The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) held on Tuesday that it was going ahead with trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen despite interim orders of three high courts and the Industrial Court, of court restraining it from proceeding with the trial.
In a dissenting ruling, the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar held that the decisions of Federal high Courts, Federal Capital Territory and Industrial Court, were not binding on it.
The CCT in a split decision of two to one, discountenanced the orders of the high courts on the grounds that the orders were made by courts of equal jurisdiction and the CCT is a special court empowered to handle exclusively the issues relating to assets declaration.
According to Umar: “The tribunal is empowered by the constitution to carry and adjudicate on matters referred to it. The constitution is a groundnorm and the tribunal is not like the usual court.
“It is crystal clear the CCT has jurisdiction over breach of work ethics.
“CCT runs concurrent with the federal high courts and cannot obey other courts under same jurisdiction, including the Industrial Court. And again, the orders were obtained by people not party to the suit before CCT.
“I therefore discountenance the orders and declared them null and void.”
Umar said the orders of the court were inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, adding that section 246 makes it clear that the tribunal has unquantified jurisdiction to hear any assets declaration case as may be referred to it by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Umar also disagreed with the request to adjournment the trial Sine Die, on the grounds of a pending appeal at the Court of Appeal, adding that section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, did not Make provisions for stay of proceedings in a criminal matter and that in the instant case, it shall not be entertained.
Umar position was supported by a third member of the three-man panel, Justice Juli Anabor, who aligned herself with the chairman’s position.
However, a second member of the panel, Justice Williams Atedze gave the dissenting judgment.
Atedze in his dissenting ruling held that it would result to judicial anarchy for the tribunal to proceed with the trial in view of the four subsisting court orders and the pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.
According to him, orders are binding on the tribunal until they are set aside in view of section 287(3) of the 1999 Constitution which allow court orders to be enforced in all parts of the county, stressing that the CCT cannot operate in isolation.
“Having summarized argument from both parties, it is my submission that CCT as a creation of law is bound by the existing court orders to avoid judicial anarchy”, he held.
The member who further held that the issue of jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the charge against CJN must first be resolved, held that status quo must be maintained by adjoining proceedings sine die until all contending issues are resolved.
Although the Chairman ordered that the motion challenfing the jurisdiction of the tribunal be moved immediately, counsel to the defendant, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN however, informed the tribunal that the response of the complainant, Federal government was served on him late Monday and as such needed time to study the response and then filed reply on point of law.
Counsel to the Federal government, Aliyu Umar, agreed that the government’s response was served late on the defendant, prompting the Chairman to adjourned further proceedings till Monday, January 28.