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Reactions As CCT Sacks Onnoghen

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The Code of Conduct Tribunal on Thursday convicted Justice Walter Onnoghen of charges of breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers and ordered his removal from office as Chief Justice.

The three-man tribunal led by Danladi Umar also ordered Onnoghen’s removal as the Chairman of both the National Judicial Council and the Federal Judicial Service Commission.
It banned him from holding any public office for a period of 10 years.

The tribunal also ordered the forfeiture of the funds in the five bank accounts which the defendant was said to have failed to declare as part of his assets in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.

The tribunal, in its historic judgment on Thursday, convicted the former CJN on six counts including a specific allegation that he failed to declare his assets to the bureau between June 2005 and December 14, 2016.

It also found him guilty on the rest of the five counts, in which the defendant was alleged to have falsely declared his assets on December 14, 2016, by omitting to declare his domiciliary dollar, euro and pound sterling accounts as well as his two naira accounts, all domiciled in Standard Chartered Bank (Nig.) Ltd.

Convicting the erstwhile CJN on all the six counts, the tribunal chairman, who read the judgment, said, “Having regard to section 23(2) of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and Bureau Act, the defendant has clearly contravened the Code of Conduct for Public Officers and he is hereby convicted.”

The tribunal chairman then offered an opportunity to the ex-CJN to make an allocutus, that is, a plea for leniency.

But in response Onnoghen, who was seated in the dock throughout the proceedings, stood up and bowed as he said, “No comment.”

The charges were filed against Onnoghen on January 11 and 23. The CCT then made an ex parte order directing President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend him pending the conclusion of his trial.

Enforcing the order, Buhari suspended him on January 25 and immediately swore the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Tanko Muhammad, as acting CJN, as stipulated in the CCT order.

On April 4, barely 24 hours after the NJC sent its recommendations on the allegations of misconduct levelled against Onnoghen to Buhari, the former CJN reportedly tendered his letter of voluntary resignation.

The recommendations of the NJC had yet to be made public but the council had said it refrained from investigating the petition which contained exact allegations as the charges Onnoghen was being prosecuted for at the CCT.

The CCT its judgment on Thursday said the prosecution led by Aliyu Umar (SAN), successfully proved all the elements of the offences of breach of Code of Conduct for Public Officers, saying it believed the evidence of the three prosecution witnesses who testified in the case.

The tribunal chairman noted that Onnoghen, who only called one witness failed to dispute the evidence of the three prosecution witnesses. He added that Onnoghen had confessed to the crime by claiming to have forgotten to declare the five accounts.

The CCT chairman noted that the defendant only called his driver, Mr Lawal Busari, as his only witness, who “did not say anything about the Form CCB 1, the assets declaration forms, submitted by the defendant.”

He noted that the confession was enough to convict the defendant.

He said, “The evidence of Prosecution Witness 1, Prosecution Witness 2 and Prosecution Witness 3 was not disputed. The statement of the defendant made in his hand writing alluding to forgetfulness to declare the five accounts is enough to hold that the defendant clearly contravened the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.”

But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Okon Efut, who is one of the leaders of Onnoghen’s legal team, described the conviction of the erstwhile CJN by the CCT as unconstitutional and premeditated.

Speaking with journalists on the premises of the CCT after judgment was passed on his client on Thursday, Efut said the CCT’s judgment would be appealed against at the Court of Appeal.

He said, “We know that all is not over in this matter. The wheel of justice grinds slowly. It grinds slowly but surely, this is not a matter that will end here. We shall avail ourselves of all the processes and the hierarchy of the judiciary.”

Efut described the judgment as unconstitutional as it breached the ex-CJN’s right to fair hearing.

He also said the judgment was premeditated, saying it had been passed as far back as January 23, when the tribunal ordered Onnoghen’s suspension without hearing him.

He said, “So, it was fait accompli, it was premeditated. Judgment has been passed before today. Today’s judgment is just a formality.

“We hold the view that the tribunal has not only breached the Constitution of Nigeria, it has breached the fundamental principles of natural justice, equity and good conscience.

“It has not only been able to pass judgment, it has convicted on an offence that was never charged. This is an erosion of the fundamental principles of our constitution.”

Onnoghen appeals against conviction by CCT 
Meanwhile, Onnoghen has filed 16 grounds notice of appeal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, shortly after the judgment was delivered by the CCT on Thursday.

He insisted, among others, that he did not confess to the alleged offences, as held by the CCT. Chief Awomolo Adegboyega (SAN) topped the list of lawyers who filed the appealed on his behalf. The rest are Chief Chris Uche (SAN), Efut, Chief Ogwu Onoja (SAN), and George Ibrahim.

They said the lower tribunal erred in law when it held that the appellant confessed to the charges framed by admission and use that as a basis to hold that the appellant did not declare his assets from year 2005 when he became a Justice of the Supreme Court and thus occasioned a gross miscarriage of justice.

The defence lawyers contended among others that the tribunal erred in law when “it placed the burden of proving his innocence on him in violation of Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 135(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011.”

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