The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Thursday ordered the removal of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and also barred him from holding public office for ten years for contravening the Code of Conduct Bureau laws in asset declaration for public officers.
Onnoghen will in addition forfeit to the federal government various sums of money found in his five bank accounts with the Standard Chartered Bank which he was said to have failed to declare.
However, in a sharp reaction to the Tribunal’s decision, Onnoghen counsel, Okon Nkanu, faulted the judgment in its entirety, while accusing the Tribunal of bias and convicting his client on a non-existing offence.
According to him, “Today, we have heard that the CJN has been convicted and sentenced. The conviction is out of order, unconstitutional and a breach of fair hearing because before this day, on the 23rd of January, the same judgment has been passed.
“Removing the CJN without a fair hearing was premeditated. Judgment has been passed before today. So, today’s judgment was just a formality and we hold a view that the tribunal has not only breached the constitution of Nigeria, it has also breached the fundamental principles of natural justice, equity and fair hearing and good conscience.
“He has been convicted for an offense that was never charged. This is an erosion of the fundamental principle of our constitution and until some questions are answered, for instance, why is that a due course of justice was not allowed to flow?
“Why was judgment passed on January 23 before today removing the CJN? Why is it that today, even after he has tendered his notice of retirement voluntarily and NJC has taken position, why is it that the tribunal has gone ahead to pass judgment in total disregard of the independence of the NJC and in total disregard to the power of the Senate in this matter.
“We hold a view that the tribunal, having reversed even itself in the case of Justice Ngwuta has breached the principles that hold us together.
“It is a sad day in our nation’s democracy, and we know that all is not over with this matter. The wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely, this is not the matter that will end here, we shall avail ourselves of all the process and hierarchy of the judiciary and we know that the judiciary will redeem itself, even though seriously battered and bruised.
“The judiciary will do justice. Justice has not been done today but surely, it would be done tomorrow, if not by our court, justice would be done by God. That is our position in this matter”, Nkanu said.
Delivering judgment on the six-count charge of false asset declaration and non-assets declaration brought against Onnoghen, Chairman of the Tribunal, Danladi Yakubu Umar held that the admission by Onnoghen that he forgot to declare the bank accounts in the form CCB001 was a clear contravention of Section 23 of the CCB and CCT Act.
Umar held that the prosecution through the witnesses and exhibits tendered and admitted established beyond reasonable doubt that the convicted CJN was in grave error by his failure to declare the bank accounts as required by law.
By the pronouncement of the Tribunal, Onnoghen is to forfeit to the federal government a sum of N26.8 million, $137, 700 and £13, 730 in his domiciliary account with the Standard Chattered Bank accounts which were said to have been maintained since 2009.
Umar, in the unanimous judgment said that the Tribunal ordered the forfeiture of the various currencies in the accounts because Onnoghen did not disclose the source of the money throughout the trial.
The federal government had, on January 10, 2019 filed a six-count charge bordering on false declaration of assets against Onnoghen and called three witnesses to establish its case against the convicted defendants.
Umar, in the judgment overruled the claim of Onnoghen that he could not be tried by the Tribunal on the account of his being a serving judicial officer, whose misconduct, if any, can only be investigated by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and also has the power to met any punishment to him.
The Tribunal chairman contended that Onnoghen was arraigned before him as a public officer and not as a judicial officer and as such, the Tribunal is not under the obligation of the NJC.
Although, Onnoghen had prayed the chairman of the Tribunal to recuse himself from participating in the proceedings on account of being bias and having issues with the EFCC on the N10 million bribery allegation by one Taiwo Owolabi, Umar however said that he could not step down from the trial because the EFCC had in two separate letters exonerated him from the bribery issue after a thorough investigation.
The CCT boss also said the issue of bias raised by Onnoghen against him was not established as required by law.
“The admission by the defendant in his own handwriting that he forgot to declare the five bank accounts in his asset declaration form CCB001 amounts to a partial confession that the defendant has breached the provision of the CCB/CCT Act as it amounts to refusal to declare assets.
“In the present case, hard facts have been adduced by the prosecution to establish that the defendant is in crystal clear of breach of the CCB provisions and the prosecution has therefore discharged the burden placed on it by law.
“Having examined the case of the prosecution against the defendant, this Tribunal has come to a conclusion that the defendant falsely declared his assets and is hereby found guilty of contravention of Section 23 of the CCB/CCT Act.
“It is hereby ordered that the defendant be removed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and as chairman of the National Judicial Council.
“He is also barred for ten years from holding public office while the money in the five undeclared bank accounts is hereby seized, confiscated and forfeited to the federal government, having been illegally acquired, since the defendant did not disclose their sources”, Umar said.
In his reaction, counsel to the federal government, Musa Ibrahim Umar said, “Judgment has been given and we are okay with it. That is all I can say for now”.