Andrew Orolua, Abuja
The Chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar announcement on Monday that the tribunal will delivered its final judgment on the six count charges of non asset declaration and false assets declaration brought against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen on April 28 seem as relieve to the defendant.
Onnoghen who sat in the dock in a tense mode appeared as if the load on him in the past three months of trial, which his critics has described as shameful and humiliation have been dropped from him.
He walked quietly to his awaiting jeep with his escorts and the two convoy official jeeps drove along with him out of the premises of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that have received him since January this year as a defendant , a word which the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 benevolently ascribed to an accused person , just to mitigate shame attached to an accused person.
Yesterday appearance of Justice Onnoghen at the tribunal may perhaps not be his last in that court room, as he has Thursday April 28, 2019 date to keep. On that date, the three member tribunal will hand down their verdicts, either convicting him of the six count charge or discharge and acquit him.
Onnoghen’s lawyers Nkanu SAN and two other Senior advocates of Nigeria who remained on the defence list that have depleted from the initial 17 Senior advocates of Nigeria at his arraignment in January, brilliantly argued that the charges be dismissed.
This case is about non declaration of assets and false declaration of assets, he told the tribunal.
Counts 2 to 6 complained of false assets declaration. We submit that where the complainant alleged false declaration of assets it presupposed that there was a declaration , therefore false declaration does not arise.
He told the tribunal that Counts 2 to 6 are mutually exclusive and were not supported by any known law.
Complainant submitted that by exhibit C , that is Onnoghen voluntary statement ,the defendant seem to have admitted to the charge. That submission is incorrect in law, he said. It is true in ordinary parlance that once defendant accept it means he admitted.
It is not so straight forward in law. The contention is admitting to all the ingredients of the offences . When he said he forgot that don’t means he confessed to the offence.
Thirdly, section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act is in conflict with the Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria 1999 paragraph 11 of the Fifth Schedule.
The section on which the charge was prepared is unconstitutional and should be struck down and declare as inconsistent.
He said that the elements the prosecution had labour to prove are in the act ,not in the Fifth schedule.
Therefore urged that the charges be dismissed as prosecution has not prove the elements. They have acted in ignorant.
On false statement, Onnoghen lawyer said that a declaration that is claim to be false must have been verified. Prosecution in the instant case established a declaration but failed to establish verification.
Paragraph 27 of the prosecution address particularly page 13 talked about partial false , which means the prosecution had admitted that there is a doubt . He such doubt should held in favour of the defendant as the charges are defective.
In his response, prosecution lawyer Aliyu Umar SAN who had a little misunderstanding with his junior Professor Zainab Duke and quickly withdrew Duke appearance , urged the tribunal to hold that prosecution has prove its case beyond reasonable doubt against the defendant.
He also prayed the tribunal to hold that Onnoghen is guilt as charged. He urged the tribunal to rely on facts before the tribunal in convicting the defendant. It is a misconception for the defendant to claim that the charge was not elegantly drafted.
On the Constitutional issue raised by the defendant , Umar said that Constitution is not a statute for punishment .He said that in any case the conflict with the Constitution has since been resolved by the appellate court.
According to him ,beyond reasonable doubt is not beyond iota of doubt .
The defendant did not declare his assets as provided for in the CCB Act or Constitution because the bank accounts which are in contention were in existence when he declared his assets ,he chose to forget them.
Umar prayed the tribunal to convict the defendant.
It was not only Onnoghen that looked surprise that the trial is coming to an end, the Chairman of the tribunal was .
He lacked appropriate word to end the session and have to ask the lawyers “so I will take date for judgment “.
The usual heated tension that has characterized the trial was absent yesterday.
It appears Onnoghen resignation letter which is awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari acceptance or rejection had done the trick, after all that was the motive of the charge.