The first hearing in the false asset declaration suit filed against Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen opened on Monday at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja has been adjourned till January 22 (Next week Tuesday).
The scheduled trial, which has sparked reactions across the the country with many accusing the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration of trying to oust the chief judge shortly before presidential election, to ensure he faces no risk of unfavourable court decision should the poll be disputed.
At the hearing on Monday, dozens of senior lawyers stormed the court to defend the chief justice who was conspicuously absent.
Wole Olanipekun (SAN) led a team of 46 other senior lawyers to enter defence for the chief justice.
Onnoghen, Nigeria’s 17th Chief Justice, is the first serving Chief Justice to be arraigned for criminal offences. There is no immediate record of any former chief justice being charged in a similar manner, either.
How the charges were filed has been amongst the most controversial aspects of the development since its disclosure on Saturday.
The petition was forwarded to the Code of Conduct Bureau on January 9 by Dennis Aghanya, a former media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari and a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Enugu State.
Lawyers, including the Nigerian Bar Association, have argued that Onnoghen’s trial would not stand because he has not been previously investigated and indicted by the National Judicial Council as required by an existing judgement.
They rely on a decent decision of the Appeal Court in Lagos, which said the NJC must first sanction a serving Judge before they can be arraigned in any court.
Although that Appeal Court judgment, which was delivered against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was appealed by the anti-graft office to the Supreme Court, no verdict had been reached on the matter.
Onnoghen, who was confirmed Chief Justice in March 2017, is from Cross River State.
On Sunday, five governors of the South South region, where where the embattled CJN hails from, held an emergency meeting and urged the jurist to ignore the charges and not attend the trial.