The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Thursday, April 18, convicted the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, of false and non-declaration of assets.
A brief recap of the trial
Onnoghen, who became Nigeria’s 17th Chief Justice in March 2017, was brought before the CCT on Monday, January 14.
He was arraigned by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), following a petition brought against him by a group, the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, headed by a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State, Denis Aghanya.
Onnoghen was charged on six counts, for allegedly failing to declare some of his accounts in the asset declaration form submitted to the CCB in December, 2016.
According to the charge, Onnoghen also failed to declare his assets after the expiration of his declaration form filled in 2005.
But Onnoghen, who had noted that he forgot to update the form, told the tribunal that he was not guilty of the charges brought against him.
During the proceedings, the defence, in its final arguments, maintained that the prosecution failed to prove the six counts beyond reasonable doubt as required by law and urged the tribunal to dismiss the case.
It added that the charges against Onnoghen were incompetent and unconstitutional as they were based on the provisions of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and Bureau Act which were in conflict with the relevant provisions of the Constitution.
Legit.ng highlights four landmark rulings that CCT delivered on the Onnoghen case.
1. Jurisdiction and overruling
Onnoghen in his defence had challenged he tribunal’s jurisdiction. In another motion, the former CJN also asked the tribunal chairman to recuse himself from further sitting on the case on the grounds that he had a bribery case with the EFCC.
The tribunal’s chairman, Danladi Umar, however, dismissed the two motions by Onnoghen. The CCT said that it has the power to try the ex-CJN, noting that it was trying Onnoghen as a public officer, not as a judicial officer. Hence it said there was no need to first refer the charge against him to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The tribunal also overruled itself in a previous decision where it suspended the trial of another Supreme Court justice, Sylvester Ngwuta.
The CCT added that it has the powers to overrule itself if it finds out that its decision was wrongly reached. In the case of Ngwuta, the tribunal had ruled that it could not proceed with the trial until the NJC reviews the matter.
On Onnoghen's application that the chairman should recuse himself because he has a case with the EFCC, the CCT chairman said he has no case with the EFCC.
He added that the charges filed against him before the Federal High Court has been withdrawn by the EFCC.
Danladi, therefore, dismissed the motion to recuse himself. He said: "There can be no CCT without the chairman and that the CCT also is not under the supervision of the National Judicial Council but the Presidency."
The CCT having ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the case moved to give the final judgement. In its ruling, the CCT said Onnoghen's partial admittance of forgetting to declare asset is enough evidence and that it has carefully scrutinised all the evidence before it and can say that the the ex-CJN is in clear breach of the CCB Act.
The CCT said after its scrutiny has come to the conclusion that Onnoghen carefully omitted declaration of his asset in his CCB form 1. The tribunal said the defendant is clearly guilty of false declaration of his asset on his asset declaration form.
Having pronounced Onnoghen guilty, the tribunal removed him as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and also as the chairman of the National Judicial Council.
The CCT also banned Onnoghen from holding any public office in Nigeria for the next 10 years.
Finally, the tribunal ruled that all monies in the five accounts which were not declared by Onnoghen be confiscated, seized and forfeited to the federal government as they were all acquired illegally by the defendant.
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Meanwhile, Legit.ng previously reported that Onnoghen's counsel condemned the CCT's ruling on the case of false asset declaration by his client.
Okon Nkanu Efut (SAN) said the CCT’s judgement on the matter is a “complete erosion of fundamental human right to fair hearing.”
Efut said even before hearing from Onnoghen, he was removed as the CJN so easily and speedily without reference to the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Senate.
“This is not right; it cannot be right. It is unconstitutional,” Efut said.
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