By Martins Odeh
#TrackNigeria – The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Wednesday in Abuja issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Justice Walter Onngohen, over his continuous failure to submit himself for trial.
The Federal Government had filed a six-count charge against the embattled suspended CJN on allegations bordering on non-declaration of assets.
Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), Counsel to Onnoghen, had approached the tribunal with an oral application for adjournment of proceedings pending the decision of the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the matter.
Umar Danladi, Chairman of the tribunal held that the only option left to the tribunal was to compel the defendant to appear before it.
He said the defendant was using legal technicalities to abort his trial, adding that the tribunal had taken judicial notice of some delay tactics being deployed.
He said the Administration of Criminal Justice Act had mandated speedy conduct of criminal cases, adding that it was incumbent on the defendant to appear and take his plea.
Danladi said the defendant had consistently avoided the trial, and that none of the interlocutory applications filed by the defendant would be dispensed without him surrendering to the authority of the tribunal.
“In the circumstance, I hereby order that the defendant surrenders himself to the tribunal before he can challenge the validity of the process.
“I therefore order a bench warrant for the Inspector-General of Police, the Director-General of Department of State Services to arrest Justice Walter Onnoghen and present him in the tribunal on Friday, February 15.
“The tribunal will no longer tolerate any measure or attempt to thwart the process henceforth,’’ Danladi said.
Awomolo, in moving his application, had urged the tribunal to adjourn and give ample space to NJC that had already waded into the matter.
He also informed the court that the Court of Appeal, Abuja had fixed Feb.13 to commence hearing on all the interlocutory appeals brought before it by the defendant.
He argued that the defendant was not under obligation to take his plea when he had challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him.
Awomolo submitted further that his client had challenged the independence and impartiality of the tribunal panel in view of its actions and inactions since the beginning of the trial.
Awomolo, also said the continuation of the case in the face of the pending appeals and intervention of the NJC would amount to persecution rather than prosecution.
He, therefore, prayed the tribunal to grant his prayer and adjourn the matter.
Counsel to the Federal Government, Malam Aliyu Umar (SAN) raised objections on the application, adding that the defendant had clearly taken the tribunal for granted so far.
He said the reasons canvassed by Awomolo were mere technicalities that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act had discouraged.
Umar submitted that the tribunal should take judicial notice of the defendant’s consistent actions to avoid his trial.
“My lords, it appears the defendant will never present himself for trial if we continue to go at his pace.
“From the tribunal’s records, today makes the fifth times the defendant is keeping away from the tribunal.
“At the last sitting, being February 4, the tribunal fixed today for indefinite hearing of the matter, which includes the arraignment of the defendant, but unfortunately he has failed to appear again.
“I did remark that if the suspended CJN fails to appear and take his plea today, I shall activate the only option left to the prosecution which is a plea for bench warrant.
“So, in the light of this, I urge the tribunal to make an order for bench warrant for the arrest of the defendant,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, Awomolo had objected to Umar’s application, describing it as hasty and unwarranted. (NAN)