The Court of Appeal has ordered the Code of Conduct Tribunal to suspend the trial of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, till the determination of appeals at the appellate court.

A three-member panel of the court led by Abdul Aboki gave the order on Thursday after hearing from parties in a current appeal pending before the court.

The court also adjourned its main ruling on the said appeals till January 30.

Following his planned arraignment at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on alleged false asset declaration on January 14, the CJN had asked the appeal court to stop the trial. Mr Onnoghen described the case instituted by the Code of Conduct Bureau as unconstitutional and lacking merit.

But the appeal court declined the initial request, saying it would decide on the application after hearing from parties regarding the matter.

The trial at the tribunal has since started and Mr Onnoghen was absent on both occasions that the case has come up.

Mr Onnoghen’s lawyers, Wole Olanikpekun and Kanu Agabi, were among the group of senior lawyers present at the appeal court on Thursday to further their arguments on the matter.

Mr Olanipekun argued that the CCT had said it would not honour high court rulings but would have to obey any by the appeal court. He said granting the interim order was crucial to protect the integrity of the judiciary.

A lawyer, Oyin Kole-Oso, represented the federal government at the hearing.

After entertaining the arguments of parties, the court said it would decide on the matter on January 30. It ordered the tribunal to tarry till its decision is reached.

The CCT, led by Danladi Umar, on Tuesday slated January 28 for further hearing on the trial. The tribunal on Tuesday also refused a request to suspend the trial based on similar orders asking it to do so by high courts and the industrial court.

In the tribunal’s ruling, the three-member panel gave dissenting judgements. Two of the panelists decided against the request for adjournment, while a third member, Williams Atedze, said the high court rulings were viable enough to warrant an adjournment.

In his lead judgement, Mr Umar said the tribunal was not inferior to high courts and the industrial court and so cannot be ordered by them.

With the current decision by the appelate court, which is a higher court, the CCT may have to postpone its hearing scheduled for January 28.

Justice Umar of the CCT wishes he could use Decree 2 on journalists
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CCT Chairman, Justice Danladi Umar; Credit: This Day

Mr Onnoghen is facing trial on six counts of alleged false asset declaration.

The CCB accused him, among other allegations, of failing to declare domiciliary accounts used for transfer of foreign currencies which had existed since 2011.

The bureau said the failure of the CJN to declare the accounts in one of two forms, filled in 2016, meant that he was liable of false aset charges.

The charges were brought pursuant to a petition written by a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Denis Aghanya.

The federal government also asked the tribubal to order Mr Onnoghen to step aside as CJN during the trial.

The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, in a request brought before the tribunal said its application is informed by the need to ensure that Mr Onnoghen does not become the judge in his own case.

Many lawyers and other critics of the trial have argued that the CJN ought to have first been reported to the National Judicial Cuncil, before any attempt at his trial.

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