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Nigeria's top judge asset declaration trial postponed to January 22

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ABUJA (Reuters) – A court hearing to consider allegations that the head of Nigeria’s judiciary breached asset declaration rules was adjourned on Monday until Jan. 22, weeks ahead of a presidential election in which he could play a crucial role.

Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen did not appear at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) hearing.

Nigeria’s judiciary plays a key role in election matters and has helped resolve disputes in past votes. That means Onnoghen or his successor could help decide the victor if results of the Feb. 16 poll are disputed in court.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who was a military ruler in the early 1980s, is seeking a second term and is campaigning on his anti-corruption record.

The conduct tribunal, which tries asset declaration misdemeanours, said in a statement on Saturday that Onnoghen would face six separate charges, but did not give further details. Onnoghen could not be reached for comment.

Under Nigerian law, state officials must declare their assets before taking office and after they leave.

The court agreed that the chief justice was not properly served with a court summons because papers were served to his personal assistant and not Onnoghen himself.

“The case is adjourned to Tuesday 22nd January. Before then, the defendant would have been properly served,” said Danladi Umar, chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The charges stem from allegations made by Dennis Aghanya, who served as Buhari’s media aide between 2009 and 2011 and worked with the president in his now defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party.

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said Buhari’s ruling party was plotting to destabilise the judiciary ahead of elections by seeking to remove Onnoghen, which they say could cause a constitutional crisis.

Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party said it was committed to addressing corruption allegations and that the opposition’s claims were a “baseless conspiracy theory”.

(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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