Onnoghen to CCT Chairman: Why I can’t appear before you
Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen has told the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar that he cannot stand appear before him (Umar) for trial because he has by his conduct and utterances, demonstrated that he was a biased and tainted arbiter.
Onnoghen, who argued, among others, that justice is rooted in confidence, said he has no confidence in Umar’s capacity to do justice in his case. He accused Umar of being the sole mind behind the ex-parte order on which President Muhammadu Buhari acted to suspend him.
The suspended CJN, who described Umar as “a tainted arbiter” by virtue of the charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), “for receiving money bribe in the sum of N10, 000,000.00 in charge No: CR/109/18 in FCT High Court,” argued that it was impossible for the CCT Chair to act with a fair mind.
Onnoghen therefore asked Umar to disqualify himself in respect of the non-assets declaration charge pending against him (Onnoghen) before the CCT.
The suspended CJN made this argument in a motion filed for him on Monday by a team of lawyers led by Chris Uche (SAN). The content of the motion seems a direct response to the directive given, on February 4 this year, by the CCT Chairman, to the effect that Onnoghen must attend the next proceedings at the CCT for him to be arraigned on the charge pending against him.
The motion on notice particularly, prayed the tribunal for an order directing “the honourable Chairman of the tribunal, Honourable Danladi Umar to disqualify/recuse himself from further participating in the adjudication of this case on the ground of real likelihood of bias.”
The grounds on which the prayer is made, include that “the Chairman has constructively convicted the defendant (The Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria) sought to be arraigned before him without either hearing from him or his being formally arraigned before him.
“The Chairman authored and signed an ex parte order directing an un-convicted man to step aside on account of a charge not yet before him as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, which is in itself a conviction prior to arraignment and plea/trial.
“The Chairman had directed the Executive arm of government, contrary to the express provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and without reference to the National Judicial Council, the replacement of the office and role of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by his own nominee and appointee in the person of Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad JSC.
“The Chairman, on 23th January, 2019, entertained a motion ex-parte not moved by any known prosecutor, bearing the same title, charge number and purported accused person/defendant, Hon justice Waiter Samuel Onnoghen, CJN, GCON, dated 9th January 2019, which substantially predetermined the guilt of the defendant, without an arraignment.
“Consequent upon the above, the learned Chairman (Hon. Danladi Umar), who purportedly moved, made and signed the order, has put himself in the position of prosecutor, judge and jury to the clear prejudice and bias against the defendant.
“The learned Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (Hon. Danladl Umar) is a tainted arbiter by reason of a criminal charge at the Instance of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for receiving money bribe in the sum of N10, 000,000.00 in Charge No: CR/109/18 in FCT High Court by an organ under the supervision of the office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, incidentally the prosecutor and complainant in this matter.
“With such sword of Damocles hanging over him, and himself not just recusing himself from a quasi-judicial function, is himself not likely to be a fair arbiter, but instead more likely to trade in the charges against him in quasi plea bargaining in the charge against him and enter summary conviction in this proceedings to please the prosecutor.
“Various comments and decisions/orders made by the Honourable Chairman of the tribunal clearly demonstrate beyond doubt that the Chairman of the tribunal had inclination or predisposition to decide the case in a certain pre-arranged manner without regard to any law or rules of procedure.
“In the course of the proceedings of this case, the honourable Chairman of the tribunal showed acts of partisanship by making decisions/orders and expressing opinions antagonistic to the applicant and on the other hand demonstrated favourable dispositions towards the respondent.
“The partiality of the honourable Chairman of the tribunal is not in doubt as there are manifest cases of real likelihood of bias on the part of the Chairman of the tribunal against the applicant by reason inter alia of the disclosures above.
“The applicant has no confidence in the honourable Chairman of the tribunal to do justice fairly between parties in this case. as he is a man on a mission to please his masters.
“In spite of the fact that the attention of the tribunal was drawn to four different orders of court, the Chairman, in ruling, abandoned two of the orders and kept on emphasizing on the orders from the Federal High Court and the F.C.T High Court alone supported by Member ll.
“The tribunal has by the conduct, comments and pronouncements of the Chairman on the 14th of January, 1019 and supported by Member II on the 22nd January, 2019 has predetermined the motion of the defendant, challenging its jurisdiction before even same can be heard.
“After the rulings of the 22nd January, 2019, the counsel to the prosecution, again urged the honourable tribunal to make an interim order for the defendant to step aside as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and chairman of the National Judicial Council, but the Chairman of the tribunal in open court stated that the prosecutor should exercise patience, because his motion on notice for stepping aside would be heard at the next adjourned date, which caused all lawyers and members of the public present in court to exclaim in bewilderment before the honourable Chairman struggled unconvincingly to correct himself to the effect that what he meant was for the motion challenging jurisdiction be taken first and thereafter the motion for stepping aside.
“The honourable Chairman later rightly informed the prosecution counsel, in open court, that he was not going to make any interim order for the defendant to step aside, because the issue of jurisdiction raised was fundamental and then adjourned the matter to the 18th January, 2019 for the hearing of motions.
“Surprisingly, on the 23rd of January, 2019, a day after the proceedings of 22nd January, 2019, wherein matter was adjourned to the 28th January, 2019, the Chairman and Member 11 purportedly issued an order ex-parte, directing the defendant to step aside as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council and also directed the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to swear-in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council.
“The Chairman and Member II of this tribunal gave the prosecution/complainant/respondent, through the back door, what they seek by their notion on notice dated 10th January, 2019. Following the said order ex-parte, which was never served on the applicant or the National Judicial Council, the President purportedly suspended the Defendant/Applicant from office on the 25th of January, 2019 and appointed Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council.
“There is a clear case of bias against the Defendant/Applicant from the facts narrated above. The defendant/applicant has become totally apprehensive of the proceedings of the honourable tribunal and cannot continue in the proceedings because it has become palpable that he cannot get justice from the conduct and disposition of the Chairman and Member II.
“The honourable tribunal, especially the Chairman, has constituted himself as the prosecutor and accuser of the defendant/applicant and cannot in good and clear conscience continue to be part of the proceedings and trial of the applicant.
“It is most honourable for the honourable Chairman and Member II to recuse and disqualify themselves from the proceedings so that a person of firm and unbiased disposition can be appointed to preside over the proceedings of this matter.
“The Chairman has constructively convicted the defendant (the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria), sought to be arraigned before him, without either hearing from him or his being formally arraigned before him.”