Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria due to be arraigned for alleged false assets declaration charges, was absent in call when his trial commenced on Monday morning.
Mr 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.
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.
The petition lodged by Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARBDI), drew the CCB attention to what it called serious concerns bordering on flagrant violations of the law and constitution of Nigeria by the CJN.
The case has generated intense political interest, with critics accusing the Buhari 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.
Senior Advocates of Nigeria who have volunteered to be on the defence team of the CJN have since arrived the court.
They include Wole Olanipekun, Chief Kanu Agabi, Chief Chris Uche, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, Mrs. Victoria Agabi, Sebastine Hon, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume, Kehinde Ogunwumiju, Garba Tetengi A.T Kehinde, Effiong Offiong, Yusuf Ali, Sylva Ogwemoh, Paul Erokoro, Tawo, and many others.
Security within the CCT is water tight as police officers in their numbers are positioned all around the vicinity.
Wole Olanipekun, a senior Nigerian lawyer who is leading a team of 46 other senior lawyers to enter defence for the chief justice, began by challenging the jurisdiction of the case.
Olanipekun said, “You have to first determine whether you have the jurisdiction to try this matter,” Mr Olanipekun said to the tribunal chairman.
Mr Olanipekun said Mr Onnoghen has not been indicted by the National Judicial Council as legally required of serving judges before his matter was picked up by the tribunal following a petition filed by a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Following pleas by Mr Olanikpekun, the tribunal has adjourned the matter till next Tuesday.