- Confessional statement is enough evidence to warrant that he enters his defense
BY Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has dismissed the No Case Submission filed by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, who is standing trial before the tribunal for alleged non asset declaration.
Onnoghen had yesterday asked CCT to quash the six-count charge of non-declaration of assets brought against him by the Federal Government of Nigeria for lacking in merit.
The federal government had in January 2019, commenced proceedings against Onnoghen over his alleged failure to declare his assets in line with the provisions of the law for public officers.
Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, who dismissed the no case submission yesterday, also ordered the defendant to enter his defense if he has any.
He ruled that there was sufficient grounds to warrant Onnoghen respond to the charges against him, contrary to the submission of his lawyers.
The embattled suspended CJN, had through his lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, informed the tribunal that he would be filing a no case submission since the prosecution had not been able to establish a prima facie case against him, after it closed its case after calling only three of the six witnesses listed in the charge.
Awomolo had argued that that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) did not substantially comply with its own law in proffering the charges against the defendant.
According to Awomolo, the CCB did not verify the form filled by Onnoghen as admitted by the 2nd prosecution witness.
He submitted further that the assets declaration form, which Onnoghen is being accused of not filling properly, was neither verified by the authorised persons nor the department saddled with the responsibilities to so.
Awomolo contended that the defendant did not fill the assets declaration form and that there was no investigation to show that it was done.
He argued: “Prosecution witness 2 said there is a register where all submitted forms are filed and a column to fill, after investigating the form. The witness said neither the registrar, nor the director, nor department officer, investigated the defendant’s form.”
Awomolo also submitted that the maker of exhibit one (petitioner) was not brought to the court to testify.
He therefore declared that “the petition amounts to hearsay and should be expunged from record.”
He cited section 84 of the Evidence Act, pointing out that for exhibit to succeed, the maker must present them, arguing further that exhibits 4 and 5 were presented by bank officials who were not the maker.
Delivering ruling, Umar however held that the confessional statement of the defendant that he made a mistake by not mentioning his five accounts in Standard Chartered Bank was enough evidence to warrant that he enters his defense.
The CCT boss said he would not allow technicalities to arrive at a conclusion in the trial of Onnoghen.
Umar further held that the defense rather than allowing the defendant to take punishment due to him for his confessional statement was out to prevent the tribunal from doing its job.
He stressed that the tribunal would not shy away from given punishment to anybody no matter his status in society, be it the president.
He held that the exhibits and witnesses called by the prosecution were weighty enough to put the scale in the part of justice. “We call on the defendant to enter his defense to clear his name because it has been dented so much”, he said, adding that the no case submission “is discountenance and it is hereby refused.”
He subsequently adjourned till Monday April 1, for Onnoghen to enter his defense.
However, there was drama shortly after Awomolo requested for a short adjournment to enable his client prepare effectively for his defense.
But CCT chairman refused to grant the adjournment on the grounds that the trial must be conducted day to day in line with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act ACJA, 2015.
All efforts to plead with the chairman to allow the adjournment so that the defendant can adequately prepare for his defense yielded no result as the chairman refused all entreaties leaving Onnoghen’s counsel, shouting “justice, justice.”
At this point, tempers were flayed, as lawyers from both sides engage each other in a shouting bout.
Meanwhile, the suspended CJN has filed a notice of appeal against the ruling of the tribunal on his no case submission.
In a Notice of Appeal, Onnoghen argued that the tribunal erred in law when it dismissed his no case submission without appreciating the position of the law that due process was not followed in the filing of charges against him.
The appellant claimed that the CCB is bound by the provisions of the Code of Conduct Standard Procedure, 2017 with respect to investigation and report of investigation.
In the notice of Appeal, Onnoghen also said the 1st prosecution witness had told the tribunal that what his team did, does not amount to investigation, adding that investigation had not been concluded as at January 10, when the charges were filed.
Onnoghen therefore prayed the court of Appeal to set aside the decision of the tribunal that he has a case to answer.
He also urged the appellate court to allow the appeal and discharge him from the charges against him.