Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The lead counsel defending the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), suggested on Monday that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had been ordered to keep away in files the judgments on the embattled top judicial officers’ appeals.
Awomolo, in a press statement, copies of which he shared to journalists at the end of Monday’s proceedings, expressed concerns that while political and election matters were treated with dispatch, the Court of Appeal has not been able to give judgment in the appeals filed by Onnoghen six weeks after they were heard.
Onnoghen is being prosecuted by the Federal Government on six counts of false and non-declaration of his assets.
He opened his defence on Monday by calling his driver, Mr. Lawal Busari, as his first witness.
The Justice Stephen Adah-led three-man panel of the Court of Appeal had, on February 27, 2019, conducted hearing on the appeals filed to challenge his trial before the CCT and the order issued by the tribunal suspending him from office.
Speaking about the delay in delivering the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Awomolo noted that most Nigerian public officers and judges were as guilty as the suspended CJN, warning that nobody knew who would be the next after the precedent already laid with Onnoghen’s trial.
He said, “Whereas political matters and election matters were treated with dispatch, and judgment delivered within hours, the appeal of Chief Justice of Nigeria, six weeks after argument, was ordered to be kept away in the file.
“There is no association of Nigerian judges to speak a word.
“Let no public officer or judicial officer at any level throw stones because, if not all, most are as guilty as Onnoghen. Nobody knows who is next, a precedent has been laid.
“The honourable Attorney-General of the Federation seems pleased.”
He also said his client’s ongoing trial has exposed the Nigerian judiciary to be a weak institution, saying, “the Nigerian Bar Association has, by reason of personal leadership ambition, been rendered ineffective, divided and weak.”
He dded that the framers of the Nigerian Constitution “omitted to give sufficient attention to the need for the Code of Conduct Tribunal to secure its independence, impartiality and non-interference.”
Worried that “the head of the judiciary will be treated the way Onnoghen was treated,” Awomolo said the CCT trial had shown that the judiciary was not independent and the security of tenure of judicial officers “is a mere wishful thinking.”
He said, “The third lesson is that the case has clearly shown that Nigerian judiciary is very weak, vulnerable and not independent. The security of tenure of a judicial officer is a mere wishful thinking.
“It is unthinkable that the head of the judiciary will be treated the way Onnoghen was treated and not a whimper came from the body of men and women of highest distinction in the legal profession.
“Is it not dangerous that the President can appoint a Chief Justice of Nigeria without the recommendation of the National Judicial Council?”
The senior lawyer, who described Onnoghen as “the hero of the whole episode,” noted that the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria had “remained composed, notwithstanding the lies, propaganda and social media conviction that attracted so much scandal, threat, serious health afflictions, and unthinkable events of our time.”