After three months of trial, the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, has fixed Thursday April 18 to give judgment in the six-count charge of false asset declaration brought against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen by the Federal Government.
Chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Yakubu Umar, who announced the date of judgment also disclosed that rulings will be delivered on the same date in the two motions earlier filed by Onnoghen in which he challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal and and, also praying that the tribunal chairman should recuse himself from the trial on account of bias.
At the adoption of final addresses by Onnoghen’s counsel, Okon Nkanu, SAN, and prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar, Danladi announced that judgment and ruling would be delivered simultaneously on that fateful day.
While adopting his final address, Onnoghen’s counsel prayed the tribunal to dismiss the six-count charges against his client on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove the essential ingredients of the charges beyond reasonable doubt.
Also, Nkanu argued that false declaration of asset charge against Onnoghen was unknown to law because it was not clearly defined by the constitution.
He added that for the prosecution to succeed, the elements of each count in the six-count charge must be well established and its absence, the tribunal under the law must rule in favour of the defendant.
The counsel particularly faulted the claim of the prosecution that Onnoghen made partial asset declaration, adding that the claim establishes the fact that Onnoghen declared his asset and that if it was done, it raises doubts that must be resolved in favour of the defendant.
Nkanu further told the Danladi Umar-led tribunal that from the asset declaration form of Onnoghen which was admitted by the tribunal as exhibit, it was clear that the claims of Onnoghen were not verified by the CCB as required by law and, therefore, the charges against his client were based on hearsay.
The defence counsel, therefore, prayed the tribunal to dismiss the entire charges, discharge and aquit Onnoghen from the alleged offences.
In his adoption, the prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar, informed the tribunal that all the essential ingredients of the charges have been proved beyond all reasonable doubts and prayed the tribunal to uphold his submission.
The counsel insisted that the defendant did not declare his asset between 2005 to 2015. And added that when he did so on December 14, 2016, five bank accounts with Standard chartered bank opened between 2009 and 2011 were not declared.
He, therefore, urged the tribunal to hold that the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
It would be recalled that the Federal government had on January 11, filed a six-count charge bordering on false and non- declaration of asset against Onnoghen at the tribunal which culminated in his suspension from office by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association is holding talks with the Body of Benchers about the association’s disciplinary process, the outcome of which may affect its position on the petition sent against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr Danladi Umar, The PUNCH learnt on Sunday.
A former President of the NBA, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), in an interview with our correspondent on Sunday, said he was awaiting the decision of the NBA on his call that the CCT chairman should be tried for alleged unethical practices.
Agbakoba insisted that the association had jurisdiction to try Umar as a lawyer, despite the tribunal chairman’s contention that he was not under the association’s disciplinary control.
The NBA is empowered to prosecute any erring lawyer before the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee based on any petition it considers to be meritorious.
It will be recalled that Agbakoba sent a petition against the CCT chairman in the wake the false asset declaration charges filed by the Federal Government against Justice Walter Onnoghen, who reportedly resigned as the Chief Justice of Nigeria on April 4.
Agbakoba, in the petition dated January 29, 2019, insisted that Umar erred for assuming jurisdiction over the charges filed against Justice Onnoghen, in view of the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Nganjiwa vs FRN.
He noted that the Court of Appeal, in case of Nganjiwa vs FRN, had pronounced that a serving judge could not be investigated or charged before any court or tribunal unless the judge was first probed and sanctioned by the National Judicial Council.
Agbakoba also said the interim order granted by Umar on January 23 authorising President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend Onnoghen was suspect, as the lawyer who filed the ex parte application and argued it was not indicated on the order.
“This gives the impression that the CCT may have drawn up the (ex parte) application by itself,” Agbakoba had stated.
Asked about the status of his petition on Sunday, Agbakoba said he was awaiting the final decision on NBA on whether or not it would assume jurisdiction to try the CCT Chairman based on the petition.
He said the NBA had queried the CCT chairman, who responded that that he was only answerable to the Presidency and not under the disciplinary control of the NBA.
He said, “My reply is that the NBA can discipline him because he is a lawyer. The only ones the NBA can no longer discipline are judges. But lawyers, whether they are in government or private practice, can be disciplined by the NBA.
“So, his defence that he works for the Presidency is unsustainable.
“It is the same way the NBA can discipline the Vice-President (Prof Yemi Osinbajo), because he is a lawyer.
“The NBA cannot, for instance, remove the Vice President from office as the Vice-President, but the NBA can remove him as a lawyer.
“In the case of the Chairman of the CCT, his appointment was based on the fact he is a lawyer, because that is the qualification to hold that office.
“In summary, I petitioned the NBA; the NBA sent him a copy of my petition and he replied giving the defence I spoke about. I have also written back to the NBA insisting that they can discipline him.
“The next step will be for the NBA to decide on whether it wants to assume jurisdiction to hear the petition or not.”
When contacted for an update on the NBA’s decision on the petition against the CCT chairman, on Sunday, the incumbent NBA President, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), told our correspondent that two recent judgments of the Supreme Court had forced the association to review its disciplinary procedure.
He said, “Right now, as far as the disciplinary process for lawyers is concerned generally, there are two recent decisions of the Supreme Court that require a tweaking of the process, and that tweaking can only be done with the NBA discussing with the Body of Benchers and we find how best we can work within the decisions of the Supreme Court.”
He referred our correspondent to the resolution of the March 28, 2018 meeting of the National Executive Committee of the NBA where the issue was discussed.
The resolution read in part, “That NEC notes that the recent judgments of the Supreme Court in Appeal Number SC.30/2016: Obiajulu Nwalatu Vs Nigerian Bar Association and Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee and Appeal Number SC. 941/2015: Moses Wome Vs Nigerian Bar Association, have very serious and detrimental impact on the extant disciplinary processes as set out by the Body of Benchers and its Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.”
“By extension, these decisions have serious and deleterious consequences on the maintenance of discipline in the profession.
“The NBA President is mandated by NEC to study the judgments and liaise with relevant stakeholders, including but not limited to the Body of Benchers, in remediating the issues that were brought to fore by the said judgments,” Usoro said.
Additional reports by The PUNCH