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Nigeria tribunal issues arrest warrant for top judge before elections

FILE PHOTO: Nigerian police officers try to disperse protesters, some supporting and some opposing the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen, in Abuja, Nigeria January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

ABUJA (Reuters) - A tribunal on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant for Nigeria’s suspended chief judge for failing to appear for trial over alleged breaches of asset declaration rules, days before Saturday’s presidential election.

The ‘code of conduct tribunal’ had ordered chief judge Walter Onnoghen to appear for trial on Wednesday. The tribunal issued the warrant for Onnoghen to appear on Feb. 15.

“The inspector general of police is hereby ordered to arrest and bring the defendant to court unfailingly on the next sitting of the court on Friday,” Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Danladi Umar said.

Onnoghen was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari last month pending the tribunal’s verdict on his alleged violation of wealth declaration rules, weeks before a Feb. 16 presidential election in which Buhari is seeking a new mandate.

The suspension has led opponents of Buhari to accuse him of interfering in the electoral process and of showing regional and religious favouritism. The European Union and the United States have also voiced concerns.

Nigeria’s chief judge has a leading role in resolving electoral disputes. Onnoghen, also faces a query from Nigeria’s top legal body, the National Judicial Council.

Onnoghen could not be reached to comment.

The CCT said on Jan. 12 that Onnoghen would face six counts of alleged non-declaration of assets. The allegations were initially made by Dennis Aghanya, who served as Buhari’s media aide between 2009 and 2011. The charges are yet to be disclosed.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha, Editing by William Maclean