tactics to frustrate the trial. He held that though the prosecution did not oppose the application for adjournment, the court must hear the motions.
“We are not here to play. This application for adjournment is tantamount to delaying the process.
“My position is that you have to move your application today. If you don’t, I will ask the prosecution to move its own application for an interlocutory injunction against the defendant,” Umar stated
To douse the tension, the prosecution prayed for a 30-minute stand-down to allow parties deliberate.
When the tribunal reconvened, Umar went straight to adjourn the case till next week Wednesday.
“I hereby proceed to adjourn the matter at the instance of the parties. But the presence of the defendant is needed at the tribunal.
“Plea must be taken before the defence can make any objection on the competence and jurisdiction of the court.”
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