Barring any last-minute changes, the defence team of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, will, on Monday, ask the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, to disqualify himself from the trial.
The application for recusal will be based on the fact that Umar has been charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for fraud and thus cannot be trusted to deliver a fair judgement.
A top source said, “The CCT chairman has been acting in a way that suggests that we may not get a fair hearing. He is facing charges by the EFCC, which means his character and his ability to deliver justice is in question.
“It is very possible that he is even being blackmailed by those who want Onnoghen gone. So, what we want is for him to step aside. We will make that application on Monday all things being equal.”
The approach is similar to what Senate President Bukola Saraki did during his trial in 2016. However, Umar did not step aside because the EFCC had yet to charge him at the time.
However, the EFCC had, last year, filed fresh charges of fraud against Umar.
The charges were prepared by Festus Keyamo (SAN), an EFCC prosecutor and now the spokesman for the Buhari Campaign Organisation.
Umar was accused of collecting N10m from Rasheed Taiwo, a former Customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal sometimes in 2012.
The EFCC also accused him of receiving N1.8m of the N10m bribe sum through one of his personal assistants, Gambo Abdullahi.
The two counts of fraud contradicted Section 12(1) (a) and (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003, Keyamo stated in charge affidavit prepared on January 25 and stamped on February 2 at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The defence will also rely on a letter written by two other members of the CCT – Justice Robert Odu (retd.) and Justice Agwaza Atedze – asking former President Goodluck Jonathan to investigate the CCT chairman.
The letter, dated April 4, 2014, was addressed to Jonathan through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
In the letter titled, ‘N10m bribery allegation against the Chairman of the CCT’, the other CCT members said, “While we are not in a position to say whether or not the allegation is false (the chairman has vehemently denied the allegations), we wish to request that this allegation be investigated thoroughly and the findings be made public as soon as possible so as to restore the image of the tribunal.”
S’Court’s seven-man bench hears Senate’s suit against Onnoghen’s suspension Tuesday
The Supreme Court has fixed Tuesday for the hearing of the suit filed by the Senate to challenge the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt on Saturday that the suit, being a constitutional matter, would be heard by a full panel of seven Justices of the Supreme Court.
It is expected that the Acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, would not be on the seven-man bench, but he would be the one to pick the seven Justices of the apex court to hear the suit or assign it to one of the already existing panels.
Our correspondent learnt that the Federal Government, through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, had, as of Saturday, prepared its defence and would file it on Monday ahead of the Tuesday’s hearing.
“We have been served with the Supreme Court’s hearing notice. Our defence is ready and we will file it on Monday,” one of the sources, who pleaded not to be named, told one of our correspondents on Saturday.
The Senate’s lawyer, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), could not be reached on Saturday, as his phone was switched off.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, on January 25, suspended Onnoghen on the basis of an ex parte order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal where the Federal Government had charged the CJN with six counts of non-declaration of assets.
The President had immediately sworn in the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Muhammad, as the Acting CJN.
But the Senate had, in its suit filed on January 28, and marked SC.76/2019, asked the apex court to declare Onnoghen’s suspension, which was without the support of two-thirds majority of the Senate, was a violation of Section 292(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution.
It asked Supreme Court for an order reinstating Justice Onnoghen as the CJN.
The suit also asked the apex court to issue an order restraining the two defendants in the suit – President Buhari and the AGF, Mr. Abubakar Malami – from continuing or repeating the violation of the Constitution and disregarding the power of the Senate in respect to the suspension of the CJN
The Senate, through its lawyer, Erokoro, argued that the President could not, on the directive of the CCT, suspend the CJN without the two-thirds majority of the Senate or appoint Muhammad as the Acting CJN without Senate’s confirmation.
I wasn’t part of Abba Kyari meeting –Olanipekun
Meanwhile, the lead counsel for the suspended CJN, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), says he did not hold any meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, on Thursday.
Olanipekun, who is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, said he did not know if there was a meeting between Kyari and some persons representing Onnoghen.
Speaking with our correspondent on the telephone on Saturday, however, Olanipekun said if such a meeting held, he was not part of it.
The senior advocate added, “I have never met with Abba Kyari before. I only know him by reputation as the President’s chief of staff but I have never sat with him before. It is possible that some lawyers met with him but I was not among.”
Olanipekun, however, defended his decision to defend the suspended CJN.
He said he believed democratic institutions should be preserved and insulated from politics, vowing to continue to defend them.
The former NBA President said, “My decision to defend the CJN is not for personal gain but for the good of democracy. I strongly believe in the independence of the three arms of government and the rule of law.
“It is for the sake of democracy that I am taking up this case and when the case is over, I will speak extensively but for now, I will refrain from making further comments. Let it be on record that I, Wole Olanipekun, never met with Abba Kyari.”
Some lawyers were said to have met with Kyari last week in a bid to prevent the trial of Onnoghen before the CCT on Monday.