…as suspended CJN opens defence, lines up 3 witnesses
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—-The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Monday, opened his defence to the allegation that he failed to declare his assets as prescribed by the law.
Onnoghen kick-started his defence to the allegation, following the decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja that he has a case to answer with regards to the six-count charge the Federal Government preferred against him.
FG had in the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/19, alleged that Onnoghen’s failure to properly declare his assets, was in violation of section 15(2) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
It further alleged that the suspended CJN operated five foreign bank accounts, contrary to the code of conduct for public officers.
The Mr. Danladi Umar-led three-member panel tribunal had in a ruling last Friday, declined to discharge and acquit the defendant, insisting that he has explanations to give with respect to the allegations.
FG had earlier closed its case after it called three witnesses that testified before the CCT.
Consequently, sequel to directive of the tribunal, the embattled CJN, on Monday, said he would also call three witnesses to establish his innocence.
In his Evidence-In-Chief, the first defence witness, DW-1, Mr. Lawal Busari, a driver at the Supreme Court, told the tribunal that he was the one that drove the defendant to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, the day he collected his asset declaration form.
The witness, who said he joined the judiciary in February 1999, told the CCT that he was equally there when Onnoghen submitted the completed asset declaration forms at the CCB office in Asokoro, Abuja.
He said the forms which were issues to both himself and Onnoghen on July 28, 2010, were filled and returned back to the CCB sometimes in November same year.
Mr. Busari told the tribunal that Onnoghen submitted the asset declaration form before he was appointed the CJN.
Led in evidence by Onnoghen’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, the witness, said: “On July 28, 2010, my lordship called me to take him to the CCB office at Asokoro.
“When we got there, he collected asset declaration forms. After the form was given to him, he said Alhaji, are you not collecting your own?
“He said, collect it, and I did. We came back to the office, I filled my own too.
“On November 4, 2010, he gave me N200 to pay for the asset declaration form.
The second day, I did my own too and paid the cashier N200 at the FCT High Court”.
Though the prosecution counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umaru, SAN, opposed the tendering of the receipt in evidence, he was however overruled by the tribunal.
The CCT Chairman admitted and marked the receipt as an exhibit in the trial.
Continuing his testimony, Mr. Busari said: “After payment at the FCT High Court, we went and submitted the form, my self and your lordship, at Asokoro office of the CCB.
“It is a woman, fair in complexion that received the form. I cannot remember her name, but she received both forms.
“The form was not acknowledged that day. The woman said we should come back to collect the acknowledgment copy”.
The witness said he subsequently went back to the CCB alone and collected the acknowledged form.
Under cross examination, the prosecution counsel queried Mr. Busari if he was reading from a piece of paper.
Upon the admission of the witness that he was indeed holding a piece of paper in his hand, the tribunal Chairman, demanded that the paper should be brought to him.
After the CCT Chairman had read through the paper, the prosecution counsel requested that it should be returned back to the witness.
Asked who wrote and gave him the paper, the witness said: ” My Lord I wrote it myself. It is my hand writing and it contained facts about me”.
Application by the prosecution to tender the paper in evidence was not opposed by the defence lawyer.
It was therefore admitted in evidence and marked it as as exhibit 7.
The DW-1 told the tribunal that he obtained his WAEC in evidence 2004, adding that he also has Trade Test Certificates, Grade 1, 2, and 3.
He described Justice Onnoghen as a good man, saying he was attached to the defendant as a driver when he was still a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
“He has done so many things I can’t forget. When we went to Jos for tribunal,
I wanted to go to the mosque and I told him, he asked me to take his official car, I was shocked.
“Some of the policemen standing by him said your driver? He said yes, let him go, he is going to pray for me and everybody.
“I took the car and went to mosque and came back. The second thing, anytime I am praying and he needs me. If he is informed that I am praying, he will say please don’t disturb him”.
Meantime, Justice Onnoghen has persuaded the tribunal to issue subpoena to compel a Director at the Code of Conduct Bureau, Mrs Theresa Nwafor, to appear as his second witness.
The proposed witness is currently serving at the CCB office in Edo State.
Application by the suspended CJN to produce her to testify in the matter, was not opposed by the prosecution.
Mr. Umar therefore adjourned the case till Wednesday to enable the witness to appear and give evidence in the trial.
Meanwhile, lead counsel to the CJN, Chief Awomolo, SAN, has alleged interference of the Executive Arm of government in the proceedings before the CCT.
Awomolo decried that framers of the 1999 constitution omitted to give attention to the need for the CCT to secure its independence, impartiality and non interference from external forces.
In a press statement he issued after he he proceeding, Awomolo said: “A situation where the Executive arm of the Federal Government is the Custodian of the Code of Conduct for public officers, the enforcer of the Code of Conduct through the Tribunal. It is the appointing authority of the members of the Tribunal. In the proceedings in the Tribunal, the executive is the accuser, the investigator, Prosecutor, the witness and the judge, all roll together into one.
“This is unacceptable under the Constitution that guarantees independence of the 3 arms of Government. There is urgent need for Constitutional reform.
“The Code of Conduct Tribunal must have courts established in each of the six geopolitical zones of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Monopoly has the ability to breed corruption, arrogance, disregard for the due process and partiality.
“The Code of Conduct Tribunal should be a full member or part of the judiciary under Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 199? (as amended).
“The third lesson is that the case has clearly shown that Nigerian judiciary is very weak, vulnerable and not independent. The security of tenure of a judicial officer is a mere wishful thinking.
“it is unthinkable that the head of the judiciary will be treated the way Onnoghen was treated and not a whimper came from the body of men and women of highest distinction in the legal profession. Is it not dangerous that the President can appoint a Chief Justice without the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC)?
“Whereas political matters and election maters were treated with dispatch, and judgment delivered within hours, the appeal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, six weeks after argument was ordered to be kept away in the file.
“There is no association of Nigerian Judges to speak a word. Let no public officers or judicial officer at any level, throw stones because if not all, most are guilty as Onnoghen.
“Nobody knows who is next, a precedent has been laid. The honourable Attorney-General of the Federation seems pleased.
“Men who sit in judgement over fellow human beings are representative of God on the earth and everyone shall face the almighty God, on the last day, to give account of his stewardship. On that day all secrets shall be laid bare.
“The Bar association has by reason of personal leadership ambition rendered ineffective, divided and week. It is unable to speak boldly to secure the independence of the Judiciary. Elders of the Bar and men of good will should rise from their deep sleep.
“People, who must sit in judgment over others, must be men and women of character, learning and maturity. The mental status and background of such judges must be certified approved.
“The zeal and strong determination of our leaders to fight endemic corruption in our country must be commended and supported. l share the view that corruption is evil, destructive, stunt societal and human growth and diminish the core value of the people.
“The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal is one of the most effective and strategic institution capable of reducing corruption and abuse of office, in the rank and file of public service. There is urgent need for reform of the institutions.
“Corruption cannot be fought successfully with corrupt institutions and corrupt procedure. It is injustice to inflict corrupt procedure on innocent public officers. God will not allow corruption to consume our nation. The end should not justify the means but the means should justify the end.
“The practice of propaganda lies and media trial will encourage injustice. Truth will exalt our nation, but propaganda and lies will enthrone injustice. Lies and injustice is a reproach. Let justice be done even if heaven will fall and let the rule of law be the only means to justify the end”, Awomolo added.