A Nigerian appeal court on Wednesday dismissed a bid by the country’s top judge to stop his corruption trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a special financial ethics court.
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, was suspended last week by President Muhammadu Buhari pending the determination of his trial at the tribunal.
The president’s action has been widely criticised by the opposition, lawyers and international community, including the European Union (EU), the United States (US) and Britain because of its timing just weeks ahead of elections.
Voters will go to the polls on 16 February to elect a new president and national parliament while governorship and state assembly elections take place two weeks later.
Buhari, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who came to power in 2015, is seeking a second term and he faces a formidable challenge from former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Onnoghen, as head of the Supreme Court, would have given a final ruling in case of disputes arising from the polls.
He approached the Court of Appeal in Abuja in a bid to stop his trial. However, in a unanimous ruling on Wednesday, the three-member appeal court said Onnoghen’s application for a stay of proceedings at the tribunal is “hereby refused”.
With the ruling, the judge’s trial will resume at the ethical court. The Code of Conduct Tribunal is a special court of ethics which hears cases of alleged non-declaration or false declaration of assets.
Onnoghen is accused of failing to declare foreign currency bank accounts, in breach of rules governing public officials.
However, the timing of the charges and the manner of his removal has caused consternation.
Former military ruler Buhari, 76, was accused of overreaching his powers in bypassing parliament, which constitutionally has to sanction such a move.