The prosecution team charging Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen for false assets declaration allegations has demanded that the top jurist must show up in court to have his charges read to him.
Trial opened at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the trial of Mr Onnoghen shortly after 10:00 a.m. on Monday. The senior judge was absent, but 47 senior lawyers, led by Wole Olanipekun, made appearances for him.
Mr Olanipekun said Mr Onnoghen did not have to appear because the tribunal lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter. He also said the judge was not properly served of court summons prior to his scheduled arraignment today.
Aliu Umar, who leads the prosecution team, however, argued that Mr Onnoghen cannot avoid to appear for hearing.
He said there is no law that says a defendant shall refuse to appear before a court just on the grounds of contesting jurisdiction.
“He should be here,” Mr Aliu said, but “he may refuse to be arraigned and say that he is contesting the case.”
Mr Olanipekun argued that Mr Onnoghen’s personal assistant was served the court summons for onward passage to the chief judge himself, which he said should render the process a nullity.
This can be cured by directing that the service be made directly to the chief justice himself, Mr Aliu said, insisting that there are no tenable grounds for Mr Onnoghen not to appear for trial.
Uncertainties over whether Mr Onnoghen would appear for trial were palpable across the country throughout the weekend.
Several supporters of the chief justice and opposition elements have insisted that he should not appear.
Five out of six governors in the South-South, the Niger-Delta region where Mr Onnoghen hails from, also prevailed on the chief justice to shun the tribunal on Sunday night.
Mr Onnoghen faces six counts of false assets declaration charges, following a petition that said he failed to disclose a series of bank accounts in local and foreign currency while sitting on the Supreme Court for several years, in alleged violation of the code of conduct law.