The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) has finally served the criminal charges on false asset declaration directly to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen preparatory for his arraignment on January 22, 2019 at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
At the hearing on Monday, a clerk of the Tribunal, following a query from the Chairman, Danladi Umar, confirmed that the charge was received on behalf of the CJN, by one Sunday O. Osai who was identified as his personal assistant.
He then applied to be allowed to effect another service of the charge on Justice Onnoghen.
But despite the latest development, the CCT will still have to contend with orders of a Federal High Court and National Industrial Court both in Abuja which restrained it from proceeding with the arraignment of the CJN pending the determination of two different suits before them.
According to PRNigeria, an impeccable source on Wednesday stated that the order of the two courts may not be binding on the tribunal because they are courts of coordinate jurisdiction which by law have equal powers.
The source added that charges were served personally on the CJN on Monday 14, January 2018 by 3.30pm in his office at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Abuja.
Justice Onnogen, it was gathered, personally received the charges and signed for it, a condition required before he could be properly arraigned at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
With the endorsement of the service of the charge, the coast is clear for the Buhari Government to formally arrign Justice Onnoghen on January 22, 2019 before Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar led-tribunal.
The CJN was billed to be arraigned on Monday, January 14, but he was absent on the ground that the condition precedent for his appearance had not been lawfully met by the prosecution.
Legal luminary, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) who led a retinue of Senior Lawyers to defend the CJN, informed the tribunal that his client was not at the tribunal to take his plea because he had not been served with the charges against him as required by law.
Besides, Olanipekun also told the three-man tribunal that the CJN is challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try his client and that the 6 count-charge was not competent in law.
The ground of objection by the CJN is that as a serving judicial officer, he can only be punished for any offence committed by the National Judicial Council, a body empowered by the 1999 Constitution to deal with erring judicial officers without any recourse to any law court.
Although the Federal Government lawyer Alhaji Aliyu Umar (SAN) had sought to know why the CJN was absent in court, the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Umar directed the prosecution to do the needful by serving the charge on the person of Justice Onnoghen directly as required by law.
The Tribunal Chairman said that although the charge was said to have been served on a personal assistant to the defendant, there is no established facts, that the charge was conveyed to the CJN by his aide.
The Federal Government had filed criminal charges against Justice Onnoghen on the ground of his alleged failure to declare his asset as a substantive CJN as required by law.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has employed the services of a former Commissioner of Justice in Kano State, Aliyu Umar, to head the team of prosecutors.
Umar was the prosecutor during the trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu before an FCT High Court.
SANs that are part of the CJN defence team include Wole Olanipekun, Adegboyega Awomolo, Kanu Agabi, Chris Uche, Yusuf Ali, Garba Tetengi, Effiong Offiong, Kehinde Ogunwumiji, Paul Erokoro, Tawo E Tawo and Victoria Awomolo.