By Andy Chukwu
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Friday dismissed the No Case submission entered by lawyers of the Justice Walter Onnoghen, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in his false asset declaration trial at the tribunal.
In his ruling Danladi Umar, the CCT Chairman, rejected Onnoghen’s lead counsel,Adegboyega Awomolo’s argument that the process leading to the filing of the charge was not in accordance with the procedure provided in the CCB’s SOP.
Umar note that the SOP, which was a creation of the former board of the CCB, led by Sam Saba, was no longer in use because it had been abused by that board.
CCT Chairman said the operations of the CCB were currently being guided by the Constitution since it has discarded the SOP, which he said, the former board abused.
The CCT Chairman accused the defendants of deploying technicalities to prevent the hearing of the case despite the glaring evidence, suggesting that the defendant has a case to answer.
Umar said the tribunal was not bound by technicality, but was interested in always ensuring justice.
He rejected the no case submission and said the tribunal was convinced that the prosecution has established a prima facie case, warranting the defendant to enter his defence if he has any.
“The defendant himself, made a written admission, without duress, that he forgot to declare the domiciliary accounts maintained in Standard Chartered Bank. That is, the euro account, the dollar account, the pound sterling account and the two naira accounts.
“His confessional statement is more than enough to warrant the defendant to enter defence, if he has any.
“The tribunal shall never be swayed from exercising justice, no matter who so ever appeared before it, irrespective of his/her status in life. After all, all of us are from the same source – dust.”
Umar added that by the evidence led by the prosecution through its three witnesses, and the documents tended, including the statement by the defendant, “where he confessed that he forgot the accounts and that he made mistakes in not declaring the accounts,” are sufficient to make the tribunal demand that the defendant defend himself against the charges.
He said the need for the defendant to defend himself was “to clear his name, because the name has been tainted so much.” He proceeded to reject the no-case submission and ordered the defendant to “enter a defence.”
At the conclusion of the ruling, Awomolo applied that a certified-true-copy (CTC) of the judgment.
However, temper flared up when Awomolo, SAN, protested what he viewed as the highhandedness of the tribunal Chairman.
Awomolo accused Umar of oppressing the defendant and his lawyers when, shortly after delivering a ruling on the no-case submission made by the defendant, Umar insisted that the suspended CJN must open his defence on Monday (April 1, 2019).
Awomolo told Umar: “Stop oppressing us. This is not justice.”
He repeated the statements about three times when the CCT Chairman refused to yield to his appeals that the defendant be afforded sufficient time to prepare for his defence and be allowed to return next week Friday.
While Awomolo was still on his feet, pleading with the tribunal Chairman to reconsider his position, Umar stood up, announced that the proceedings have been adjourned till Monday and walked away.
Proceedings had commenced earlier in the day on a friendly note, with the tribunal Chairman exchanging pleasantries with lawyers to both the prosecution and defence, when the case was called.
Shortly after, Onnoghen’s lawyers argued the defendant’s no-case submission and urged the tribunal to discharge and acquit his client on the grounds that the prosecution was unable to establish a prima facie case against the defendant.
Awomolo faulted the entire evidence led by the prosecution and exhibits tendered and urged the tribunal to hold that it is not worth it calling on Onnoghen to defend himself.
He said the entire proceedings have become a nullity because the process leading to the commencement of the trial did not comply with the procedure provided for in the CCB’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 2017.
Awomolo made a lengthy submission, during which he cited many decided cases, including a 2013 ruling by the tribunal (a copy of which he later offered the tribunal), urged the tribunal to be guided by past decisions.
At the conclusion of his submission, the CCT Chairman commended Awomolo for his brilliant and “well-articulated” argument.
Prosecution lawyer, Aliyu Umar offered a counter-argument and urged the tribunal to reject Onnoghen’s no-case-submission and order him to enter defence.
The prosecution lawyer said the prosecution’s case was simple and relates mainly to the defendant’s failure to declare his assets.
He said; “We are not accusing him of having $300m in his accounts. What we are saying is that he failed to declare his assets on his appointment as Justice of Supreme Court and that he operated domiciliary accounts since 2009 and 2010 without declaring them.”
After listening to the arguments by parties, the tribunal Chairman, to the dismay of most of those at the proceedings, announced that ruling would be delivered in two hours’ time. ffffff