Andrew Orolua, Abuja
The prosecution team finally opened its case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Monday against Justice Walter Onnoghen who is currently on suspension as the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN).
Led by Aliyu Umar (SAN) the prosecution called its first witness, Mr. James Akpalla an official of the Code of Conduct Tribunal who in the last six years had worked as investigator with Bureau, the witness said that a petition written by a non- governmental organization the Anti Corruption and Research Data Initiative own by Dennis Agamanya led to their investigation of Justice Onnoghen asset declaration.
He said that on 10 January 2019 one of his senior told him that his office the Code of Conduct Bureau has received a petition and that he is a member of the three man investigative team to examine and investigate the petition.
The team immediately visited the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria , Justice walter Onnoghen and met his clerk Jane Usu who ushered them into the CJN office.
According to Akpalla ,after their mission was introduced to the Justice Onnoghen , the CJN offered an oral explanation but they insisted that he put his explanation in writing in form of a statement.
The witness said that he was cautioned before he made the statement in the presence of his secretary.
He said the team left CJN office at about 12.30 pm and submitted its report at about 2.45 pm to the deputy director investigation and monitoring.
Defendant lawyer Chief Adegboyaga Awomolo SAN then asked whether he will be surprise to hear that the Federal government filed charge against Onnoghen at about 12 noon same 11 January when the report of the investigation were being compiled . The witness said that he has nothing say about it .
The tribunal however, admitted the six exhibits including Justice Onnoghen confessional statement, Onnoghen’s Standard Chartered Bank opening account, the petition written by Anti Corruption and Research Data Initiative own by Dennis Gannya, the two asset declaration forms and a document from the Standard Chartered Bank as exhibits.
The tribunal chairman Danladi Umar overruled Awomolo (SAN) objection to the admissibility of bank documents in the interest of justice.
Onnoghen had complained that the asset declaration forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau in 2014 and 2016 were tampered with as it now have loose pages while some are omitted.
Onnoghen who is serving an indefinite suspension urged the tribunal to note that his assets declaration Form 001 which the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) tendered as exhibits in his ongoing trial have been tampered with as is now in loose form with some pages mutilated.
Onnoghen made the observation as the prosecution tendered his 2014 and 2016 assets declaration forms at the tribunal at the resumed trial on the six count charge before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The prosecution witness tendered six separate exhibits including justice Onnoghen’s 2014 and 2016 assets declaration forms.
The tribunal admitted the six exhibits including Justice Onnoghen confessional statement, Onnoghen’s Standard Chartered Bank opening account, the petition written by Anti Corruption and Research Data Initiative own by Dennis Gannya, the two asset declaration forms and a document from the Standard Chartered Bank.
However when the documents were shown to the defendant, Onnoghen through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) after a careful look at the documents he observed that they have been tampered with.
According to him, the 2014 form has become “loose, part of it mutilated and has become blue in a way.”
Awomolo made a similar observation on Justice Onnoghen 2016 asset declaration form which he said have some duplications and omission of some pages.
“We have some reservation on the documents, we will not object in the interest of justice but we have reservations that would be addressed at the end of the day”, the senior lawyer stated.
However, Awomolo (SAN) at a point objected to the admissibility of the documents from the bank on the ground that the witness was not the maker of the exhibits.
The tribunal in it ruling admitted the six exhibits and marked accordingly after the Chairman of the tribunal overruled the objection in the interest of justice.
According to the witness in 2014 Justice Onnoghen had declared two bank accounts and but when he was made the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 2016 he declared two Union ban bank accounts and left his five standard Chartered Bank accounts undeclared.
Under cross examination , by Awomolo SAN the witness Akpalla admitted that the investigation team submitted its report at about 2.45pm when the federal government had filed the charge against CJN Onnoghen at the tribunal.
“My lord I can not answer the question whether am surprise that the charge was filed before we submitted our report, the witness told the tribunal.
Meanwhile, the tribunal had issued a summon to the Standard Chartered Bank limited to produce Onnoghen account officer Ifeoma Ukagbue at the tribunal on Thursday 21 March to give evidence on behalf of prosecution.
Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, Danladi Umar, Monday summoned the standard chartered bank account officer, Ifeoma Okagbue, to the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen for questioning over account opening.
The account officer, according to the chairman would appear on the next adjournment date scheduled for Thursday March 21.
This development followed the objection raised by the defence counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, saying the prosecution Witness, PW1, James Akpalla was not the right person for cross examination on the bank documents tendered before the tribunal.
Awomolo affirmed that Akpalla was neither the maker or signatory to the bank documents and, therefore not qualified to be cross examined but the account officer.
However, Awomolo further cross examined Akpalla on other contentious issues bordering on dates of the petition, lists of Witness, exhibits, charges, completion of investigations and summon by the tribunal to Onnoghen.
Under cross examination, Akpalla admitted that the separate list of witnesses, exhibits and six-count charges preferred against Onnoghen were all dated January 10.
Also, it was admitted that investigation was completed on January 11, the same day CCB investigation team obtained Onnoghen’s statement from his office at the Supreme court of Nigeria, Abuja.
It was on this premise that Awomolo asked the Witness, ” Are you not surprised that within 24 hrs, you completed investigation, obtained defendant’s statement and six-count charges were simultaneously filed against him at the tribunal.
“When you were obtaining statement from the defendant, you didn’t tell him that charges have already been framed?
But in his response, Akpalla said, “The investigation team had no idea”.