The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has adjourned the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The trial was adjourned at the resumed sitting of the Turbinal on Tuesday in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) had filed charges against Justice Onnoghen at the Tribunal over allegations of failing to declare his assets.
This sparked mixed reactions from members of the Judiciary and prominent Nigerians, as some criticised the Federal Government’s action while others backed the probe of the CJN.
Earlier, the lead counsel to Justice Onnoghen, Wole Olanipekun, informed the three-man panel of the orders of the Federal High Court, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and National Industrial Court restraining the Tribunal from proceeding with the trial of the CJN.
He said it was his responsibility, as an officer of the court, to inform the Tribunal of the orders of the various courts.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) stated that the defendant has appealed to the Court of Appeal, challenging the order of the Tribunal to hear the motion challenging its jurisdiction along with the trial.
He added that the appeal at the Appellate Court has been adjourned till Thursday, January 24.
The senior lawyer noted that it would amount to judicial rascality for a court or tribunal to disobey subsisting court orders that were yet to be vacated.
He, therefore, urged the tribunal to give effect to the restraining orders in addition to the appeal before the Appeal Court and adjourn the trial indefinitely, pending the hearing and determination of the appeal.
Responding, the prosecutor informed the Tribunal that the business of the day was the arraignment of Justice Onnoghen and the hearing of the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT.
He argued that the Tribunal was unique and not subject to the supervision of other courts but the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Mr Umar also stated that the Tribunal was not subject to the rulings of the aforementioned courts, stressing that there was no order from the Appeal Court restraining the Tribunal from sitting today.
He then asked the Tribunal to make an interim order directing the CJN to step aside even if the Tribunal was inclined towards adjourning the trial indefinitely.
But Olanipekun replied that once the jurisdiction of a court or tribunal has been challenged, the Tribunal cannot make any order until the issue of jurisdiction was sorted out.
He argued that Justice Onnoghen was not bound to be at the Tribunal until it ruled whether it has jurisdiction.
The CCT Chairman, Justice Danladi Umar, in his ruling held that the Tribunal was not bound to obey the orders of the courts, saying they were all courts of equal jurisdiction.
He then ordered the defendant to move his motion challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and declined to adjourn the CJN’s trial indefinitely.
But Justice William Atedze did not align himself with Justice Umar’s ruling as he stated that the orders of the other courts were subsisting and binding on the Tribunal.
He held that the orders should be respected to avoid judicial anarchy, adding that until the issue of jurisdiction was resolved, the trial of Justice Onnoghen cannot proceed.
The judged thereafter ordered that the trial be adjourned indefinitely until the appeal at the Appeal Court was determined.
On the other hand, the third member of the panel, Justice Julie Anabor, backed the ruling of the CCT Chairman.
By a majority decision, the Tribunal consequently ordered the defendant to proceed with his motion on jurisdiction.
It also adjourned Justice Onnoghen’s trial till Monday, January 28, to enable the defence to argue his motion challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to try the CJN.