Onnoghen’s Conviction: Access to Justice Condemns CCT’s Judgment

Walter Onnoghen

Davidson Iriekpen 

A civil society organisation, Access to Justice (A2Justice), has described the conviction of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) as absurd and a travesty of justice.

Justice Onnoghen was last Thursday convicted by the CCT on a six-count charge of false declaration of assets preferred against him by the federal government.

In a statement at the weekend and signed by its Executive Director, Joseph Otteh, A2Justice said the cardinal principles of rule of law were not followed before the conviction.

It said part of the requirement of rule of law is that courts and tribunals, which exercise judicial powers should be independent of other arms of government and appear, in the perception of reasonable observers, to be so independent, which was not the case with the CCT

“Unfortunately, the CCT did not offer this guarantee of independence, neither its perception – far from it. The CCT had, from the word go, drawn the handwriting on the wall indicating that it was bent on a particular outcome, and that it would look neither to the left nor to the right in the blind pursuit of that goal,” it stated.

The group said while it takes no position on whether Justice Onnoghen committed the infractions with which he was charged or indeed is guilty of offences, the trial was, in every way, grossly and grievously unfair.

It contended that no fair-minded court or tribunal could have descended to the depths the CCT delved into trying to convict the former CJN on the charges against him in order to remove him from office.

It further noted that the CCT was so desperate to convict Onnoghen that it had to overturn or side-step its previous judgments on similar matters, decisions such as those given in a prior case involving another Justice of the Supreme Court.

A2 Justice added that a cardinal principle of the common law system is that similar cases are decided alike in other to prevent arbitrariness and caprice in the adjudication of cases.

“The tribunal had, from the word go, drawn the handwriting on the wall indicating that it was bent on a particular outcome, and that it would look neither to the left nor to the right in the blind pursuit of that goal.

“At several pivotal junctures in the course of the trial, the tribunal appeared to demonstrate that it was clearly on the same side with the government, and was not sitting as an unbiased umpire or judicial arbiter.

“Nowhere was this more evident as when Danladi Umar and another member of the tribunal granted, speaking figuratively, under cover of darkness on January 23, 2019, an ex-parte order removing Justice Onnoghen.

“The bizarre and egregious procedure taken to unseat Justice Onnoghen was an unmistakable indication that no barrel was too deep to plumb in getting to achieve what the tribunal wanted to achieve, and no rule or principle of law was strong or revered enough to forestall its plan.

“It will not surprise many that the CCT reached the verdict it did after using very questionable procedures from the very start.

“It would be a serious fallacy to characterise the tribunal’s verdict as one reached after a due process trial using even the lowest possible denominators of what a fair trial represents.

“The procedures adopted by the tribunal in the case were far too faulty and flawed to be regarded as a judicial process.

“To reasonable observers, it would appear that the tribunal’s procedure and speed were deliberately contorted to enable it reach its pre-determined outcomes, and its verdict was simply a reflection and product of the shambolic trial.

“This is not a way to fight corruption. There is no positive, but rather, there are plenty negatives to this flawed judgment.

“This judgment merely shows how much is still lacking in Nigeria’s courts and tribunals and how distanced they truly are from being independent vehicles of justice,” A2Justice stated.