The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, Friday, held that the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, was illegal, unlawful, and violated the principle of fair hearing.
The appellate court said the suspension was carried out before he was formally arraigned at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) but added that the appeal had been overtaken by event since trial has been concluded and the ex-parte order already spent
The appellate court held that the suspension of Onnoghen from the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), chairman, National Judicial Council (NJC), as well as chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) through an order by the CCT violated his fundamental human right to fair hearing.
It further held that the manner in which the interim order for Onnoghen’s suspension was issued was shrouded in secrecy and raised questions.
Justice Stephen Adah, in a judgment in one of the four appeals filed by Onnoghen, held that justice must not be shrouded in secrecy as done in the granting of the ex-parte application for Onnoghen’s suspension and held that it was wrong for the merit of a substantive matter to be taken at the interlocutory stage.
The appellate court said, from the record of proceedings, parties have joined issues, only for the federal government to go behind to obtain an order that affected the interest of the appellant, adding that Onnoghen’s fundamental right to fair hearing was breached.
The court however, refused to make any order against the suspension because his trial had been concluded and that an appeal on the substantive matter is pending before the court.
“Since the ex-parte order had been spent and cannot serve any useful purpose and judgment in the substantive matter had been delivered, the appeal is hereby struck out”, Justice Adah held.
The Court also struck Onnoghen’s appeal on the bench warrant issued against him by the CCT, on the ground that the records of proceedings transmitted to the court did not show that bench warrant was issued and that there was no supplementary records to establish that warrant for arrest was issued.
“There is nothing in this appeal that requires the attention of the court, it is here by struck out”, Justice Adah held.
In the third appeal, which challenged the CCT’s decision to hear a motion challenging jurisdiction along with the main trial and deliver judgement same day, Justice Tinuade Akomolafe Wilson agreed with the tribunal that the new law allows the action of the tribunal.
Justice Wilson said that the general principle of law is that when jurisdiction of a court is challenged, the issue of jurisdiction must be first determined, but said that the specific legislation in Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 over-rides the general principle of law, she therefore dismissed the appeal.
In the fourth appeal by Onnoghen, on the refusal of the CCT to obey the orders of a Federal High Court, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and the National Industrial Court, Justice Peter Igeh held that the tribunal erred in law by disobeying the orders.
“He said judgments, rulings, decisions and orders issued by court of law are sacrosanct and must be obeyed until they are set aside.
“Parties are bound by court orders and the order must not be treated with levity”, Justice said and added the tribunal was bound by the order of the three courts.
He said, what the tribunal ought to have done was to tarry a while and make effort to set aside the court orders to avoid foisting anarchy.
Justice Igeh held that the tribunal cannot sit as an appeal court on the decision of the high courts, saying that, the rule of law must be allowed to circulate for peace.
The appellate court however disagreed with Onnoghen on the request fpr the disqualification of the CCT chairman, Yakubu Danladi Umar, adding that it was not established that the prejudicial statement made by the CCT boss will affect the main trial.
Meanwhile, pending before the appeal court is the merit of the substantive suit, that led to his conviction.
The CCT had convicted Justice Onnoghen and removed him from office as CJN and chairman of the NJC on April 18, 2019.
It also banned him from holding public office for the next ten years and ordered Onnoghen to forfeit all the money in the five accounts he maintains with Standard Chattered bank, Wise II, Abuja, which he failed to declare between 2009 and 2015 to the federal government
The tribunal held that the government proved beyond reasonable doubt that Justice Onnoghen breached the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.