The Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja on Thursday convicted Justice Walter Onnoghen, suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) for false and non-assets declaration leveled against him by the Federal Government.
Delivering judgment, Justice Danladi Umar, Charmian of the tribunal held that the prosecution was able to proved the allegations against the convict beyond reasonable doubt.
Umar held that Onnoghen’s claim of mistakes and forgetfulness as responsible for his failure to declare his five domiciliary accounts with the Standard Chattered Bank was a breach of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Tribunal Act.
According to Umar Onnoghen’s confessional statement amounted to acceptance of the crime.
“The tribunal having considered the evidence of the parties, it becomes crystal clear that the defendant contravened the provisions of the CCB and CCT Act.
Umar held that the defendant particularly violated the provisions of Section 23(2) of the Code of Conduct for Public officer.
He however said Onnoghen was not found guilty as a judicial officer but as a public officer.
In pronouncing his sentence after the defendant’s plea for mercy failed, Umar went ahead to order the forfeiture of the monies domiciled in the five accounts not declared to the federal government.
Umar also ordered that Onnoghen be bound from holding any public office within the period of 10 years.
Ruling on the motion filed by the defendant challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal, Umar held that the tribunal was a creation of the Constitution specifically aimed at adjudicating on petitions arising from allegations of non-asset declaration.
He therefore, said the motion lacked merit as the tribunal had jurisdiction to try all public office holders including erring judicial officers.
“The power of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, is well established in the constitution to try the CJN and others like him.
“Let it be made clear here that the defendant was charged as a public officer and not as a judicial officer in accordance with paragraph five of the 5th Schedule of the constitution.
“The tribunal hereby over rules itself in the judgment of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice of the Supreme where it declined jurisdiction to set him free.
“In that judgment, the tribunal had erroneously held that it could not try Ngwuta because the National Judicial Council(NJC) had not treated the matter.
“The fact of the matter is that the tribunal could try any erring judicial officer because they have dual status of being public officers and judicial officers,’’ Umar said.
On the motion for the Chairman of the tribunal to recuse himself on account of glaring bais, Umar declined that prayer and dismissed the motion.
The defendant had in that motion alleged that Umar has a pending charges brought with the EFCC.
Umar, however, said it was fool hardy for any one to contemplate that he had a pending charges drafted against him by EFCC.
According to him, the anti-graft has completed the bribery investigation against him and found him not liable.
He also said be it was surprising for the defence team to hold that he was bias and took instructions from the presidency.
“The tribunal is satisfied with the evidence before it that the defendant failed to declare all his assets after he was swear in as the CJN.
“The tribunal has examined the hard fact, the prosecution have discharged the onus place on it without any iota of doubt.
“On the whole, the defendant has breached the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Tribunal Act and is therefore guilty of the six-count charge levied against him,’’ Umar said.
Speaking to newsmen after the session, Mr Okon Efut, SAN, Counsel to Onnoghen said the entire process was shrouded in secrecy, adding that the judgment was passed when his client was suspended without due diligence.
He said the judiciary and democracy had been degraded, adding that the decision would be challenged at the Court of Appeal.
“Justice may be slow as it grinds gently but steadily we obtain justice and equity,” Efut said.
NAN reports that Onnoghen, who was Nigeria’s 17th Chief Justice, was arraigned by the Code of Conduct Bureau, following a petition brought against him by a group, the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, headed by a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Enugu State, Denis Aghanya.
Onnoghen was charged on six counts, for allegedly failing to declare some of his accounts in the asset declaration form submitted to the CCB in December, 2016.
According to the charge, Onnoghen also failed to declare his assets after the expiration of his declaration form filled in 2005.
NAN reports that Onnoghen’s trials started when a petition was filed by the civil rights group at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) alleging that he owns ” sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as Aug. 10, 2016, which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.”
The trial commenced on Jan, 14, 2019 at Code of Conduct Tribunal but Onnoghen was absent
The case was then adjourned to the following week because Onnoghen faulted the summons procedure.
The next hearing was slated for Jan. 22, 2019 but he failed to show up in court again.
Following his absence again, President Muhammadu Buhari suspended him on Jan. 26 and appointed Tanko Ibrahim as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.