There was drama at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday, after a senior lawyer representing the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, was confronted with allegations of delaying the proceedings by the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar.
Mr Umar was reacting to a request by the lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo, for an adjournment of the matter, when he accused the senior advocate of employing “delay tactics” which, he said, would not be tolerated by the tribunal.
Mr Awomolo had asked the court to adjourn the matter to allow the National Judicial Council decide on a petition filed by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to the National Judicial Council, concerning the same reasons for which Mr Onnoghen is being tried at the tribunal.
His argument was that the current petition by the AGF necessitated a suspension of the trial to avoid double jeopardy against his client.
However, Mr Umar argued that the current application for adjournment should not have been based on his client’s petition to the NJC.
Mr Umar then questioned the current application by Mr Awomolo, describing his actions as a plot to delay the court.
“Your application amounts to a delay tactic,” Mr Umar told Mr Awomolo.
The allegation was strongly opposed by the senior lawyer who argued that he had never been so confronted in his 42 years at the bar.
“I take strong exception to that, with all respect. I am 72 years old: 42 years at the bar. I have never been so indicted and I take strong exceptions to that,” Mr Awomolo said.
In response, Mr Umar said he would proceed with the application by the prosecution which is intended to formalise the decisions already taken by the government, namely the suspension of Mr Onnoghen.
The tribunal chairman argued that the NJC was not a court and its activities cannot stop the actions in an ongoing trial.
The back and forth confrontation between Messrs Umar and Awomolo was however curtailed by the prosecution lawyer who asked the tribunal for a 30 – minute stand down.
Subsequently, the tribunal adjourned and resumed to take a date, February 13, for further hearing on the matter.
Mr Umar informed the defence team that his tribunal would need the presence of Mr Onnoghen at the next adjourned date.
According to Mr Umar, any application against the jurisdiction of the court would only be entertained after the plea has been taken.
Mr Onnoghen is facing trial on six counts for alleged false asset declaration.
His applications challenging the ongoing trial is also expected to be heard on Monday, at the tribunal.